The helmet debate: safety vs freedom

AUSTIN (KXAN) —  Riders agree, there’s nothing like being on a bike.

“You can’ t describe it,” says Ruben Morales. “It’s freedom.”

“Oh yeah, I love to ride,” said Tim Howard, who has been riding for about 15 years.

But up for debate, is whether they should be wearing helmets.

GOING IN-DEPTH // Texas Helmet Laws

  • Texas law used to require everyone to wear helmets. But in the late 90s, things changed.
  • In 1997, the legislature passed a bill that said only people under the age of 20 had to wear helmets, and that’s still the case today.
  • But it also said people who chose not to wear them had to have at least $10,000 of health insurance coverage. That requirement was dropped in 2009.

When the ROT Rally was in town last month, a trauma surgeon at University Medical Center Brackenridge surveyed riders on whether they wear helmets or not. Dr. Jayson Aydelotte says 50 percent of riders who participated wear helmets at all times. Many who do not wear them cited reasons like personal freedom.

“I served in the military for 23 years. We fight for freedom, and I just feel it’s a freedom of choice,” said Howard. “I feel more open and more alive without it on.”

Other riders feel the opposite.

“I have family, I have friends, I have loved ones who wouldn’t want me to be on the road without one, just in case something did happen,” said Kimberly Allen.

For Aydellote the answer is easy.

“Today’s a Friday night, and more than likely someone’s going to die on a motorcycle here in Travis County.”

The doctor believes helmets can be the difference between life and death. He has studied data of head injuries from motorcycle accidents over the last 10 years at UMC Brackenridge.

“Of the people who came here who hit their head, your likelihood of dying was twice as much if you didn’t have a helmet, versus a helmet.”

He’d like to see a law requiring all riders in Texas to wear a helmet. He says it could save lives.

“We have to sort of meet in the middle somewhere,” he said. “I ride a motorcycle, I wear a helmet. If they did pass that law there would be an uproar. A lot of people I know would fight against that.”

It’s a debate sure to continue as long as riders are on the road.

BY THE NUMBERS:

In 2011, 478 people died in motorcycle crashes in Texas. More than 250 were not wearing helmets.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says nearly two-fifths of those deaths could have been prevented if the rider had been wearing a helmet.

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