Hospital joins lawmaker in push to pass helmet law

By Gene Park

February 3, 2012

 

When a motorcycle accident occurs, there’s one question reporters always ask: Were they wearing helmets?

On Wednesday a 51-year-old man was in critical condition after crashing his mo-ped in Kailua. He sustained head injuries and was not wearing a helmet.

Hawaii is not among the 20 states that require all motorcyclists to wear helmets, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Instead, only riders age 17 and under must wear helmets in Hawaii.

In lieu of an all-encompassing helmet law, the Queen’s Medical Center has begun offering public presentations about helmets and giving them away.

“While we’re waiting for (a law to get passed), people are dying,” says Cora Speck, the hospital’s coordinator of injury prevention and research at its trauma center, which has treated many head injury victims. “We tell people’s stories, from real patients, real medical providers, about what happens with and without a helmet.”

A one-hour presentation was held Monday at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where 54 people filled out surveys on whether they would support a full helmet law. Speck says only two were against it.

The program is a partnership between the state Department of Transportation, which provided $29,000 for helmets, and Montgomery Motorsports, which is giving out the headgear. Any Hawaii school can request a similar presentation by calling Speck at 691-7059.

For decades, state Rep. Barbara Maru­moto has tried to get a helmet law passed. About $1.9 million a year in taxpayer dollars is spent on hospital expenses for motorcyclists with head injuries who were covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

“We all pay for the injuries,” she says. “But it’s always an uphill battle.”

Opponents and motorcycle lobby groups such as the American Motorcyclist Association argue the government has no business in what amounts to a personal decision, and instead advocate better rider education and stricter licensing.

Marumoto isn’t alone in her effort. The National Transportation Safety Board, an independent federal agency, also has urged states to enact mandatory helmet laws for all riders.

Helmets won’t prevent crashes, but the National Transportation Safety Board says wearing a helmet reduces the risk of dying by 37 percent.

Marumoto’s helmet bill, House Bill 16, is likely to be ignored again this session, which would be unfortunate. The personal and medical costs keep mounting.

In the meantime I commend Queen’s and its partners for being proactive and approaching the problem helmet first.

Reach Gene Park at gpark@staradvertiser.com or Twitter as@GenePark.

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