Friday, September 26, 2014
Just last week, someone asked me why I wanted to get rid of the mandatory helmet law in Washington State. Here's why; I feel that every motorcyclist has the right to choose the level of risk they wish to accept, based on their own experience and knowledge. As the ones actually using the helmets, we should have the choice whether we consider the risks of wearing a helmet acceptable or not. Don't be quick to say there aren't risks to wearing a helmet, there are. Let me explain what I mean.
In an impact, let's say your bike comes to a sudden and abrupt stop. Newtons First Law states: " An object in motion tends to stay in motion, unless an external force is applied." The bike stops, you're going to keep moving. If the head and helmet don't strike anything, the G forces being exerted will force your head to continue in the direction you were traveling. This continued motion creates great stress on the neck. That additional three pounds of weight on your head, when the G forces are added, can easily become thirty pounds or more. The musculature and ligaments can be torn, and vertebrae can be broken by the sudden and intense forces being exerted. Helmet manufacturers are aware of this, and some even admit it, such as Racers Market. One of their executives made this statement in an email; "The speed of impact if the helmet actually hits something is important. Likewise, the speed of impact with a heavy helmet when you don't hit something with your head is important; as the heavier helmet stretches your neck more, with a risk of neck injuries."
We have all experienced this effect. Ever stepped on the brake and felt yourself move forward? That is the inertia of your body continuing to move forward even thought the vehicle you're in has slowed. The harder you hit the brakes, the more severe the effect it. The same thing is happening inside you as well. When your head suddenly stops moving because it has impacted an object, your brain, and all the tissue inside continue to move. Those moving organs and tissue move until they are forced to stop moving by an external force (like your skull) slamming into it and rebounding back as the organs and tissue decompress. All this moving and rebounding can cause damage. In a wide range from minor to severe. Even without fracturing your skull. Wearing a helmet, does not stop this internal movement. It may diminish the movement caused by a glancing blow, but a direct impact will still have the same results. Since Newton's First Law is inviolate to the best of our knowledge at this time.
All this comes down to impact speed. The higher the speed of impact, the more damage can be done due to inertia and internal motion. Even without fracturing the skull, the brain and connective tissues can be severely damaged due to this process. Some helmets have been shown to have a direct correlation to higher rate of fatal brain damage and skull fractures. A study by Drs. Cooter and David from the Australian Craniofacial Unit at the Royal Adelaide Hospital shows that full face helmets with rigid face guards; while protecting from facial fractures, tend to have a higher rate of basal skull fracturing, and fatal brainstem damage than other helmets. Even open face helmets had a significantly lower rate of brain damage, although facial fracturing was quite a bit more severe and traumatic. It is beleived that the fracturing of the face actually helps to disperse the forces impacting the head, allowing for much lower levels of inertial motion and corresponding damage to the brain and other soft tissues. Follow the link to see the study results for yourself. Cooter Study
As you can see, wearing a helmet carries with it no real assurance of surviving an impact to the head. The inertial effects of the head and helmet not impacting anything during a crash, can be quite catastrophic as well. Visualize if you will, your body impacting the side of a car at 25 mph. Your shoulders are at the roof line of the car, and nothing is there for your head to strike. Since the car is solid, your body comes to a sudden and jarring stop. The orgasns and tissues inside continue to move until restricted by other orgasns and tissues inside. But with nothing to stop its inertial motion, your head continues its sideways motion. The G Forces adding weight to your head and helmet, making them feel several times heavier. The force of that weight stretching and straining muscles and tissue, and the extra weight of the helmet only exascerbates the issue. Neck injuries, sometimes quite traumatic ones can result from just this sort of impact. This can result in a 'hyperflexion' of the neck, and even cervical fractures.
NHTSA proudly proclaims that helmets are only "estimated to be 37% effective". So basically, helmets are effective in just over 1 out of every 3 crashes. Does that mean that NHTSA knows that nearly the inverse ratio of fatal accidents are attributal alcohol and excess speed? With the higher impact speeds involved there is little a motorcycle helmet can do to prevent trauma. The sheer magnitude of the G Forces involved creating such intense inertial pressures within the skull. Even if the helmet does work sufficiently enough to prevent a skull fracture, the physics of motion show that the brain and its corresponding tissues will receive excessive damage.
At low speeds, and with glancing blows, helmets seem to be quite effective. But as impact speeds rise above about 13 mph, there is "a statistically significant effect which increases the severity of neck injuries". As shown in the Goldstein Study.
Those are just a few things to think about when considering whether you support a riders right to choose whether to wear a helmet themselves or not. It should be up to the individual to decide. Either way, they'll have made the choice that is right for them. That is what the whole fight is about. The right to choose for yourself, or be told to wear a helmet "for your own good".
Catch you on the road sometime...
