GA’s Secret Weapon – The Helmet

The manager of a St. Augustine, Fla., motorcycle shop almost proudly recalled an accident he had a year ago. “I went down at 70 miles an hour,’’ said the man, who said he is known locally only by his nickname, “100 Proof.’’

He pointed to the damage on his body: a scar on the top of his shaved skull and a “road rash’’ on a heavily tattooed shoulder.

He was riding without a helmet when he got his injuries. Nevertheless, he said Thursday that he’s happy the Sunshine State requires only $10,000 in insurance for someone 21 or older to ride a motorcycle without a helmet. (Younger Floridians must wear them.)

“We want the freedom to do what we want,’’ said 100 Proof, who manages Six Gun Cycle.

When he rides across the state line into Georgia, though, he puts on a helmet. That’s because Georgia is one of 19 states with a law that requires all motorcyclists to wear one. The sight of helmetless riders in Florida, in fact, appears jarring to a Georgian.

A recently released CDC study found that states with “universal” helmet laws, meaning all riders must wear the protective headgear, save costs and lives. The study found the economic costs saved from helmet use in states with universal helmet laws were nearly four times greater than in states without such a law.

In 2000, the researchers noted, Florida switched from a full helmet law to the partial one mentioned by 100 Proof — one that requires helmets only for riders under 21 and those who don’t have $10,000 in insurance.

During the two years after the law was changed, the study said, the Florida motorcyclist death rate increased by 21 percent, and hospital admissions of motorcyclists with injuries to the head, brain and skull rose by 82 percent!

The gross costs charged to hospital-admitted motorcyclists with those injuries more than doubled, from $21 million to $50 million.

Alan Ernst, another resident of St. Augustine, was riding without a helmet in the historic coastal town on Thursday. But Ernst, a graduate student originally from Wisconsin, said he was aware of the connection between helmets and safety.

“It’s good to have one,’’ he said. “I’m getting one.’’

While it would be difficult to convince someone like 100 Proof about the need for a universal helmet law, Ernst told GHN that he was open to the idea.

The CDC study estimated that Georgia had the ninth-highest savings — $70 million — as a result of motorcycle helmet use (in terms of medical costs averted, worker productivity preserved and other benefits). The lives of an estimated 34 Georgians were saved by helmet use per 100,000 registered motorcycles in 2010.

Several other Southeastern states have universal helmet laws: Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina.

It’s not common to see the Southeastern states taking a leading position on a public health issue. But on motorcyclists’ safety, with Florida being an obvious exception, the South has chosen a better route

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