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Gossard vs. Woodward

If Bill Gossard of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board deigns to grace our little state and testify against AB 300 – the “Let Those Who Ride Decide” proposal to repeal Nevada’s mandatory motorcycle helmet law for responsible adults over the age of 21 – at the Assembly Transportation Committee hearing on Tuesday, here’s some of this federal bureaucrat’s flapdoodle you’re likely to hear (taken from testimony he presented just a couple weeks ago in Nebraska on the same issue), along with some counter-arguments/responses put forward by Warren Woodward, author of Helmet Law Facts.

Gossard: “The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent Federal agency charged by Congress to investigate transportation accidents, determine their probable cause, and make recommendations to prevent their recurrence.”

Woodward: “Any person or agency getting federal money is not ‘independent.’”

Gossard: “In our 42-year history, organizations and government bodies have adopted more than 80 percent of our recommendations.”

Woodward: “And in their 42 year history they have investigated a grand total of 2 MC accidents. Hey, they are such experts they only need 2!”

Gossard: “Since 1997, the number of motorcycle fatalities has increased 141 percent, an increase that far exceeds that of any other form of transportation.”

Woodward: “Cherry-picking data for the purpose of fear mongering. Going back as far as 1975, 1997 was the low point for fatalities. Had he said ‘Since 1980…’ fatalities would have decreased compared with now.”

Gossard: “In fact, the number of motorcycle fatalities in recent years has been more than double the number of deaths in each year from accidents in the transportation modes of aviation, rail, marine, and pipeline combined.”

Woodward: “Bogus, apples and oranges comparison for the purpose of fear mongering. There were probably more motorcycle deaths than those in field and track also.”

Gossard: “In 2007, for example, 5,154 motorcyclists died in crashes, and motorcycle fatalities now account for more than 13 percent of all motor vehicle crash fatalities.”

Woodward: “If you overlay a chart of motorcycle registrations over the top of a chart of motorcycle fatalities they parallel each other. More riders on the road = more fatalities.”

Gossard: “In 1997, 2,116 motorcyclists died.”

Woodward: “More cherry picking! 1997 was the lowest number of fatalities going back from now to 1975.”

Gossard: “Even more staggering are the increases in injuries in 2006, for example, 88,000 motorcycle injuries were estimated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and in 2007, 103,000.”

Woodward: “If anything is ‘staggering’ it is that anyone would accept statistics that are ‘estimated.’”

Gossard: “Although rising motorcycle use may partly explain this trend, increases in fatalities and injuries have outpaced increases in motorcycle registrations and vehicle miles traveled, measures used to determine accident and injury rates.”

Woodward: “VMT (vehicle miles traveled) is another estimated and completely bogus ‘statistic.’”

Gossard: “Head injury is a leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes.”

Woodward: “And so are many others but often TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) is the one chosen as cause of death when it could have also been ‘Internal Injuries.’ In other words, stats are unreliable.”

Gossard: “The use of a safety helmet, one that complies with U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218, is the ‘single critical factor in the prevention [and] reduction of head injury.’”

Woodward: “Actually the ‘single critical factor’ is not crashing to begin with. No substitute for education, experience, and other motorists who respect right-of-way laws.”

Gossard: “The main function of the helmet is to protect the rider’s head, especially the brain, during a fall or crash.”

Woodward: “And well it might, but it can also snap necks and cause basal skull fracture. NASCAR now requires helmet restraining devices to prevent those usually fatal, helmet-caused injuries.”

Gossard: “Helmets can be effective in both low- and high-speed crashes because crash speed is not directly related to head impact speed.”

Woodward: “Head speed increases with the added weight of a helmet. The body stops suddenly and the head keeps going – snap! Read the story of Shannon Laughy who is now paralyzed from a 24 mph crash in which her head hit nothing but her neck snapped because of the weight of the helmet. Her story can be found here.

Gossard: “In the Hurt Report, the severity of head impacts was determined by examining crash-involved helmet damage.  This study found that 90 percent of head impacts were less severe than the single test impact required in FMVSS 218.”

Woodward: “Hard to believe since the test impact only duplicates a 13 mph crash. And were those helmets taken from people who lived or died? And how many helmets were studied? Most studies involve but a fraction of what is really occurring. The upcoming and much hyped MC crash causation study for example is studying less than 1% of total yearly MC accidents.”

