State Interviews Stroker During Helmet Research
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
Photos and text from Stroker
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
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
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
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
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
KS: Both sides of this issue back up their claims with
pages and pages of statistics. Do you feel these statistics
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%
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
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%
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
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
Stroke waiting at Rapid Airport calmly for 6-foot Leggs to
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
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
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.
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
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 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.
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!