Kent State Interviews Stroker During Helmet Research
One Rider's Take On Helmet Laws

 

 

No this isn't Stroker, but his grandpa. Guess the year and make of the bike for a free Bikernet sticker and year-long Cantina Membership.

Photos and text from Stroker strok96@yahoo.com Kent State University student interview of Stroker for use as reference material for her research paper on helmet laws.

KS: How long have you been riding?

Stroker: 34 years

KS: Have you ever been involved in an accident?

Stroker: When I started riding I could only touch one tiptoe leaning the bike to the side. Yes, on many occasions I was picking myself up off the dirt and piecing my machine back together. Thankfully, I have only gone down once on hard surface and have not had any accidents involving other vehicles on the road.

I was in a head on collision off road with another motorcycle about 25 years ago.

KS: Is there ever an occasion where you would wear a helmet?

Stroker: If I were playing professional football, I would wear a helmet. It involves intentional head contact at speeds under 10 miles per hour. Football helmets also have very little weight.

KS: Do you think helmets prevent injuries?

Stroker: The only way to prevent an injury is to prevent an accident. Yes, if you are going under 10 miles per hour I think a motorcycle helmet can offer some protection to the head. Gary Busy drew much attention to his accident through his pro-helmet campaign. If you are going 3 miles per hour, tip your bike over, and slam your head into a cement curb like he did, a helmet would be nice. The question is, what percentage of the time are you going that slowly on a road bike?

I believe at speeds over 10 miles per hour a helmet has a much greater potential to cause injury than to protect from it. I am willing to admit that in some circumstances a helmet may offer some protection. The pro helmet argument will never admit that there are circumstances under which a helmet will cause injury. Any one who does not believe helmets can and do kill people should ask, why did NASCAR lose 4 of their top drivers in the year 2000 from basil skull fractures (broken necks) and why did they then mandate using the HANS device as does most every major auto racing sanction?

Here is information from the manufacture of the HANS (Head And Neck restraining System)device.

The HANS device was invented by Robert Hubbard, PhD., Professor, College of Engineering at Michigan State University in collaboration with his brother-in-law, long-time IMSA sports car driver, Jim Downing. The objective was to reduce the chance of serious injury caused by the violent movement of the unrestrained head and helmet combination in an accident. In a high "G"accident, say 80 Gs, a 15-pound head and helmet combination effectively weighs 1200 pounds (15 x 80) for a split second. Crash recorders in INDY cars have seen over 100 Gs. The driver's neck has to take this load. The generally accepted average threshold for injury is about 740 pounds. Injury level loads such as this can happen at speeds under 60 mph in a head-on crash.The HANS Device has been made mandatory in Formula 1 for the 2003 Racing Season. CART and Formula Atlantic have made HANS mandatory for all its series beginning 2002. A head and neck restraining system is mandatory in NASCAR's Winston Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck series, ASA and ARCA. The HANS Device is now mandatory and is being considered in other series around the world.

 

Yeah, I know a shitty shot, like most to follow, but this is Stroker's old man. He learned to ride during WWII as a Shore Patrol member for the Navy.

If you remove the extra helmet weight and use the average 9-pound weight of a human head in the above equation it shows us that the human neck is perfectly designed to take the stress of an 80G impact. 80x9=720 pounds of force applied to the neck, with an accepted injury threshold of 740 pounds. Make note that the Professor from the college of Engineering at Michigan State University also tells us that these forces take place in accidents at speeds under 60 miles per hour and he is referring to forces nearly two times the point at which injury to the neck occurs. This is sound and accepted engineering knowledge yet, the Agencies and groups entrusted by the American people for safety information refuse to accept or even consider how many people are caused injury by being forced to wear motorcycle helmets. They refuse to include in their statistical analysis how many injuries are caused by helmets and only look for information showing the good they might do.

