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Repeal of Motorcycle Helmet Laws Important for Motorcyclist Safety

Open Letter To Michigan Governor Setting Forth Motorcyclist Safety Position  
of Motorcyclists Against Dumb Drivers In Support of Helmet Law Repeal.
Dear Governor Granholm,

I am writing on behalf of Motorcyclists  Against Dumb Drivers which does not 
have as its mission the repeal of helmet  laws. We are an organization the 
mission of which is solely to improve  motorcyclist safety. Unfortunately, in our 
safety mission we find that  politicians claiming to be concerned about 
motorcyclist safety seize upon helmet  laws as a way to appear to be doing 
something for motorcyclists when in fact,  any contribution to the reduction of 
motorcyclist injury and death is so minimal  as to be essentially unproductive, 
indeed it is counterproductive as it deflects  attention from the real motorcycle 
safety issues. The political tradition of  pretending to solve what is 
certainly a very important public health issue, this  obscene incidence motorcycle 
accidents and the consequent panoply of  catastrophic motorcyclist injuries, by 
myopically and paternalistically focusing  on what motorcyclists wear is 
nothing more than political contrivance. And what  we are concerned about is that 
while politicians continue to so dishonestly  focus on what is not the problem, 
the real solutions to the real problems are  ignored, with the effect that 
motorcyclists continue to be maimed and killed on  our streets and highways 
indeed in obscene numbers.

The first thing you  need to understand is that this public health crisis 
faced by your state and  every other state is much broader than very limited 
number of deaths which  arguably might be avoided by the use of helmets. It is 
purely political that  those who seek helmet laws or resist the repeal of helmet 
laws focus solely on  death statistics. The fact is that motorcyclists suffer 
every kind of  catastrophic injury in motorcycle accidents. They suffer 
catastrophic internal  injuries, injuries which both result in death statistics and 
those which leave  the motorcyclist's health impaired for the remainder of his 
life. They suffer  quadriplegia and paraplegia and other spinal cord injuries 
which ruin their  lives, often confined to convalescent centers, or requiring 
full time or part  time professional nursing assistance. Motorcyclists suffer 
limb injuries often  requiring limb amputation or catastrophic orthopedic 
injuries which render them  unable to continue in their professions as productive 
members of our society.  This broad landscape of catastrophic motorcyclist 
injury is what defines both  your state's public health crisis and the state 
fiscal impact of caring for  these men and women whose often substantial life 
long medical expense is almost  universally uncompensated by the underinsured and 
usually impecunious auto  drivers who by their inattention and negligence 
cause the majority of the  accidents and consequent injuries.

These are the real public health and  substantial fiscal issues faced by your 
state. The death statistics relied upon  my those who urge helmet laws are 
misleading first of all because death can  occur as the result of motorcycle 
accidents for many reasons other than head  injury, including most obviously, 
internal injury, or delayed death or the  shortening of one's life expectancy as 
with motorcyclists who are rendered  quadriplegic. The death statistics are 
also often misrepresented. For example,  often quoted are the statistics which 
focus on the number of motorcyclist deaths  rising after the repeal of helmet 
legislation. But those statistics often fail  to account for such variables as 
the recent steep rise in motorcycle  registrations, particularly in the last 
several years, and the likelihood that  this implies that there are a greater 
number of novice or less experienced  motorcyclists who are getting into 
accidents, suffering the panoply of  catastrophic injury, and contributing to the 
death statistics. In addition,  those who report these death statistics, which 
are truly just unanalyzed  compilations of selected raw data, apparently have 
no interest in discovering  whether any of these deaths actually resulted from 
the motorcyclist's failure to  wear a helmet. As noted, these deaths can occur 
from any of a dozen causes  unrelated to head injury. Even with those deaths 
in which the motorcyclist  suffered a head injury, none of those who have 
compiled these data have followed  through to obtain the death and autopsy reports 
to determine, first of all, to  what extent the brain damage could have been 
prevented by a helmet, and second,  to determine whether the motorcyclist 
suffered internal or other catastrophic  injury which likely would have resulted 
in his life long disability, death or  foreshortened life expectancy regardless 
of his helmet use. Even with regard to  deaths among motorcyclists who were 
not wearing helmets, you need to realize  that helmets only serve to reduce the 
incidence of brain injury and death for  impacts of less than 15 miles per 
hour. In almost every accident in which a  death is reported, there is also 
serious or catastrophic injury quite apart from  brain injury which are not 
accounted for by simply listing the selected raw data  on deaths in helmeted riders 
and those who chose not to wear helmets. There are  many more deficiencies in 
these studies which I would be pleased to discuss with  you if you would 
permit me to speak with you or your staff. But suffice it to  say that the death 
statistics which are so commonly cited are not compiled  according to the 
scientific method, nor are they subjected to statistical  analysis, and any 
legitimate scientist would tell you that as the result of  their methodologically 
errors they unfortunately provide no meaningful  information even on the narrow 
issue whether or to what extent helmets may  reduce the incidence of 
motorcyclist death.

