The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


April 26, 2013

With riding season, inherent risks

Cyclists are urged to wear helmets

— While the calendar says it’s only April, motorcycle riding weather is quickly coming into full bloom.

That’s welcome news for our region’s growing number of enthusiasts. The bad news is that we’ve already witnessed several serious cycle accidents, including fatalities.

And with the sobering report this week that motorcycle deaths last year increased in Pennsylvania and across our nation came a beefed-up effort for more helmet-supporting legislation.

That’s no surprise. Proponents, including emergency room and trauma physicians, tell legislators on an ongoing basis that helmet laws make sense. Who more than our hospital doctors has witnessed firsthand the body and facial damage a motorcycle accident can leave?

The latest buzz, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, stems from a new report that says motorcycle deaths in the United States rose by 9 percent in 2012, continuing a trend that has seen increases in 14 of the past 15 years. That even while overall traffic fatalities have declined. 

The Governors Highway Safety Association, based in Washington, D.C., said more than 5,000 motorcycle fatalities occurred last year.

In Pennsylvania, 210 motorcycle deaths occurred in 2012, a 5.5 percent increase over the previous year, but fewer than the record of 236 in 2008.

The issue is a significant one in our region for at least two reasons:

* In two months, our popular Thunder in the Valley rally will return to Johnstown, bringing an estimated 200,000 motorcycle enthusiasts. While, fortunately, Thunder has been relatively accident and trouble free, the risks obviously are increased greatly with the large number of participants.

* State Sen. John Wozniak of Westmont was the prime sponsor of legislation that led to Pennsylvania’s mandatory helmet law being repealed in 2003. The state now requires them only for riders younger than 21 and for older riders in the first two years of having a license, unless they complete a safety course.

During his re-election campaign last fall, Wozniak told us that he’s constantly reminded of his role in repealing the law, while being encouraged to change his mind.

He says that won’t happen.

We have supported Wozniak’s helmet legislation, meaning we have supported riders’ rights to choose whether to go helmetless.

But we wish that choice would be to wear one.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this:

* Helmets save lives, reducing the risk of head injury by 69 percent.

* An unhelmeted rider is 40 percent more likely to die from a head injury than someone wearing a helmet.

Eye-opening statistics indeed.

Charles Umbenhauer, a longtime Pennsylvania lobbyist for Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education, notes that motorcycle registrations in the state are increasing annually.

“It’s common sense. If you put more motorcycles on the highway, you’re going to have more accidents and more fatalities,” he told the Post-Gazette.

There’s no question that traveling by motorcycle comes with added risks. We urge riders to wear proper clothing, travel within the speed limit, take a rider-safety course – and, above all, avoid consuming alcohol while riding.

Few things are more sobering than being thrown from a motorcycle and sliding or rolling along a macadam highway. Doing so without the protection of a helmet can be much worse.

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