The HANS device effectiveness is dependant on the driver being securely belted into a steel safety cage. It is not a practical or useful device to be used on street motorcycles. Also keep in mind that this is but one reason that helmets are not effective in protecting the street motorcyclist. Year after year the numbers show that more deaths per accident occur in the States with motorcycle helmets made mandatory and year after year the pro helmet argument twists the numbers to try to show differently.

This year NHTSA hurried to the media to say that since Florida removed its mandatory helmet law for adult riders the number of motorcycle deaths increased 11%. Sounds pretty bad when put that way doesn't it. What they fail to tell anyone is that the number of riders coming back to motorcycling after removing the helmet law increased 40,000. A 20% increase in motorcycle registrations in one year. When all the figures are compiled according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the death rate was actually lower by 5.2%.

KS: Both sides of this issue back up their claims with pages and pages of statistics. Do you feel these statistics prove anything?

They prove that if you include enough variables and do enough math you can make statistics say anything you want them to. Both sides of the argument are guilty of doing this. Although the statistical analysts have valid reasons to introduce variables into the number crunching, it nonetheless can be used to achieve the desired results. There are an infinite number of variables that could be thought of in a motor vehicle accident and depending on which combination of them you use, you can arrive at the desired answer. Certainly using statistics has proven to be a weak argument as we have been going back and forth with helmet law issues now for decades. What I find very frustrating are agencies or groups, given the public's trust, who out-right lie about what the numbers say. The most frequently quoted study used by the pro helmet argument is the 1996 NHTSA report:

Motorcycle Safety Foundation (part of NHTSA)
Center for Disease Control
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
American College of Emergency Physicians
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Here's, to name a very few, that have used a line out of context from the report or variations of it like:

Helmets were 35 percent effective in preventing death

Helmets reduce the risk of death in a motorcycle crash by 35% percent.

The average person or even a legislator reading that or hearing it on radio or television would think that meant anyone in a motorcycle accident without a helmet would be killed 35% of the time.

 

Riding with Long Leggs in Badlands.

The truth is, that is a percentage of a percentage. The report states that motorcycle helmets protect from any type of injury in only 9% of accidents. Only 1.3 percent of the unhelmeted group died and that is the portion that they estimate 35 percent of would have lived if wearing a helmet.

35% of 1.3% that comes out to 0.46%

An estimated 0.46% of the people in motorcycle accidents would not have died had they been wearing a helmet is what the report really says.

91% of motorcycle accidents receive absolutely no benefit from wearing a helmet. That's what the report really says.

You may say, "but still a small portion benefited and that makes it worth while." My reply is that they have refused to include any information on the number of people who were injured because they were wearing a helmet. I refer you to the HANS information I spoke of earlier.

Another point is that the 1996 NHTSA report used data from six states and only 10,000 cases. Of that 10,000 almost 8,000 of them were helmeted. Does that sound like a fair comparison to you? Does 10,000 seem like a legitimate representation of a nation of 288 million people. They took this report to the Congress of the United States and the American public as the absolute truth about helmet safety.

 

Life on the road for Stroker.

They are also still using information from the Hurt report containing data that is over twenty years old.

History of helmets estimated effectiveness at preventing death before 1996 40 to 73%
1996 35%
2001 29%

Why does the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations data consistently show a decrease in helmet effectiveness? Are helmets really less effective today than they were 10 years ago, No. What has changed is the amount of data they are using. Starting with none, then 6 states in 1996, and in 2001 they used 23 states. Less than one half of the country. In 2001 they say helmet effectiveness dropped by 6%, yet the number of states with people riding without helmets went from 24 to 30. That should have caused an increase in the relative percentage of lives saved comparing helmeted to unhelmeted riders. It did not because less people die when they do not wear helmets. As shown by NHTSA's own reports.