The only way to solve your  true public health crisis, which can be 
accurately measure only by examining the  full panoply of catastrophic motorcyclist 
injury, and motorcyclist death from  all medical causes, is by reducing the 
incidence of motorcycle accidents. If we  can reduce the incidence of motorcycle 
accidents then we can reduce the  incidence of every category of catastrophic 
motorcyclist injury, and among  helmeted riders and unhelmeted riders alike.

This is not an unattainable  goal. Indeed, it is a goal that hasn't been 
achieved only because politicians  have failed to seize the opportunity to provide 
the obvious solutions, choosing  instead to mislead the public that dictating 
what motorcyclists wear is the  solution.

The first thing you need to understand is that fully two-thirds  of all 
multi-vehicle motorcycle accidents are the result of auto driver  inattention and 
negligence, without any fault on the part of the motorcyclist.  There is no 
controversy about this. Every study confirms this. (The remaining  one-third are 
the result of motorcyclist negligence or the combination of  motorcyclist and 
auto driver negligence.)

Most of that overwhelming  percentage of motorcycle accidents caused by auto 
driver negligence, results  from motorist inattention while entering 
intersections or turning left at  intersections into the motorcyclist's right of way. 
Again there is no  controversy about this.

These facts, unfortunately, are excluded from the  motorcycle safety debate 
as politicians scream hysterically about the need to  dictate what bikers wear. 
Most politicians are in our opinion shortsighted in  concluding that there is 
no political advantage of actually doing something to  reduce the incidence 
of this largest category of precipitant for motorcycle  accidents. If 
confronted by their failures to address the broader safety issue,  some, whose staff's 
prepare a political response, will say that these  intersection accidents are 
the "unavoidable" consequence of the motorcycle's  "lack of conspicuity." And 
they can find support for this false proposition in  an unfortunate phrase 
culled from the first large motorcycle accident survey by  Harry Hurt. But it is 
indeed unfortunate that this phrase has been so oft  repeated without critical 
analysis by those who have political agendas other  than to actually reduce 
the incidence of motorcyclist injury. An additional  problem is that the phrase 
"lack of conspicuity" is actually a term of art which  has been mistaken by 
policy makers and used to advantage by politicians to  suggest that 
intersection motorcycle accidents are the result of the reduced  "visibility" impugned to 
the motorcycle's smaller size. Putting aside the  misunderstanding and 
misrepresentation, the fact is that motorcycles are just as  "visible" as cars at 
the short distance at which a car entering an intersection  or turning left at 
an intersection would pose a threat to the motorcyclist.  Motorcycles can stop 
very quickly and take evasive action much more nimbly than  cars so when a car 
entering an intersection or turning left in front of a  motorcyclist causes 
an accident, the car must turn directly in front of the  oncoming motorcycle. 
Furthermore, since the Harry Hurt study, motorcycle  manufacturers uniformly 
equip their motorcycles with head lamps which turn on at  ignition and remain on 
day and night, so it is likely that oncoming motorcycles  are in truth more 
obvious in the visual field of an auto driver when he enters  or turns left at 
an intersection.

