Lindsey Treffry | The Argonaut
He was riding his motorcycle too fast. Perhaps it was inexperience. He went in to a corner in the road — a sharp turn — that caused the bike to flip. He landed face-first in a pile of rocks and came-to after he was knocked out, blood dripping from his mouth. He hit his head, broke his jaw and nose and suffered other facial injuries. He wore a helmet that day.
But 40 years later, Lane Triplett said he would never force someone to wear a helmet.
This motorcycle crash was one of three Triplett, the chairman of the Idaho Coalition for Motorcycle Safety, has had. The latter two he was not wearing a helmet, but did break numerous bones.
“The standard for ICMS is that we support the use of helmets, but we do not support the helmet law,” Triplett said. “We support freedom of choice.”
The Idaho motorcycle helmet law only requires persons under 18 to wear helmets. All low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc, a brake horsepower greater than five, or a cycle that can attain speeds greater than 30 mph are covered by the motorcycle helmet law. Idaho has no law regulating bicycle helmet use.
“We want people to make good choices — a choice that is right for them,” Triplett said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2009 that the number of motorcycle fatalities in Idaho per capita was the highest it’s been during the past decade and was double that of Washington, which requires helmet use.
In 2009, 37 motorcycle fatalities were reported in Idaho — a per capita rate of 2.4 persons per 100,000. Washington, in comparison, reported a per capita rate of 1.1 fatalities per 100,000. Idaho also ranked higher than the national average in motorcycle fatalities in 2009.
In a similar report published by Triplett, he pointed out that 18 of the Idaho fatalities were by out-of-state riders. He also found through his own research only 34 fatalities in 2009, as opposed to 37 in the NHTSA report, and 28 fatalities in 2010.
“I did a biker’s take on fatalities as opposed to a statisticians view,” Triplett said. “Most of what I’ve been looking for is how crashes happen, who’s at fault and why we die.”
He found that of 62 motorcycle fatalities, 23 riders wore helmets, two wore novelty helmets, 36 wore no helmets at all and one report was unknown.
“(The reports) rarely (include) much about helmets,” Triplett said. “What can’t be done is law enforcement can’t say a person died because of a helmet. Only an autopsy can do that.”
Mike Capshaw has seen about four motorcycle collisions in the past 10 years as a volunteer firefighter in Plummer and Worley.
Capshaw said a fellow firefighter responded to a call for a motorcycle versus deer collision. The motorcyclist was not wearing a helmet and did not survive.
“It’s hard to tell if there was head trauma that killed them or if it was other trauma,” Capshaw said.
Brenda Bolton is the Twin Falls representative for ICMS and advocates against the helmet law.
“I think it should be our choice,” Bolton said. “There are statistics that show that some helmets cause just as much injury as not wearing one.”
Bolton said younger people seem to wear helmets more, because they are required to until they turn 18.
“They get used to wearing them, and they keep on wearing them,” Bolton said. “Just like seat belts — kids are raised with seat belts. I was not raised with seat belts. It’s the first thing they do before they turn on the ignition.”
For Triplett, wearing his helmet has become a habit.
“It’s just like when you get in the car and put a seat belt on,” Triplett said. “(I think) ‘Sure it’s hot, I really don’t wanna wear this (helmet)’ but I wind up doing it anyway.”
He said he doesn’t think about the issue of helmet use when he rides, but he made the decision to wear a helmet when he became chairman of ICMS.
“I wanted to show others that even though I supported their right to choose, I still wore a helmet,” he said.
Virginia Galizia, the ombudsman for the Brain Injury Alliance of Idaho, does not keep her opinion on helmet use to herself.
“(Seven) weeks ago I saw a guy on his motorcycle and I rolled down my window,” Galizia said. “I said ‘I suffer from a brain injury. Wear a helmet. It will save your life.’ He ignored me.”
Galizia is a 13-year brain injury survivor of a car accident in New York, in which she also lost her leg.
“People don’t think it’s going to happen to them,” Galizia said. “I was an associate dean. I lost my job and now I’m disabled too.”
She said the risks are twofold when a helmet is not worn.
“You don’t survive if you get in a (motorcycle) accident, or you’ll be a vegetable,” Galizia said.
Galizia has been involved with BIAI since December 2010 and said in the past year she has met eight people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries due to motorcycle or bicycling collisions. She said she met a young motorcyclist from Pocatello who was recently in a motorcycle accident that crushed his skull. She said he has neurological as well as anger issues.
“I’m over 60 so I don’t care (that I have a brain injury), but these young people have their lives to live,” Galizia said.
Capshaw said during his time as a firefighter, his crew jokingly called motorcyclists “organ donors.”
“A lot of the time, motorcyclists say ‘If I get hit I’d rather be killed than have to live and be crippled,’” Capshaw said. “They may not be killed, and not only do they have to live maybe crippled, but they have to live mentally diminished.”
Galizia said she was lucky as a brain injury survivor, because she was able to push herself to get better due to her doctorate degree in psychology. But she said not all brain injury survivors are as lucky, and some do not have the family support or the education to learn how to cope.
Capshaw said the struggle brain injury survivors endure can be just as difficult for the family.
“If you’ve been around anyone that’s had a head injury, they’re pretty hard to recover from,” Capshaw said. “You might survive, but you won’t be the same person that you were prior to it. If you got a brain injury you aren’t going to be the person that your loved ones know.”
Galizia stressed that people can save their lives by simply purchasing a helmet for $20 to $30. However, most good quality motorcycle helmets range above $150.
Justin Crawford, a member of the ICMS Board of Directors, was the previous head of Idaho motorcycle awareness rallies. He said concerns exist for and against wearing helmets.
“Amongst a number of motorcycle enthusiasts, helmets are distracting,” Crawford said. “People complain about their neck hurting. One of the many concerns of helmets is with visual distraction or auditory impairment.”
But Crawford said ICMS does not share that opinion.
“I’m for accident prevention instead of dealing with the accident through safer crashing,” Crawford said. “If we can stop accidents from happening, we’re better off than dealing with safer crashing.”
ICMS prevention rallies, like the annual May Motorcycle Awareness Rally in conjunction with the Idaho Transportation Department, may be doing just that.
Triplett said fatalities in Idaho today are less than 50 percent of last year’s.
“All vehicle fatalities are down statewide, but none are like motorcycles,” Triplett said.
Although they cannot be sure of the cause, Triplett and Crawford said they hoped it was due to the work of ICMS. They both still think it is an individual’s right to decide whether or not to wear a helmet.
“I look at my helmet and think ‘Is this a day I need it or not?’” Triplett said. “And I just keep putting it on.”
As seen in Dec. 2 issue of The Argonaut.
Part two of the helmet series can be found here.