The 1996 report also tries to claim public burden stating that the group of motorcyclist that required public funds to pay for their injuries had costs 5% higher on unhelmeted riders. They forget to mention that the source for the data states "95% confidence limits is a standard measure of reliability when estimates are based on sample data" saying the 5% higher costs are within the margin of error and mean nothing. You can go from one Hospital to another with the exact same injury and have a 5% cost difference. They also fail to mention that in the group of riders that paid for their own medical expense the costs for helmeted riders were 19% higher. Sounds to me like people wearing helmets are a public burden. It also sounds like the government and insurance companies are being over billed by the medical industry. We've never heard of that happening before have we? NHTSA says, "lets just blame the victims for it!"

KS: What do you think is at the heart of the helmet law issue?

Stroker: The theory I am working under at this point is so disgusting that I will not share it until I have more facts to back it up.

KS: Do you think the debates are a waste of time or are they serving a purpose?

Stroker: Peoples lives are at stake. Do you think it is a waste?

KS: Is there anything, in your opinion that should be done differently in researching whether helmet laws are effective?

 

Stroke waiting at Rapid Airport calmly for 6-foot Leggs to arrive.

Stroker: We all know that helmet laws are effective at forcing people to wear helmets. I think the question your asking is, in researching if helmets are effective. I have already shown that the statistics are being manipulated and misrepresented. I have also shown that engineers can show scientific facts that prove helmets cause injury. That is the direction I think helmet research should go. We are fighting a perceived common sense issue here. The idea that something on your head is better than nothing on your head. In the past science has shown what appears to be common sense is in fact wrong. There was a time when common sense told people that the world was flat. Anyone that challenged that notion was thought insane, put in prison, or even put to death. It did not make any sense, if the world was round we would fall off. Science proved them wrong and science can prove that something on your head does not always make you safer than nothing on your head.

KS: Do you think this issue is a matter of public concern and/or personal freedom?

Stroker: Personal freedom should be the highest order of public concern! People of this country have laid down their lives in its name.

KS: Are there any instances where you think a helmet should be mandatory?

Stroker: I believe at this point you already know my answer.

KS: Is the helmet law issue a pop cultural phenomenon or do you think these laws have been around since the motorcycle was first built?

Stroker: Well, this question is not about what I think. The first helmet law in the United States was about 80 years after the invention of the motorcycle. The reason it came into being had nothing to do with safety of the rider or public burden but, that is another story.

 

Stroker and Leggs in the Badlands.

KS: You live in Florida where, in order to not wear a helmet, you must purchase extra insurance coverage to enjoy that privilege. How do you feel about that? Is it a compromise of sorts?

Stroker: Of course it is a compromise, and it sends out messages that are lies. On average there are over 2 million TBI's (traumatic brain injuries) in the United States each year. Of them it is estimated that 780 are motorcycle riders. Based on 780 out of 2,000,000 it is decided that motorcyclist are a public burden and should be forced to have extra insurance. I think that is criminal. Over 500,000 TBI'S each year are from automobile accidents. Are they not a public burden? If helmets are such wonderful safety devices why are there no laws mandating them for cars? How would John Q Public like to be forced by the government to put on a helmet every time they drove to work or to the corner store for some food? The motorcycle helmet laws have nothing to do with safety or public burden. If they did we would have automobile helmet laws as well.

One type of TBI is a concussion. What many people are not aware of is that we can receive concussions without any direct physical contact to the head. Whiplash causes brain concussions along with any sudden violent movement of the head. If you refer to the HANS information I stated earlier you will see in their example a helmet will increase the violent movement of the head/helmet combination from 720 pounds to over 1200 pounds of force. Brain concussions can and often do cause death. Even with a helmet on in a direct impact over 13 miles an hour (the rating for motorcycle helmets) you will have a brain concussion. You might look prettier for the EMT's but you will be just as dead. Engineers will tell you to have any protection from concussion in a 60 mile per hour direct impact it would take a helmet the size of a kitchen stove. Referring back to automobile TBI's, some of you may be wondering how there are over 500,000 TBIs in automobiles with these wonderful new air bags? Air bags do nothing to protect you from concussion. You look prettier but you're just as dead.