The etiology of intersection motorcycle  accidents does not derive from the 
motorcycle's smaller size; rather, the reason  why auto drivers don't "see" 
motorcycles is a function of what is described in  the scientific literature as 
"inattentional blindness." This is a body of  literature which analyzes why 
people don't see what is readily apparent in their  visual field. There are half 
a dozen factors which are identified in the  literature, and again if you 
would permit me to speak to you or one of your  staff I could explain my 
understanding of the relevant literature or provide  references for you and your staff 
to consider. One of the factors which I have  concluded is probably the most 
potent in leading auto drivers to fail to  consciously attend to motorcyclists 
in their visual field is "relevance." One  gross aspect of the lack of 
"relevance" many auto drivers attribute to  motorcycles is derived fro the auto 
driver's perception that motorcycles don't  pose a risk to them in the same way 
that an oncoming car, truck or bus would  pose a risk to them when entering an 
intersection or turning left into the path  of one of these larger vehicles. 
There are solutions specific to modifying that  aspect of "relevance" including 
by specific conscious task oriented auto driver  education, discussed below. In 
addition, the auto driver's perception of the  "relevance" of motorcycles can 
be enhanced by penalty legislation, for example,  by providing for drivers 
license suspensions or potential jail terms for  reckless inattention which 
results in serious motorcyclist injury or  death.

I've been told that many politicians might find such penalty  legislation 
"politically unacceptable," as it calls for imposing upon the  majority for the 
benefit of a vulnerable minority; but this public health crisis  truly affects 
us all, including by the fiscal impact upon the state and all of  the 
citizenry associated with this obscene incidence of the panoply of  catastrophic 
motorcyclist injury caused by auto driver inattention.

But  accepting that politicians must be sensitive to undermining their 
majority  political base, a substantially less effective solution, although a good 
step in  the right direction would be general penalty legislation for any 
serious injury  resulting from reckless inattentive driving, if combined with a 
well funded  public relations campaign specifically focusing upon the 
vulnerability of  motorcyclists to serious injury, perhaps combined with photographs or 
film of a  motorcyclist being carted off to an ambulance and the auto driver 
being carted  off to jail.

I haven't yet touched upon what we consider to be the  centerpiece of our 
proposal for effectively reducing the incidence of motorcycle  accidents and 
hence for reducing all manner of motorcycle injury. Before I do  that permit me to 
describe some the secondary contributory factors to the  two-thirds of 
motorcycle accidents resulting from auto driver  negligence.

As noted above, the majority result from auto driver  inattention at 
intersections. Other factors include lane change accidents and  rear end accidents. 
When an auto driver turns into a motorcyclist riding or  passing in an adjoining 
lane it is commonly because the auto driver doesn't know  that his rear view 
mirrors have holes in them large enough to obscure a  motorcyclist in an 
adjoining lane of traffic. The auto driver doesn't appreciate  that he needs to 
turn his head into his rear view blind spot to look for a  motorcyclist riding or 
passing in the adjoining lane. Motorcycle rear-end  accidents occur both as 
the result of inattentional blindness, including the  sub-issue of "relevance" 
discussed above, and because auto drivers simply do not  realize that 
motorcycles can stop much more quickly than cars so that they need  to provide a 
greater distance when following a motorcycle.

Now, to the  real solution to your public health crisis, because the real 
solution is one  readily within the powers of the Governor. Lets first make plain 
the real  problem. The problem is auto driver ignorance of motorcycle safety 
issues, and  in particular, auto driver ignorance of the motorcycle accident 
avoidance  strategies which they must employ for the protection of their 
vulnerable  two-wheeled brethren.

