As their title makes clear, “American Bikers Active Toward Education” are not out to promote coherent English.
They presumably chose the moniker for acronymic purposes, although it is by no means clear what they propose to abate. It cannot be road casualties, for they were out in force last week pushing a bill, sponsored by state Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, that would allow riders over 21 to go helmetless.
ABATE state President Randy Postlewait, the first to testify before a committee considering the bill, noted that, at an earlier hearing, legislators had been unable to pronounce his name correctly. Postlewait congratulated them on doing better this time, but then made a complete hash of “Schexnayder.” That proved an appropriate start to a session riddled with misstatements of fact.
Schexnayder, who runs a towing company and rides a bike on weekends, kicked it off by suggesting that data from other states showed helmets make no appreciable difference to death and injury rates.
He didn’t have the data with him, which was not surprising. If you go without a helmet you are much more likely to get killed or spend the rest of your days as a vegetable, and it was a waste of time for Postlewait and his fellow bikers to claim otherwise at the hearing.
John LeBlanc, director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, was there with the real dope, so committee members were not deceived. They nevertheless voted unanimously for the bill, accepting the bikers’ most compelling argument — that if they want to risk riding without a helmet, they should be free to do so. Ain’t nobody else’s business.
Nonbikers may find it difficult to understand why the helmet requirement arouses such passionate opposition. The usual analogy is with the seat-belt law, which drivers readily recognize as a rational safety measure. But seat belts cause no real inconvenience, whereas helmets are uncomfortable and greatly diminish the pleasure of riding a bike. Yours truly has a long enough memory to attest that zooming along the highway with the wind blowing through your hair is an exhilarating experience. Bikers tend to be free spirits; certainly Postlewait et al didn’t come across as guys who cotton to being told what to do.
The rationale for making them wear helmets is that the rest of us may get stuck with the tab when they wreck. The ones who get killed, or have enough insurance to pay their medical bills, are no problem, but brain-damaged bikers can take a toll on the public purse. On the other hand, without helmets, fewer of them would survive to run up medical bills, so maybe we’d be left with a wash if bikers were given freedom of choice as, Schexnayder told the panel, they are in 28 other states.
The helmet requirement was lifted when Louisiana had a biker governor in the unlikely person of old Mike Foster, but was restored under Kathleen Blanco after death and injury rates went up. The same thing happened in Florida and Texas, LeBlanc told the committee, when they adopted legislation like Schexnayder’s. Gov. John Bel Edwards said he won’t sign the Schexnayder bill, but has not said he will go so far as to veto it.
Citing research from LSU and the Centers for Disease Control, LeBlanc left no doubt that statistics nationwide establish that helmets make motorcycling safer. Schexnayder’s bill would mean an extra 128 bikers dead within 10 years, LeBlanc said. But, if bikers are jake with that, there is no reason for the rest of us to fret.
There is certainly no reason for bikers to give us a bum steer on the safety issue. That wasn’t the only other string to their bow, however. Postlewait also explained that Louisiana loses out on the tourist dollar because vacationing bikers won’t cross the state line, preferring to ride bare-headed in Arkansas. When they plan a big rally, moreover, they will not choose to stage it in Louisiana.
If Schexnayder’s bill will mean hundreds of bikers descending on Louisiana neighborhoods, it is possible that not all the residents will be overjoyed. Other than that, there is no reason to make them wear helmets if they are prepared to risk being left inactive toward education.
James Gill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.