Pet Peeve #2: Motorcyclists who ride motorcycles without helmets

Yesterday’s pet peeve was cars that don’t stop for pedestrians. Today’s pet peeve also deals with vehicles, but this time, the two-wheeled kind. So, without further adieu…

Pet Peeve

is motorcyclists riding motorcycles without helmets.

Our town is a tourist town here in northcentral Pennsylvania and every spring and summer, we get our fair share of motorcyclists riding through it and to it. It’s common to see motorcycles lining the streets or filling the parking lots of local restaurants.

It’s also common to see some of these motorcyclists not wearing helmets while operating their motorcycles, because under Commonwealth of Pennsylvania law, motorcyclists are allowed to ride motorcycles without helmets if the operators are “21 years of age or older and has been licensed to operate a motorcycle for not less than two full calendar years OR has completed a motorcycle safety course approved by PennDOT or the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.”

Most telling is the note at the end of the fact sheet (cited above in the link) that in answer to a question about helmets leading to neck injuries, the answer is, not surprisingly:

“No. Studies indicate that the use of a motorcycle helmet provides a significant reduction in head and neck injuries.”

Yet walking through our town on Monday, I still spied a biker sitting on his Harley, no helmet in sight. Like many bikers I’ve seen in our town, his head was shaved and in this context, it reminded me of the opening credits of CSI (around the 25-26 second mark):

I imagine his head would be split open as easily as that mannequin head if he were in a crash without a helmet.

One of the main reasons that motorcyclists without helmets is one of my pet peeves is because my wife is an EMT, and as such, she has been to her fair share of motorcycle accidents. It’d be fair (today’s word of the day: “fair” and today’s phrase of the day, in case you missed it, “fair share”) to say that four out of five of them have involved fatalities. Were they helmet-related? I don’t know that for a fact. I don’t know that the people involved would have been saved if they had been wearing a helmet, because of other factors such as speed and extenuating circumstances, namely other larger vehicles.

However, I do know that even a mouse knows to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle:

When God was handing out brains, I think it’d be fair to say that he gave mice a fair share of them. If only it applied to all motorcyclists.

24 responses to “Pet Peeve #2: Motorcyclists who ride motorcycles without helmets

  1. I’m into pet peeves and pet hates too – big time! If you’re interested, you might check out my cartoon blog at
    Cheers, Sheila

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  3. I’ve been riding motorcycles since 1971 and primarily ride in California, where helmets are required and lane splitting and HOV lane use is legal. There are certainly a lot of uneducated comments in this blog from non-riders, and some from riders as well – but to answer the original question; motorcycle riders choose to ride without helmets because they want to. It’s a matter of free will and choice, plain and simple. Just as there are many things which people do all the time which involves risk, motorcycling is no different.

    Driving while operating a cell phone, eating a cheeseburger, lighting a cigarette, loading a CD in the player or trying to keep your eyes and mind on the road while reprimanding a kid in the back seat also greatly increase the risk of death and injury on the road, yet aside from cell phone usage in many states, I don’t see these things being heavily regulated.

    There are many “risky” activities, such as hang gliding, free running, skateboarding, scuba diving, sky diving, water skiing, BMX racing, snowboarding or even somewhat innocuous things like taking a shower or using a ladder, yet helmets, while often being used in these activities, are not mandated. There are far more head injuries which occur in automobiles than on motorcycles, and yet you don’t see a public outcry for motorists to use headgear while operating their minivan.

    The bottom line is everyone must weigh their own risks and make their own choices. For the rest of us, we need to mind our own business and stop trying to mandate the lives of other people. That goes for smoking, drinking, driving, playing extreme sports, boxing – or riding a motorcycle. As long as we’re legally insured and don’t bother you, who cares? It’s my life…

    As for the lane splitting comments, yes there are some motorcyclists who do this unsafely. They go way too fast between cars or jump in where there is insufficient room. I’ve seen it many times… However when done correctly, lane splitting is actually safer than sitting between two 3500 pound vehicles in stop and go traffic where the motorcyclist is barely visible. By being able to split lanes, the rider can add the forward and backward dimension to his options as well as left and right. This freedom gives him/her a much greater ability to avoid collisions. It also takes the bike out of traffic, which helps to speed everyone’s commute up a little bit. Just some food for thought.

  4. The other thing to notice is that most of these people riding without helmets are middle-aged guys in the midst of their midlife crises. It’s pretty pathetic.

    As a long-time rider, to me it is really simple: riding without a helmet is pretty much the same thing as riding around holding up a big sign that says “I suck at motorcycle riding.” Because a good rider knows how to properly evaluate risk.