Thursday, September 25, 2014
The regulating arm of the US Dept. of Transportation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has publicly stated that helmets are only "estimated to be 37% effective". Yet we are still mandated to wear them?
Statistics show, that between 1980 and 2008, over 1500 helmets were tested for compliance by independent laboratories contracted to NHTSA. Motorcycle helmets are only tested to a average impact speed of 13.4 mph. That is the speed they attain dropping them from 6 feet above ground. 61.4% of them failed the tests. Yet we are still mandated to wear them?
Even Harry Hurt, the author of the most quoted report on motorcycle crashes and helmets has stated; "When impact speeds get up to around 25-30 mph, no helmet in the world is going to save you." Yet we are still mandated to wear them?
The Cooter Study out of Australia, showed that full face helmets, with rigid face guards actually had a significantly higher rate of fatal skull fractures and brain stem injuries. Yet we are still mandated to wear them?
Even helmet manufacturers have stated that in a crash, if your head doesn't impact something, the extra weight of the helmet can cause neck injury. Yet we are still mandated to wear them?
The Goldstein Study, has shown that as impact speeds rise above 13.4 mph, there is a marked increase in the risk of severe neck injury. Yet we are still mandated to wear them?
Think about it. Wouldn't you prefer to be able to choose for yourself whether your life was worth the risk of wearing a helmet?
Catch you on the road sometime...
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
In January of 2014, a couple of groups of motorcyclists in Washington state tried to get a bill passed in the legislature that would have removed all mention of FMVSS-218 from the helmet law (RCW 46.37.530). Their reasoning was, that since they didn't feel they could affect the full repeal of the helmet law, they would "nibble away" at it. I wonder if they thought of the ramifications of "nibbling away" at this particular portion of the law.
In my opinion, removing FMVSS-218 from the law is a bad idea. Whether you remove the wording stating that it is the standard for the definition of a helmet from the state law, it remain the Federal standard that helmets are required to meet. So removing the explicit mention of the law won't change what is considered by the state a helmet. But what I can foresee a few bad things happening if that bill (which I have been told by a few people they are planning on trying to get passed this legislative session) gets passed. I'll try to explain what they are here:
1. Since paragraph 3 of RCW 46.37.530 will then say; "For purposes of this section, "motorcycle helmet" means a protective covering for the head consisting of a hard outer shell, padding adjacent to and inside the outer-shell, and a neck or chin strap type retention system." The WSP will look at it as describing what they oppose as 'novelty helmets' and exercise their legal duty under law to "adopt and amend rules" to bring the helmet law back into line with what they want. The WSP will create a WAC (Washington Administrative Code) that brings the RCW in line with their concept of what a helmet is. Without legislative oversight or discussion, since it is already the WSP authorized ability to "adopt and amend" the rules of the laws.
2. With FMVSS-218 removed from the law, all the case law fighting against it becomes moot. No longer can you claim the law is unconstitutional because it has FMVSS-218 as its base (which the Washington Court of Appeals found in State v Maxwell, and State v. Sanaski). The fact that without FMVSS-218 as a standard, the state can create its own arbitrary guidelines of what constitutes a helmet. "Roadside Testing" suddenly may become possible (which with FMVSS-218 it isn't), and the amount of discretion law enforcement must take before making a stop now, all goes away. If a cop sees you riding by, and doesn't like your look, he would be able to use the idea that your helmet may be in violation to stop you. Once he has you stopped, because he now would have the probable cause of a helmet check to pull you over, what else can he right you up for?
3. As it stands now, having FMVSS-218 in the RCW allows motorcyclists to fight a helmet ticket with great effect. Since it is relatively easy to show that on most occassions law enforcement can't tell the difference between a DOT compliant helmet and one that isnt. If law enforcement can't tell, then where was their probable cause for stopping you? If you remove FMVSS-218, you take away your ability to fight the ticket on those grounds. It leaves the motorcyclist at the discretion of what the law enforcement officer 'thinks' is a proper helmet. By removing FMVSS-218, you leave it to the WSP to make the rules and create a new WAC, because the standard definition of a helmet certainly aren't going to be in the RCW.
So, if you want to give the State the ability to make the rules, support the idea of removing the Federal standard from the law. If you would feel more comfortable forcing the State to follow the US Constitution, and State law, oppose the efforts to remove FMVSS-218 from the law. It is all about Freedom folks...Freedom for the citizens, not Freedom for the State to do as they wish.
Come talk to me about this sometime. There is almost always an unintended affect when removing something from a law. Words are everything, and a slow deliberate process will help. Even if you support a bill, do your best to show how it can be used against what you want. When you get to the point that it does what you want, without ill effects, then support it. But don't support it because it seems like a quick way of getting something done, and looking like you are having a profound effect on life.