The solution to ignorance is education.  Specifically mandatory auto driver 
education on motorcycle safety issues and  motorcycle accident avoidance 
strategies. First, modify your auto driver  education booklets and written materials 
to include comprehensive information on  motorcycle safety issues and 
motorcycle accident avoidance strategies. Second,  include in the written tests which 
your auto drivers must take to obtain and  renew their drivers licenses again 
a comprehensive list of motorcycle safety  questions. Third, because of the 
singular importance of assuring that auto  drivers fully appreciate their 
responsibilities to avoid endangering vulnerable  motorcyclists, adopt a policy to 
deny driving privileges to any auto driver who  fails to answer correctly even 
one motorcycle safety question.

This same  type of information and testing process should be included in all 
other auto  driver safety programs, including, for example, state auto driver 
education and  instructional materials, the written materials provided in 
connection with  driving schools, including those attended by drivers as an 
alternative to paying  traffic violation fines, as well as every other curriculum 
for your state's auto  drivers, such as those required of individuals convicted 
of DUI or other serious  driving offenses.

I would be pleased to consult with your staff or  Department of Motor 
Vehicles staff in developing appropriate motorcycle safety  information materials and 
motorcycle test questions. Obviously, I would be  pleased to do this without 
charge. I have some specific recommendations which  might not be obvious to 
others, which are derived from my research in this  subject matter. For example, 
since inattentional blindness is an "unconscious"  phenomenon, it is 
necessary to provide auto drivers a specific conscious task to  perform when engaging 
in the behaviors during which they pose a risk to motorcyclists. Just for the 
purpose of example, auto drivers might be informed  that the speed of oncoming 
motorcycles is more difficult to gauge, and so they  need to take the time 
specifically to assess the speed of an oncoming motorcycle  before entering an 
intersection or turning left at an intersection when a  motorcycle is within 
the visual field. It might appear "common sense" that the  auto driver has to 
"see" the motorcycle before he can engage in a conscious task  with respect to 
the motorcycle. But that is not accurate. When one has a  conscious task to 
perform specific to a particular object in the visual field,  in this case 
oncoming motorcycles, this actually has the effect to raise to  conscious attention 
the object in the visual field upon which the task must be  performed.

Bank robber Willie Sutton was once asked why he robbed banks.  Mr. Sutton 
responded, "Because that's where the money is."

Those who  focus on helmet legislation are robbing convenience stores, or to 
put it more  plainly "convenient stores." There is no real "money" in 
convenience stores. It  is not the scientific evidence that meaningful reduction in 
the incidence of the  panoply of accident related motorcyclist injury can be 
achieved by helmet  legislation, as politically "convenient" as it may be for 
politicians to  pretend, in speeches to the majority, that they are doing 
something for the  protection of our vulnerable minority, by paternalistically 
dictating what the  minority should wear.

Your state "bank" is bulging at the seams with the  caskets of dead bikers 
and gurneys filled with those who have been rendered  catastrophically 
paralyzed, amputated, orthopedically wrecked, and disabled as  the result of motorcycle 
accidents caused by the inattention and negligence of  auto drivers.

If you veto the helmet repeal bill, all you will do is  guarantee that this 
issue remains the focus of our legislative efforts in  perpetuity, because our 
good freedom fighters will never give up their good  fight for our personal 
dignity and our right to chose. By failing to take this  unproductive helmet law 
debate off the table, by vetoing your legislatures bill  to strike your 
helmet law, you will also tragically make it impossible for those  of us concerned 
about the broader and much more important motorcycle safety  issues to bring 
about a debate on the real motorcycle safety issues, and obtain  real solutions 
to your real public health and real state fiscal  realities.

Please, for the sake of your state's motorcycling community,  show us that 
you are not just a political Governor, but a governor who actually  cares about 
this peculiarly vulnerable minority of your citizenry and refrain  from 
perpetuating the helmet debate with a veto of your good legislature's  helmet law 
repeal. And then, let us turn to your real public health issues and  work 
together to achieve the true solutions.

Thank you for your  consideration, and if I can be of any further assistance 
in the above regard,  please do not hesitate to contact me.

"M-A-D-D Ray" Henke 
Motorcyclists Against Dumb Drivers