  5. gerald jordan

    I rode without a helment for years anything could happen but it didn’t. Until 3 years ago after 4 sugerys 2 on my head. Well lucky and bless I still ride but with a helment

  6. As I always said to my children upon seeing an unhelmeted rider, “You only protect the brains you want to keep.”

  7. Here is the thing….if the motorcyclists flies off with a helmet on and they are broken up, but still alive, the state may end up having to pay part of their medical bills….especially if they become a vegetable and their family can no longer pay the medical insurance and they have to go on welfare.

    But…if the motorcyclist isn’t wearing a helmet then there is a better chance he or she will be killed on impact and no extra costs will be involved.

    See….PA knows what it is doing. Ha. Ha.

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  9. All you have to do is compare the law for driving a car (wear your seatbelt) to that of allowing motorcyclists to not wear helmets. You are totally prone on a motorcycle. Yeah, freedom and all that. But your head will crack like a coconut if it hits the pavement hard enough. I’ll never understand PA law.

  10. Totally with you on this one. Anything with just two wheels is inherently dangerous. You will fall over at some point, and you’d better be wearing a helment when you do. My wife has treated dozens of helmetless motorcycle riders with serious head injuries. Most of them can’t ride anymore. Some of them can’t walk. Or even think clearly. It’s very sad.

  11. I would be way too afraid to ride anything without a helmet. I will barely ride a bike in NYC. I did last summer for a day and I just couldn’t take buses and cabs sidling up next to me. There just wasn’t enough between me and them.

  12. What Ti said about the lane-splitting – that’s one of my pet peeves too. Dangerous, and stupid, but unfortunately it’s legal.

    My husband is licensed for a motorcycle, although he doesn’t currently have one, and he’s pointed out some really dumb things motorcycle riders do. I don’t see them without helmets very often, actually, but I do see a lot of the plastic “peanut” helmets that don’t provide much protection – but they DO let the rider say “I’m wearing a helmet!”

    Riding wearing shorts and flip-flops – that’s another bright idea.

  13. Agreed. You can’t fix stupid and my insurance rates are affected by stupid.


  14. I am a former x-ray tech. Motorcycles, with and without helmets were known as job security.

  15. You can’t fix stupid.

  16. I’ve put thousands upon thousands of miles on motorcycles, on dirt and on the street. Although in a (hopefully brief) bikeless period at the moment, I don’t regret a single ride. I did, however, always wear a helmet, even when riding where they weren’t required by law. I prefer my brain in the shape nature gave it to me. πŸ™‚

  17. Here in the ‘Burgh, we went through this when Steeler Ben Rothlisberger crashed his cycle while not wearing a helmet.

    Perhaps the head injury is in part what has led to his poor judgment in so many situations lately. πŸ™‚

    • unfinishedrambler

      Ah, that explains it.

      Nice tie-in with local events…I didn’t realize about Big Ben until after I wrote the post. Otherwise, I definitely could have included him, but then that would have stolen your thunder.

  18. I had my nose broken and stayed in the hospital ward where all the motorcycle accident victims were. What with their crazy leg rebuilding mechanisms and head scars, I will never, ever, get on a motorcyle. I agree…helmets for all!

    • unfinishedrambler

      See what I’m saying, folks. A prestigious figure like VE backs me up. πŸ™‚

  19. Alas, I must comment.

    I have been on a bike without a helmet (yes it was like 20 years ago) but…

    It. Was. Glorious.

    • unfinishedrambler

      For shame!

      That said, I’m glad you survived what could have been a horrible mishap — to bring the world your own quirky sense of humor.

  20. I guess they figure it’s their body so they have to right to decide whether or not to wear one, but the trauma of killing someone or seeing someone die, would not be something you could easily shake off.

    In California, our problem is that they can weave in and out of lanes and share a lane with a car. This always freaks me out because some of those bikes are huge and they often clip something as they go by or scare the hell out of me when I am trying to make a lane change.

    • unfinishedrambler

      Yeah, I realized that this pet peeve — unlike yesterdays — is more “so what if they want to be stupid?” Yet it still bugs me. All I know is after all the stories my wife has told me about motorcycle crashes, both fatal and non-fatal, I won’t be buying a motorcycle anytime soon.

      Share a lane with a car?!? If I lived in California, that would definitely be on my list of pet peeves. Of course, if I lived in California, I’m guessing that would be near the bottom of the list on my list of pet peeves. πŸ˜‰