Gossard: “Thus, FMVSS 218-compliant helmets are well designed to protect the head for the vast majority of motorcycle crashes.”

Woodward: “I am willing to bet that this is little consolation to Shannon Laughy. I am willing to bet this is little consolation to Steve Standefer who got a stroke as a result of a chin strap severing his carotid artery – and he was not even involved in an accident but just going down the road.”

Gossard: “The effectiveness of appropriately designed motorcycle helmets in preventing and mitigating head injury is unequivocal.

Woodward: “Wrong! Helmets have not changed the death to accident ratio in any state where they have been mandated.”

Gossard: “A 1991 report reviewing published studies concluded that motorcycle helmet use has lowered fatality rates, prevented serious head injuries, and reduced the need for ambulance service, hospitalization, neuro-surgical intervention, intensive care, rehabilitation, and long-term care in motorcyclist accidents.”

Woodward: “This is so bogus! How can anyone cite a report without even naming it?”

Gossard: “The 2003 independent Cochrane Review of published studies found that helmets substantially reduced the risk of head injury and fatality in motorcycle crashes, and found no evidence of an increased risk of any other types of injury.”

Woodward: “Well the Cochrane Review is wrong and did not ask Shannon Laughy’s opinion.”

Gossard: “A 1996 DOT report noted that riders not wearing helmets are three times more likely to suffer brain injury than those riders wearing helmets.”

Woodward: “Three times? Why not two or ten? How do they know this? They must have a crystal ball.”

Gossard: “According to another DOT report published in 2004, helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing all fatalities in motorcycle crashes.”

Woodward: “Honestly, how can anyone take this seriously? 37 percent effective?! Based on what? This sounds like a toothpaste commercial.”

Gossard: “David Thom, one of the lead researchers involved with the Hurt Report, spoke at the Safety Board’s Motorcycle Forum in September 2006, about the ‘perceived’ potential negative effects of helmets on safety. An active motorcyclist and researcher on motorcycle safety for three decades, Mr. Thom noted that helmets neither cause nor prevent neck injuries.”

Woodward: “Dr. Thom is flat out lying. Again, ask Shannon Laughy. Additionally, the only time anyone even looked for neck injuries was in 1969. They did not like the results so no government agency ever looked again. The New York Department of Motor Vehicles did a study in 1969 comparing accident data from the years 1966 and 1967 in order to detect the effects of that state’s mandatory helmet law, which became effective Jan. 1, 1967. In 1966 – pre-helmet law – 5.8% of motorcycle fatalities were from neck fractures. In 1967 – post helmet law – 37.8% of motorcycle fatalities were from neck fractures. Helmets can snap necks and cause basal skull fractures. Period.”

Gossard: “A large number of scientific studies confirm Mr. Thom’s observations.”

Woodward: “Then they are just as wrong as he is. Truth is not ruled by majority.”

Gossard: “Similarly, helmets do not cause problems with vision or hearing.”

Woodward: “Then what I heard about some states not allowing car drivers to wear helmets because they impede vision and hearing is wrong?”

Gossard: “A number of motorcycle-related groups, including the National Association of State Motorcycle Safety Administrators, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and the American Motorcyclist Association, encourage riders to wear motorcycle helmets, and most do not oppose laws mandating such use by minors.”

Woodward: “That is because, 1) they are ignorant and, 2) they are dominated by MC manufacturer money, manufacturers whose lawyers have told them to cover their product liability ass with a helmet.”

Gossard: “The National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety (NAMS) report, which was supported by NHTSA, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and motorcycle manufacturers such as BMW, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, American Honda Motor Company, Kawasaki , Suzuki, and Yamaha, included an urgent recommendation to increase the use of FMVSS 218-compliant helmets.”

Woodward: “Like I said, product liability BS.”

Gossard: “A national survey performed in 2006 by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University noted that, even of those individuals who had previously ridden a motorcycle without a helmet, 61 percent favored state requirements for motorcycle helmet use.”

Woodward: “Even if this ‘national survey’ was reliable, truth and rights should not depend on majority rule. Please contact me if you were ever polled. I wasn’t. No one I know was. No one!”

Gossard: “The Safety Board recognizes, however, that some motorcyclists and many motorcycling organizations oppose mandating the use of motorcycle helmets by all riders.”

