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Motorcycle safety: NO HELMET?!

Season 6: Project Alaska

1 August 2022

My previous blog about whether I think Mexico is a dangerous for motorcycling, sparked an interesting debate. It got me to think about something else regarding safety that I noticed now that I crossed into the United States: helmets. Or to be more specific: the lack of helmets. As a European, seeing motorcyclists riding without helmets is quite an unfamiliar sight. Bikers riding 120 km/hr with nothing more than a bandana wrapped around their heads. Every time I see a rider like that, I just die a little inside. Why wouldn't you want to protect your most vital body part?  

Helmet laws

It shocked me so much to see this, that I fired up my laptop to browse the web looking for information on helmet laws in the USA. Turns out, that out of 50 states, helmets are only mandatory for all riders in 19 states. Nineteen states only! The other states either don't require a helmet by law, or only for riders up until a certain age (17 or 20 years old). To me, that just sounds absolutely insane. As if you won't hurt your head if you crash if you are above 20 years old. Younger riders might take more risks, but an accident can happen to any motorcyclist. Regardless of experience or age.

Wrong helmet    

To enforce wearing a helmet by law is one thing. However, if wearing a motorcycle helmet is not mandatory, you can still choose to wear one. Instead, I saw countless motorcyclists riding in the USA without a helmet. That means they actively choose not to protect their head. I was intrigued with the reasoning behind that. Some more internet browsing taught me that according to some polls, many don't want to wear a helmet because they claim it gives them physical discomfort. Or they claim that it results in visual limitations. My response to those reasons is that they've just been wearing the wrong helmet. A good quality helmet will not give you any discomfort nor any visual limitations. Personally, I think it has more to do with how some people feel a biker should look like. A helmet doesn't make them look cool (enough). 

Don't get me wrong, I also find it important to have riding gear that is flattering and looks good. I even try to match my gear with the colour of my motorcycle. So, I get it. But looks should never, I repeat never, get prioritized over basic motorcycle safety. I don't know if I can speak for more riders, but to me, I actually enjoy the feeling of my helmet on my head. The way it squeezes my face and feeling the weight of it makes me feel secure and in my element. To all bikers that use the physical discomfort as a reason for not wearing a helmet, I say: buy a better helmet and just get used to the feeling! 

Hypocritical

I'm not sure why this topic struck such a chord with me. Perhaps it is the daily messages that I receive with all sorts of warnings about how dangerous the world and what I'm doing is. (Please read the previous blog where I talk more about this). Having a lot of people tell me how dangerous it is to ride a motorcycle solo around the world and then seeing people riding around their hometown without a helmet seems hypocritical. Or at least, it's another example of how we all perceive danger and risk differently. 

 I would rather ride hundreds of thousands of kilometers solo around the world, than ride one kilometer on a highway without a helmet. But hey, that's just me! 

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Almost everyone takes some kind of risk in their life, gambling, drinking, skydiving, professional athletes of every kind all endanger their health and life to some degree. Noraly protects her head with a helmet but takes a chance on travel to countries where a single unaccompanied woman has very little if any protection from the law. Maybe now protected to some degree by foreign celebrity status but it is still a fairly big risk in my view.
Canada takes the prize for silly helmet laws where a Sikh can legally ware a turban instead of a helmet. Not sure who is more crazy the lawmakers or Sikh men who lobbied for the exemption.
I say let an adult owner of a head decide the level of protection it needs. I see no need for legal intervention.

Piotr  | 

Texas_Rider is spot on. The 'laws' that some of us have to follow are only there to control us.
Wearing seatbelts and helmets may well be 'sensible' but that's not the point.
If you are an adult, it should be your CHOICE.
We've all seen the attempts to remove choice during the CONvid nonsense. Watch out for that slippery slope.
On the subject of hypocrisy, Noraly, I've seen you riding one handed on a dirt road so you can film.
Hit a pot hole and you are off. Broken leg? Neck? Who knows?
I've also seen you give a lift to someone that didn't have a helmet, stating that "I wouldn't normally do this"
But you did!!

Lewie  | 

Noraly, you hit the nail on the head when you said we all have our own perceived risks in life. Some people find it dangerous to ride solo in Mexico while other people don't find it dangerous to ride without a motorcycle helmet. I typically gear up on most rides but sometimes I chose not to wear a helmet on other rides. Some of you might think that's too risky. That's fine. I think its risky when driving through Mexico and I see a family of 4 on a motorcycle while the Mom's carrying an infant in her arms going 40mph. You would not see that in the US and if you did people would think that's way too dangerous. Being from the US, it's definitely in most peoples DNA to value individual freedom above all else. Just look at the history of how the US was formed and what we fought for. Jefferson said it best when he said, "Give me dangerous freedom any day over peaceful slavery." So be careful when you wish for a certain law against individual freedom because one day the next politician just may create a law that takes away a freedom you enjoy.

