Where helmets are headed

July 1 marked the first day of Florida's no-helmet law. Motorcyclists who carry more than $10,000 in medical insurance can ride their bikes without the cumbersome problem of attaching a plastic cap to their heads.

But if another Southern state is any indication, cyclists will need that insurance. Louisiana repealed its helmet law last summer. The state now reports a near-doubling of highway fatalities involving motorcyclists.

Through May 2000, the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission reported 22 motorcyclist deaths. Of those, 11 riders weren't wearing helmets. In another case an investigator could not determine whether the rider was wearing one or not.

During the same time period in 1999, 12 motorcyclists died in Louisiana.

News of the increase in fatalities surprised two motorcyclists: Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster and his son Murphy, both of whom lobbied against the helmet requirement. The governor's office responded by saying a longer-term analysis was needed.

In Florida, death projections have already been completed. The Central Florida Safety Council, a nonprofit organization, expects a 53 percent increase in motorcycle-related fatalities throughout the state. That means 100 more riders will perish between now and next July than the 183 who died throughout 1998.

Many of those projected deaths will be novice riders who decided buying a motorcycle would be fun since they no longer had to wear a helmet. "It's a new-found freedom," says Glenn Victor, a Safety Council spokesman. "They can hop on a bike and ride any time."

In this case, maybe the freedom to wear a helmet is what should be stressed. As Victor says, "[It's] kind of a no-brainer."

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