MELBOURNE, Fla. - Motorcycle fatalities involving riders without helmets have soared in the nearly six years since Gov.
Jeb Bush repealed the state's mandatory helmet law, a newspaper reported Sunday.
A Florida Today analysis of federal motorcycle crash statistics found "unhelmeted" deaths in Florida rose from 22 deaths in 1998 and 1999, the years before the helmet law repeal, to 250 deaths in 2004, the most recent data available.
By comparison, Florida logged 270 deaths of riders without helmets during the 1990s, when riding without a helmet was illegal, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports.
Total motorcycle deaths in the state have increased 67 percent from 259 in 2000 to 432 in 2004, statistics show.
Records also show a corresponding rise in the popularity of motorcycles in the Sunshine State. Motorcycle registrations have increased 87 percent in Florida since Bush signed the helmet law repeal on July 1, 2000.
The debate over motorcycle helmet safety resurfaced last week when Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, an advocate of helmet-free riding, broke his jaw, nose and several teeth in an accident. He underwent seven hours of surgery.
Merritt Island motorcyclist and helmet law opponent Dave Carroll said the helmet law debate is misguided.
"The media spent way too much time harping on the helmet issue and not enough on the cause of the accident," Carroll said. "What causes most of the crashes is cars. Usually, it's the car driver turning left at an intersection and causing an accident because they didn't see us coming."
Physicians and insurance companies say helmets are crucial safety gear.
"We used to call (helmetless riders) 'organ donors,' because they break their head and not their body," said Dr. David Harbour, who works in the emergency room at Wuesthoff Medical Center in Rockledge. "You can actually fix a broken bone. But if you hit your head and hurt your brain, there's little we can do to fix that."
Can't say I'd go to that doctor for assistance, if I had the choice.