Texas_Rider  | 

I only started riding 2 years ago but I definitely prefer wearing all of my safety gear all of the time. Yes, it gets pretty uncomfortable in the summer here in Phoenix but I'd rather not take any chances. Many commenters have already mentioned just how "individualistic" so many americans are and how they view manditory laws and rules. But I agree with you Noraly in that I think it's pretty insane to see so many motorcyclists riding around withour a helmet, or any other gear for that matter. In my view, people that don't wear helmets because they feel it's "my choice" are short-sighted and immature. The unfortunate part is that if that person were to die because they weren't wearing a helmet, it doesn't effect just that one person. It affects a whole littany of people; from family, friends, relatives, hospitals, churches, funeral homes, insurance companies and cemetaries to name a few. In Arizona where I live, a person 18 years or older is not required to wear a helmet. But I've made my choice. I choose to wear my helmet all of the time.

Michael Skinner  | 

Long time motorcycle rider... I was taught in the mid 1960s never get on a motorcycle without a helmet. I still practice that today. The only other places in the world where people ride without helmets is less developed countries...Mainly low displacement bikes as family transportation in many cases...and in the US, people on these superbikes that are just absurdly fast without helmets. A Alaska mosquito in the face at 190kph could be detrimental to ones health. I personally just don't get it.

WjD  | 

As a lifelong motorcyclist and former amateur racer, I learned (often the hard way) that wearing all the gear, all the time is essential.
That said, what you are seeing is largely cultural - we are a nation born from rebellion, it’s in our DNA. Helmets were far more commonplace (outside 1% clubs) before Reagan’s mandate. To make something “mandatory” triggers widespread defiance. Likewise, prohibitions actually increase the proscribed behavior.
We Americans tend to be pathologically anti-authoritarian.
“They should make a law forbidding intelligence. If it works as well as Prohibition, within 5 years America would be the smartest nation on earth.” - Will Rogers

Captain Spaulding  | 

Sometimes I think about the times when I used to ride without a helmet and I thank God, heavens or whatever, for surviving my only serious crash (had a nasty gash on my left eyebrow, blood everywhere and a cracked collarbone). Can´t understand this "choice" thing that people talk about. I choose to live to ride another day, even if I have a crash. So, it is as much gear as I can for me.
On a slightly different note, I sometimes worry about you, Noraly, when you ride with your visor open, in the woods. I had bugs and other debris flying into my eyes a few times (painful as hell) in the past to know you shouldn´t.
Keep on riding, girl! Cheers from Brazil.

Wellington  | 

Há 30 anos quando tinha uma Honda CB 400 não era obrigatório o uso de capacete e na maior parte do tempo eu andava com ele no braço. Sem dúvida a sensação do vento no rosto é deliciosa. Hoje, já é obrigatório, mas independente da legislação eu não consigo andar 10 metros sem capacete, me sinto inseguro. Fico boquiaberto quando vou para o interior do Nordeste, onde a quantidade de motos é absurda, e vejo que ninguém usa capacete ainda que seja obrigatório. E a polícia assisti a tudo sem tomar nenhuma providencia.

Carlos Freire  | 

I've been riding since 12 years old. I have always worn my safety gear because starting out I didn't have any for my dirt bike.Then I learned from going to motocross races that the racers had protective gear on. I remember the light bulb moment. (ha ha) Oh! now I saw how not to get all scratched up and hurt. I bought my first motocross boots and riding gear about 14? I have always bought the best touring jacket,heated liners,mesh jackets, boots,gloves etc. I try to stay as comfortable as possible.I'm now 68 years young and own two motorcycles. I recently went to a modular helmet to fight the 80 and 90 degree heat. They give me the option of riding open faced but still protected with a shield. Love your travels and as always cannot wait until the next video. My last ride I had the gray Alaska T. Shirt on. Loved it

Bp in Ky  | 

Personally I agree that if your feeling discomfort wearing a helmet you probably should try another type, doing more then 250K around the world from icy road to desert heat I hardly encountered situations that my helmet was so uncomfortable that I rather didn't wear it..
Even partly growing up in Cali I never understood why bikers choose not to wear a helmet as if showing the freedom not to wear one is more important than your own head.
Maybe being a child of a trauma surgeon and a paramedic has influenced me there, having a family enforced helmet law.
To me it is like seatbelts, there are very few occasions where not wearing them is safer then wearing them.

PO  | 
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