KS: I know you have done extensive research on your own concerning these laws. What motivates you to be so concerned, besides being a biker?

 

Stroker's bike at luxury accomodations.

Stroker: You are right, this is personal. Riding a motorcycle is dangerous, as is driving a car and getting out of bed in the morning. I put my life on the line every time I throw my leg over the saddle and I want to choose what is the best way to protect myself. My life, my choice. What else motivates me on this issue? it is obvious to me there is some reason this issue is being taken to our lawmakers and it is not safety. Nor is it public burden. The legislators are certainly not bringing this to the floor on their own accord. They have many other things to keep themselves busy. Some one is pushing this issue on them. I want to know whom and what the real reason behind their efforts. I have been asking people in political circles for a long time. I have received several different answers and the majority of them do not make any sense.

KS: Is there anything in your research that you have found that might be overlooked? In other words, can you offer an angle that isn't widely researched?

Stroker: Covered that

KS: Is there anything else you would like to comment on, or add?

Stroker: Yes, another thing that riders have been trying to get through to these so-called experts is that helmets limit our hearing and vision. NHTSA and many other groups continue to tell the public that the people riding the motorcycles don't know what they're talking about. NHTSA did yet another study and concluded that the only sounds a motorcyclist need to hear are horns and emergency sirens. They say the study shows that is all anyone can hear without a helmet due to wind and motor noise. I don't need any scientist, data, or statistics because I can tell you from my own experience that is an absolute lie. Many people make jokes about me riding with a bandana covering my face, but you see I discovered while riding in the Arizona desert that if you use a large bandana to cover your face, tie it high on the back of your head so that it completely covers your ears it almost completely eliminates wind noise. I can hear everything around me, I can hear birds singing as I ride by at highway speeds.

Have you ever been to an event using an amateur P.A. system, such as an outdoor high school graduation where the wind blowing across the microphone makes so much noise you can't hear the speaker? But, when you hear a professional microphone used outside by a news reporter it is quiet? That's because they have a wind cover on the microphone. It works the same way.

 

his bike

Stroker's trusty Softail.

If you believe being able to hear doesnít protect the safety of a motorcycle rider you are wrong. No matter what equipment a rider has on if they are in a crash they will get hurt. The best way to protect a motorcyclist is to avoid an accident in the first place. We need to use all of our senses to their maximum capability to do that.

Non-riders would never know that we can tell when a vehicle is approaching behind us without seeing or even hearing them. You can feel them. A vehicle compresses the air in front of it as it pushes forward creating a pillow of air that reaches an amazing distance in front of them.

Back to hearing, I will give you a personal example of how important hearing can be to a rider. I was riding through small town America in Michigan one fall day. It was a typical main street lined with three story buildings creating blind intersections. I was suddenly aware of a noise around me. Michigan, being a helmet state, my ears were covered by dense foam and then a thick layer of plastic and I could not make out exactly what the sound was. More importantly I could not distinguish what direction it was coming from. You see, to detect direction of sound we depend on the stereo effect of having two ears. The hard outer surface of a helmet tends to blend the sounds coming from different directions and feeds them equally to both ears. I turned my head to try to visually locate where the sound was coming from and when I returned to a forward view a police car with its lights and siren on came charging into the intersection directly in front of me and STOPPED. I had to make a panic stop (maximum braking) arriving with my front wheel only inches from the driver's door. I will never forget the officer looking down at my wheel slowly raising his mirrored glasses level to mine, giving me a cheesy grin and continuing off on his mission.