Catch you on the road sometime...
Monday, September 1, 2014
In 1990, the legislature of Washington State enacted the mandatory helmet law. The WSP adopted the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 as the standard for what constitutes a helmet in Washington state. They didn't adopt a portion of the standard, but the entire 16 pages of it. The fact that FMVSS-218 is a standard for manufacturers, and not private citizens seems to have gone right over the WSPs collective heads. But, by adopting FMVSS-218, the WSP were the ones to throw a monkey wrench into the machinery themselves.
In 1991, two motorcyclists, riding in two different jurisdictions were each ticketed under the helmet law. The fact that they were both wearing helmets that law enforcement did not believe met the criteria of FMVSS-218 is what brought each a citation for "failure to wear an approved helmet". Both men were found to have committed the infraction by the District Court. They then both appealed to Superior Court, which reversed the judgements against them. Why did the Superior Court do this? Because they found that the use of FMVSS-218 as a standard for the law was "unconstitutionally confusing and burdensome." The State of Washington appealed this ruling to the State Court of Appeals which made their ruling in 1994.
In their 1994 ruling; the Court of Appeals stated; "A statute is unconstitutional if it fails to provide fair notice; if the standards to which a citizen must conform are so inaccessible that an average person could not be expected to discover them by reasonable research efforts, then the statute does not provide the requisite notice."
The Court of Appeals found that; indeed, the use of FMVSS-218 was unconstitutionally vague and confusing. "...In order to comply with the statute and the state regulations, and ordinary citizen would have to know where to find the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, or Standard 218. Counsel and the court found it because we are aware of the Code of Federal Regulations, the index therein cites us to chapter 49, section 571.218. The regulation itself consists of sections 1 through 7.3.4 and covers 16 pages. Within those sections are topics such as scope--purpose--application--definitions--requirements--impact attenuation--penetration--retention system--configuration--projections--labeling--helmet positioning index--selection of appropriate headform--reference marking--helmet positioning--conditioning--impact attenuation test--penetration test-- and retention system test. Also included are 7 1/2 pages of diagrams and 4 pages of charts."
The Court of Appeals continued; "The regulation fails to inform the average citizen of the location or legal citation of the federal standard it adopts. We have not been advised how a citizen of common intelligence should discover this information."
They further stated; "The federal regulation has numerous sections relating to the qualities and tests to be supplied by the manufacturer. Ordinary citizens would not be able to tell which protective helmet met those requirements, even if they could find the regulation. In adopting the entire regulation, the State Patrol has made it impossible for ordinary citizens to understand what is required to comply with the Washington statute."
So, because the WSP adopted the federal standard for helmet manufacturers as the specification and definition of what is a helmet, the states helmet law was ruled to be unconstitutional due to its violation of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution by not providing citizens "fair warning of proscribed conduct." The WSP repealed the Washington Administrative Code that used FMVSS-218 as the standard. Bringing the law into compliance with the US Constitution.
However, they reinserted FMVSS-218 into the law in about 2002. Or rather they reinserted the legal citation for it, 49 C.F.R. Sec 571.218. Which poses new questions, since now RCW 46.37.530 seems to only adopt portions of FMVSS-218. Which is a violation of federal law in and of itself. As the standard states that should a state adopt the standard, it must do so in it's entirety. Which the Court of Appeals has already stated makes the law unconstitutional. So either the standard has been adopted in its entirety, and the helmet law is once again unconstitutional, or the WSP has adopted only a portion of the standard, which is a violation of federal regulations as stated in the standard itself.
So which is it; is RCW 46.37.530 once again unconstitutional and therefore void and nullified as a law, or is the WSP in violation of federal regulations and law by only adopting a portion of the federal helmet standard for manufacturers and attempting to foist it upon the consumer?
I do find it amusing, that if a person follows paragraph 3 of RCW 46.37.530, they can manufacture their own helmet and 'certify' it meets the standards of FMVSS-218 without actually ever having to test the helmet to see if it meets the standard. Simply having a DOT sticker on the helmet, and the label inside from the manufacturer is enough for them to certify their 'good faith' belief that the helmet meets the criteria of FMVSS-218. The only way that such a tagged and stickered helmet can be proven NOT to meet the standard is by laboratory testing, per FMVSS-218.
Also, here is an excerpt from a letter from then Chief Counsel for NHTSA, Erika Z. Jones to Mr. Wayne Ivie, of the Oregon Dept. of Transportation; "Please note that Federal law does not prohibit the helmet's owner or any other person that is not a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or repair business from removing the label from motorcycle helmets, Thus, the owner of a motorcycle helmet is permitted to remove the label from his or her helmet for any reason without violating any provision of Federal law." (emphasis and underling added)
I can see things getting interesting in the future.
Catch you on the road sometime...