Wearing a helmet a choice under Utah’s partial helmet law

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Motorcyclists around campus are aware of the pros and cons of the partial helmet law in Utah.

(Jessica Olsen)

It is a legal choice not to wear helmets for motorcyclists 18 or older in Utah. This is known as a partial helmet law, similar to what is present in 27 other states. Nonetheless, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the risk of death when riding a motorcycle is reduced by 37 percent when helmets are worn.

Utah residents are advocating the use of helmets for motorcyclists since there is no law enforcing it.

The Utah legislature has gone back and forth regarding the issue, but there are currently no bills or laws in place for the majority of motorcycle riders on the road.

However, the issue is still pressing to some Utah residents. A Lehi family was left devastated when their 20-year-old son got in a collision with a vehicle in 2012. Eric Shimp was driving his self-built motorcycle when a truck pulled out in front of him. The result of that collision left Eric with a traumatic brain injury, shattered leg, collapsed lung and broken collar bone, among other injuries. The doctors said the only thing that saved his life was the helmet he was wearing. Without it, he would not have survived the impact.

“What stuck around most was his brain injury,” Eric’s sister, Natalie Shimp said. “He can no longer walk or speak or do any of those things.”

Eric had made some progress, but a secondary infection lost all of those advances.

Now Eric spends his time at a rehabilitation facility, and Natalie, a senior in high school, uses her time to advocate helmet safety.

“That’s when I realized how important it is to wear a helmet so I actually started going into schools and talking about the importance of our brain and what it’s like to have a brain injury,” Natalie said.

Many children ride their bikes to school without a helmet, yet there are cars driving only three to four feet away from the children. Natalie wants these children to pledge to wear helmets, even if they are simply on a bike ride a few blocks from home.

Natalie Shimp promotes helmet safety at a local school with her campaign, Be Headstrong. (Shimp Family)

When school is out this coming summer, Natalie will participate in the Miss Lehi Pageant, running a campaign called Be Headstrong to promote Eric’s cause. Natalie hopes to raise awareness of the need for drivers to watch out for motorcycles and the importance of wearing a helmet.

The Utah Department of Public Safety released a statistic that although motorcycles are only involved in 2.1 percent of total crashes, they account for 13 percent of fatal crashes. Be Headstrong will be a campaign that can help lower that percentage of fatal crashes with an increase of helmet-wearing, starting at the root by teaching children and raising awareness.

“I think it should be a law,” Natalie explained, “I think it prevents more accidents than it causes harm.”

Gabe Betancourt, a senior majoring in exercise science at Brigham Young University, said BYU students sometimes don’t wear a motorcycle helmet because of the bulky inconvenience it invokes.

“It’s a really big and inconvenient thing to carry around on campus all day,” Betancourt said. “That’s definitely been a major deciding factor for the few times I’ve forgone my helmet.”

Regardless of the increased risk on a motorcycle, the experience is what keeps some riders on the bike.

“Through the handlebars of your motorcycle, you feel the texture of the road,” Jake Lee, a BYU senior majoring in geology,  described. “It’s something that encompasses all of your senses.”

Lee has been riding for three years and is also a strong advocate for wearing a helmet.

“For me personally, when I didn’t wear a helmet, just to try it out, I felt really exposed,” Lee said. “A helmet is the one piece of life-saving equipment that you wear.”

Betancourt wears a helmet just in case.

“It doesn’t really matter how skilled I am in riding a motorcycle. I can always be in an accident by some negligent driver,” Betancourt said, “That’s why.”

Motorcyclists are over-represented in fatalities causing motorcyclists like Lee to advise those with motorcycles to drive safe. “People that have motorcycles: Learn how to drive, and people that drive cars: watch out for motorcycles,” Lee said.

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