Editorial: Relaxing law on motorcycle helmets foolish

The evidence is clear: The use of helmets by motorcycle riders reduces the risk of death by 37 percent and reduces the risk of head injury by 69 percent.

These statistics are some of the reasons that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded the single most effective way for states to save lives and save money is a universal helmet law.

Why then is the Washington state Legislature even considering allowing a three-year experimental project to see what happens if motorcycle riders 21 and older are given the option of not wearing a helmet?

Even before the pilot project begins it’s certain that some, if not many, will die or be permanently disabled from brain injuries. This is an experiment in tragedy.

Of course, the legislation’s sponsors are pitching this as freedom of choice.

“Personally I just see it as a freedom of choice,” said Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, one of 10 co-sponsors of the proposal initiated by Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island. “These are people over the age of 21 and, if they have insurance, it’s a choice. It’s not mandating anybody ride without a helmet.”

Yes, it’s a choice to put your life (and brain) at risk, but that choice impacts others in economic and emotional ways.

Would she make the same claim about the use of seat belts?

Economically, we all foot part of the bill for those who are seriously injured. Health care is highly subsidized to cover those without insurance or lousy insurance.

Ah, but backers of this pilot program contend that this won’t be a problem because the legislation says those who go helmetless must be insured under a vehicle liability policy, carry self-insurance or be covered by a certificate of deposit or a liability bond.

And if they don’t have adequate coverage and they are left in a vegetative state after a wreck, what happens? Again, we all pay.

It’s not just not the motorcycle rider or passenger potentially impacted by higher non-helmet injuries, but all of us who are on the road.

If other motorists are involved in such a tragedy, they will be left emotionally scarred. They will have either taken someone’s life, albeit perhaps unintentionally, or left someone permanently disabled.

The current state law requiring helmets is based on the same principle that mandates we all wear seat belts. It saves lives and saves billions of dollars.

The CDC reports that the United States could save more than $1 billion in economic costs a year if all motorcyclists wore helmets. In addition, the CDC estimates helmets saved a 1,859 lives in 2016.

Relaxing the helmet law even for three years is just plain foolish.