8 Ball In The Wind

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Turning The Tables On The "Safety-crats"

The following is written as a rebuttal of the testimony at the last Washington State Senate, Transportation Committee hearing on what was then Senate Bill 5143 (SB5143) in January, 2013.  The same groups oppose virtually any motorcycle bill, especially any form of motorcycle helmet amendment or repeal.  Some, it would appear have more of a visceral gut level, than on a thoughtful and well reasoned opposition.  Read on, and let me know what you think.  As I look forward to the upcoming legislative session in 2015, I can see these same people and arguments being used again, as they always seem to do.  They key is to turn their negative objections into a positive support for our bill.  I'll list each of the opposing witnesses, and key points of their testimony, which I will then try to convince you is wrong, and why.

1.       “Fatalities are not age discriminate.”  According to the Washington St. Dept. of Licensing, approximately 40% of motorcycle fatalities are under 24 years old.  The other 60% of fatalities are spread between riders 25-70+ years of age.  So while not completely “age discriminate”, there is a preponderance of death among the young.
2.       “Inexperienced riders, coupled with the ever increasing population of this state, thus increasing the population of motor vehicle operators and millions of miles traveled.”  Of course, when the demographic group size increases, there will be a rise in fatalities.  It is only common sense that if a significantly large enough number of people are riding to warrant the WSP witness to comment on that fact, then it would follow that there would be an increase in fatalities.  However, the statement does not concur with the Dept. of Licensing’s own data that shows a relatively flat rate of motorcycle registrations in Washington State over the past several years. 
3.       “A 9% increase in accidents investigated by WSP.”  Simply means there was an increase of fatal accidents on state highways versus county or municipal roadways.
4.       “I can’t imagine what the number of fatalities would be if we were to repeal this law.”  It would appear that Capt. Rob Huss hasn’t looked at the statistics from states such as Florida, Texas, and the latest from Michigan that shows; a nearly 30% drop in accidents, over 25% drop in fatalities, and an over 25% drop in the number of incapacitating injuries.  Those are facts, not imaginings.
American Automobile Association (AAA):
1.       “Helmets decrease the severity of head injuries, the likelihood of death, and the overall cost of medical care.”  If this were the case, shouldn’t the ‘Triple A’ be pushing for helmet use among automobile passengers?  After all, according to studies of head injury causes, some 53% of head injuries are automobile related, compared to only 10% on motorcycles.
2.       “Are helmet use laws that apply only to young motorcyclists effective?”  Judging from Washington States own Traffic Safety Board, it is the young motorcyclists that are, by far the highest percentage of fatal motorcycle accidents under the current law.  So perhaps the question should be is any universal helmet law effective?
Washington Traffic Safety Board:
1.       “1988 study by the Harborview Injury & Research Center found that public funding paid for 63% of motorcycle injury medical costs.”  There are numerous problems with the Harborview study.  The first of which is that it was conducted solely at Harboview; a Level One Trauma hospital, where medical costs were already significantly higher than at other hospitals in the region.  It also does not show how much of a patient’s bill were covered by private Insurance, only the total amount of the medical bill for patients that required public funding, whether it was $100 or $100,000.  Even a person with paid insurance, can reasonably expect their amount of coverage to not fully cover the enormous costs of a Level One Trauma hospital.    Therefore its data is skewed, making it appear that the much higher costs of trauma care at this facility is representative of the other hospitals even within the city limits of Seattle.  Since they do not handle the most severe injuries as Harborview does, their costs of care are much lower.  This study not only does not even attempt to compare the percentage of other highway trauma victims injury costs were paid for by public funding, it completely ignores those costs completely.  Even though they would show, at the least, whether or not traumatic automobile injuries were more, or less likely to be paid for by public funding.  Which being within the same facility, and therefore the same billing agency would not have been difficult to ascertain.
Washington State Dept. of Health, Health Systems Quality Assurance:
1.       “Prevention of injury is a core public health activity, and a priority for the Dept. of Health.  To that end, prevention of traumatic brain injuries aligns with the Department and public health priorities.”  It appears that the Dept. of Health is unaware of studies such as the “Motorcyclist Craniofacial injury Patterns” by Drs. Cooter & David of the the Australian Craniofacial Unit at The Royal Adelaide Hospital.  Which shows a very direct link between certain types of commonly used full face helmets and not only fatal but “traumatic” skull fractures and brain injuries.
2.       “According to the CDC, wearing helmets that meet the Dept. of Transportation standard is the single most effective means of reducing the number of people who get injured or die in motorcycle crashes .”  This brings several questions to mind.  Foremost of which is what the Centers for Disease Control doing involving itself in the motorcycle helmet issue.  However, it also allows me to bring up the fact that in a letter from the CDC to US Representative Thomas Petri in 2014 that only 41% of motorcycle operators who died in 2010 were not wearing helmets.  That means that 59% of them were wearing helmets.  Also, NHTSA (the government agency that created the Federal helmet standard everyone keeps referring to) has stated several times over the years that motorcycle helmets are only “estimated to be 37% effective” in preventing injuries and saving lives of motorcyclists involved in crashes.
Washington State Medical Association:
1.       Testified on the tragic consequences of a motorcycle injury or death on the surviving family.  This is understandable.   But excluded the tragedy and trauma of other highway users.   Motorcycle riders are not the only victims of highway trauma.  Pedestrians involved in traffic accidents, bicyclists, and all other traumatic accident victims would have the same effect due to traumatic injury or death.
2.       Testified about the tragic effect on first responders, emergency room staff, and even rehabilitation staff.  This brings up three statements that would tend to negate the importance of this statement.  A.) It was the choice of those individuals to pursue a career in that field.  Which by the very nature of that decision, would entail dealing with traumatic and devastating injuries and death.  B.) Do these same individuals not also experience these same things dealing with traumatic automobile accident injuries and death?  C.) Did these individuals not experience these  same feelings and emotions while dealing with traumatic motorcycle accident victims who were wearing helmets?
If we were to accept the testimony of the witness from the Washington State Medical Association, we would also have to realize that the previous points make her testimony moot.  The thought that a universal helmet law should be maintained out of compassion for the medical and other emergency personnel having to respond to the scene is ridiculous.  The Right of the individual to decide the level of protection they feel is suitable for themselves should be restricted because that choice might adversely emotionally effect other individuals who have chosen a profession that have chosen to participate in a field that involves dealing with that sort of trauma?  It is as ridiculous a statement as saying we should close the hospitals so that the medical staff doesn’t have to be affected by their own compassion for the sick, injured, and dying.
During her testimony, this witness cited a NHTSA study to reinforce her position of being opposed to amending the helmet law mandate to those below 18 years of age.  In response to her use of a NHTSA report stating that helmet use “saved” three billion dollars in medical cost (which since no one can know facts of costs that didn’t actually occur, is only an estimate at best), here is a statistic (of fact, not an estimate) also from NHTSA, 81% of motorcycle fatal motorcycle injuries during the time studied (2000-2002) did not involve the head.

