Friday, August 15, 2014
A "Safer" Crash?
Ever since the Washington State legislature instituted the mandatory helmet law back in the early 90's, people have been trying to fight it. With a generation of motorcyclists in this state never knowing the choice of being able to wear one or not. They have never experienced the freedom to choose for themselves whether or not they wanted to risk spinal injury for a lower chance of brain injury. Where do I get off saying motorcyclists have to make such a choice? That comes from listening. Listening to helmet manufacturers, bureaucrats, researchers, and doctors. Then looking at what they say, and comparing it to available evidence.
Like it or not, there is significant statistical data that shows wearing a motorcycle helmet lessens the risk of head injury. But then, studies also show that it depends on; impact speeds, type of impact, type of helmet worn. Among other factors contributing to motorcyclists crashing. Which, if you think about it, is the key to the whole argument. If you don't crash, whether you wear a helmet or not is a moot point.
Studies have shown, that as impact speeds rise above 13.4 mph, the risk of neck injury increases. While that helmet may protect your brain at that speed, or even slightly higher, you become much more at risk of severe neck injury. I find it ironic that the neck injury/head injury trade-off comes at the same point of impact speeds that helmets are tested to withstand. But then, even the helmet manufacturers admit that if their helmets pass the two 13.4 mph impacts required in DOT testing, they MIGHT be able to withstand a single impact of about 19mph. "Certainly no more than 23 mph." according to one of the manufacturers. So, I guess that means that above those impact speeds, if you survive, it comes down to luck.
Here agains, the governments concern that we make crashing as "Safe" as possible by wearing helmets that meet the minium manufacturing standards of FMVSS-218 comes into question. Studies have shown that wearing a DOT compliant full face helmet, with a rigid face plate, actually signifcantly increases your risk of fatal fracturing of the side and back of the skull, as well as a more significant risk of traumatic brain injury when you impact the face bar hard enough. However, an open faced helmet, or a full face helmet with a flexible face plate actually lowers your risk of skull fractures AND traumatic brain injury (but you are more likely to suffer major facial fractures). So if you are wearing the wrong DOT compliant helmet in a crash, you are more likely to die because of it.
The governments stated policy is to make crashes "safer". That is part of the problem right there. The governments paternalistic desire to protect its citizens from their own behavior. There is an assumption on the part of the government that all motorcyclists will crash eventually. While I can partly agree with that concept, I wouldn't make it the basis for policy. Especially when that basis concludes that learning to avoid a crash is a less desirable measure than having a "safer" crash.
There is no such thing as a "safe" crash. I have been in a few crashes since I first began to ride back in the 1970's. The only way any of them could be considered "safe" crashes was the fact I was able to walk away from them. Crashing isn't "safe". Webster defines a crash as; "To fall, land, or hit with destructive force." Somehow, I just can't 'destructive force' and 'safe'. To me, the only "safe" crash, is the one you don't have.
Catch you on the road sometime...