I will never know why he stopped, if he would have just continued through the intersection it would have been no problem. If he would have had an old fashion siren, I may have been able to tell it was a police car but it was one of the new type that cycle through all different siren noises and it happened to be in one of those weird pulsing and whirring phases. I would have easily identified the sound and more importantly the direction of the police car had I not been wearing a helmet and this situation would have turned from a close call into a non-issue. As far as only needing to hear horns and sirens as NHTSA says, most road motorcycle accidents involve another 4-wheeled vehicle and over 70% of the time they are at fault. Usually stating they did not see the motorcycle. If they do not see us they certainly are not going to be sounding their horn as any warning. I can tell you from experience that a motorcyclist can hear the vehicles around them if they are not wearing a helmet. I can hear a car approaching an intersection before I can see it.

NHTSA says helmets don't block vision. The way they test it is true. If you sit in a chair and use a machine to check your peripheral vision it checks fairly well. They admit that even in that test some peripheral vision is blocked but say it doesn't matter. What the machines can't tell them is that in the real world things are quite different and there is more than one way to limit vision. Motorcycle riders often will turn their head for a visual check as mirrors don't always do the job, especially if you have had some reason stopping you from checking them in the last few seconds. NHTSA says that helmets don't limit the ability to check the lane beside the rider. That is fairly accurate, but when making a lane change, a rider will often need to rotate farther around to look down the adjacent lane as a vehicle may be closing at a much higher rate of speed then they are traveling and would be dangerous to pull in front of them. That is when a helmet will directly block the rider's view. If you keep both hands on the bars (as required by law in many states) and rotate your head to look behind, you will see only helmet. If your eyes are pointing forward as in a peripheral vision test a helmet does not block much. If your eyes are at their side limit of motion a helmet blocks a lot of vision.

 

stroker and Angel

Stroker ain't all about statistics.

Another way helmets limit vision is by greatly delaying the amount of time it takes to turn the head. Not only from the extra mass of the helmet but, mostly because of wind resistance. At highway speed it is fairly easy to initially turn your head to the side as the wind is actually helping you. Returning to the forward view can take a great deal of effort by the neck. In potential accident situations hundredths of a second can mean the difference between life and death.

As long as I'm talking about wind resistance (drag) I will also mention the tremendous amount of fatigue caused from the added drag of a helmet. For non-riders, have you ever stuck your hand out the window of a car at highway speeds? It takes a considerable amount of strength to keep from having your arm slammed against the window frame. Not only does the over all size of a helmet increase drag. On a standard full helmet there is considerable right angle surface around the face opening that act like air dams. The amount that a helmet pulls at a motorcyclist's neck at highway speed is unbelievable. After only one hour of riding at highway speed in a helmet the neck fatigue can make you feel completely exhausted. Especially if you are pushing a head wind.

Without a helmet I can ride all day on the expressway without any neck fatigue. The human head is quite aerodynamic, almost makes you think we were made to go fast. Fatigue can play a major roll in motorcycle accidents. If I am not alert and using all of my sense, my chances of avoiding an accident are greatly lowered.

 

stroker and balls

Stroker and one of the major leaders in the motorcyclists' right industry, Balls.

I believe that complaining without offering a solution only makes you part of the problem. Therefore I will close with this thought. The roll of the government in safety equipment should be to keep the public informed of ways to protect themselves. The agencies can use the same money they are using now to push their law agendas (and it is a lot of money) to produce public awareness campaigns. It is not the job of the government to tell the people they are too stupid to make choices regarding their own safety. Life is about risk. Each person has their own level of risk at which they choose to live. Some people believe leaving the security of their home is a highly unnecessary risk (that is a fact, believe it or not). Some people feel life is not worth living unless you are on the edge. Most of us choose something in between, and that is how this country was intended to be. Government for the people by the people. Safety equipment should be our free choice as long as it does not directly infringe on others rights. Every person that steps out of bed in the morning and takes a breath of air is a potential public burden. That is not a valid argument for striping one of their freedom of choice, their freedom to live their life as they need to.

Additional note:

NBC news recently ran a story questioning whether the government agency whose jobs depend on their ability of finding ways to make our highways safer, should also be in charge of testing that same safety equipment and reporting on it. Right on NBC, we have the fox guarding the hen house!