In conclusion, it seems the “safety-crats” are trying to retain control over the Rights of individuals by any means they can.  The WSP briefly mentioned the true crux of their opposition to this bill in Capt. Rob Huss’ testimony.  It would be “un-enforceable” do to the inability to tell whether a motorcyclist was under the age of 18 or not in traffic.  But then, they have an easy enough time seeing whether or not there is a one inch by three DOT emblem on the back of your helmet or not.
Why the AAA is even concerned with a bill about motorcycles is puzzling.  Unless they feel it would somehow be perceived as an unequal privilege for motorcyclists to not have to wear a mandated helmet, when automobile occupants must wear seatbelts, which may be a possibility.  But then again, roughly five times the number of head injuries are related to automobiles than to motorcycles. 
The Washington Traffic Safety Boards use of the infamous Harborview Report shows that their opposition is a long one.  That study was biased against motorcyclists from the beginning by the omission of key data points, and it’s use as a reference 25 years after the fact would appear to show a continued bias as well.
Washington State Dept. of Health, Health Systems Quality Assurance was a scripted testimony of facts citing that obviously did not look beneath the surface.  Using the quote from the CDC shows a typical bureaucratic mentality that when a regulation or standard is made, that it will be followed without questioning whether that is the case or not.  The key point of the quote “wearing helmets that meet the Dept. of Transportation standard is the single most effective means of reducing the number of people who get injured or die in motorcycle crashes ” is the part where helmets meet the Dept. of Transportation standard.  While in a legal sense, until proven otherwise by testing, purchasing a helmet that has a DOT emblem on it means it meets that standard, in reality, you have nearly a two out of three chance of purchasing a helmet that in actuality does not meet the standards of FMVSS-218.  That is according to nearly thirty years of independent testing of certified DOT compliant helmets
While it may seem heartless for me to say this, the testimony of the Washington State Medical Association  would appear to show motorcyclists as a class of exceptionally horrific and gruesome traumatic injuries incomparable with other highway users.  So tragically injured it causes serious distress to the emergency medical workers who knowingly chose that field as a profession.  As if only motorcyclists were somehow to blame for being killed and traumatically injured in a highway crash by choosing to ride a motorcycle in the first place.  While automobile occupants apparently, from their total lack of mention in regards to the effects on medical staff and first responders, are either are not nearly as tragically injured when their faces strike the steering wheel or other possibly some loose object within the car, so as to affect those trying to save them, or not as tragically killed.  Again, it shows a condescending bias towards motorcyclists, and clearly only meant to be used as an emotional blow on the head of the committee.
What really shouldn’t amaze me as much as it does, is the fact that the witness from the insurance industry was in favor of the helmet bill.  He also stated that if helmets were truly a significant “safety” device, the insurance companies wouldn’t insure motorcyclists in voluntary helmet states.  With all the statistics on ways we injure and kill ourselves, as much as we may not like them, the insurance companies do know the odds when it comes to death and injury.  They couldn’t make as much money as they do if they didn’t.

Think about it.  The WSP doesn’t like it because they would lose a tool that allows them to get around the anti-profiling law in Washington, and also brings in some funding to the government coffers.  But mainly it is a control and power item for them.  For the others, they’re various forms of the same paternalistic “safety-crat” that has been around forever.  They see the helmet as having some intrinsically protective power.  The fact that, as was stated by the witness from the AAA, that NHTSA states that helmets are 37% effective is glorious news to them.  Their minds  just don’t comprehend that fact also shows a 63% in-effective rate.  Just a little something to chew on while you think about fighting for the helmet bill coming up in this legislative session in January.

Catch you on the road sometime…

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