Woodward: “In other words the people actually doing the riding do not want to be told what to do by people who do not ride.”

Gossard: “Most do not argue against the safety benefits of such helmets…”

Woodward: “And how does he know that? Another survey? Just about everything this guy says is lie and spin.”

Gossard: “…instead, they contend that the government has no role in protecting the individual from foreseeable adverse outcomes if the individual chooses not to be so protected.”

Woodward: “What used to be called the Constitution and Bill of Rights!”

Gossard: “In the 1980s, opponents of seat belt use laws similarly asserted their personal freedom to drive without wearing seat belts.”

Woodward: “And we still do! Especially my friend who would have died if he’d been wearing one when T-boned.”

Gossard: “However, in 1985, the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association stated, ‘the evidence is clear and dramatic…safety belt users…experienced 80 percent fewer deaths from head injuries.’”

Woodward: “This was another product liability sell-out. Car manufacturers were big lobbyists for seat belt laws.”

Gossard: “NHTSA estimates that from 1975 through 2005, seat belts saved more than 211,000 lives nationwide.”

Woodward: “More crystal ball crap. The key word is ‘estimates.’ NHTSA also claimed 6,400 more people would die yearly if the national speed limit was raised from 55 mph. They were completely wrong. Deaths went down.”

Gossard: “During that same period, all states, except New Hampshire, enacted mandatory seat belt use laws; and usage rates have increased nationwide from about 12 percent in the early 1970s to 81 percent today.”

Woodward: By this line of reasoning New Hampshire should rank 50 in motorcycle safety but it does not.”

Gossard: “The Safety Board is confident that there is ample evidence that similar life saving results can be achieved through motorcycle helmet laws that apply to all riders and passengers.”

Woodward: “Seat belts and helmets are apples and oranges. And to repeat, there is no ‘ample evidence’ because mandated helmet laws have not changed the death to accident ratio in any state.

Gossard: “The argument regarding helmet laws is often framed in terms of personal choice.  Such an argument typically invokes the idea that motorcyclists are only hurting themselves by deciding to ride unprotected. For over 10 years, the Safety Board has been responsible for assisting families of those killed and injured in transportation accidents.”

Woodward: “Where is that written in the Constitution? NTSB – government grief counselors? Good grief! I am amazed at this information.”

Gossard: “We do not accept the notion that surviving friends and family are not affected when riders decide not to wear a helmet and are killed or injured.”

Woodward: “What about when riders are killed or injured with a helmet?”

Gossard: “The costs of motorcycle crashes and the effect of helmets on these costs were presented at the Safety Board’s 2006 Public Forum on Motorcycle Safety by Dr. Ted Miller, Director of the Public Services Research Institute at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.  According to Dr. Miller, in 2005, 110,000 motorcyclists were involved in police reported motorcycle crashes, and the motorcycle crash injuries cost $17.5 billion, including the costs of medical treatment, lost work, and quality of life.  Although unhelmeted motorcyclists accounted for only 40,000 (or 36 percent) of the total motorcyclists involved in crashes, they accounted for $12.2 billion (70 percent) of the costs.  Dr. Miller also estimated the 2005 average cost per crash-involved motorcyclist as $71,000 for helmeted and $310,000 for unhelmeted motorcyclists.”

Woodward: “The social burden theory is bunk; a red herring . According to the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 1.16% of total U.S. Health costs are attributable to motor vehicle accidents, and the costs associated with the treatment of motorcyclist injuries account for less than 0.001% of total U.S. health care costs. Only a portion of that less-than-0.001% cost is attributable to un-helmeted motorcyclists, and the majority of that cost is paid by privately purchased health insurance. What remains, spread across the taxpayer base (which includes millions of taxpaying motorcyclists), is insignificant. Additionally, if helmets will reduce health costs related to riders who comprise but 6% of all transportation-related Traumatic Brain Injuries, think how much more money would be saved if everyone on the road – car & truck drivers, passengers, bicyclists, pedestrians – were required to wear helmets. What works for riders should work for everyone. I’d love to stop paying for the head injuries of these other road users.”

Gossard: “It is because of the costs to society and survivors that personal freedoms must be balanced with the need to protect individuals from preventable illness, injuries, and fatalities.

Woodward: “Right. Helmets for all then!”

Gossard: “We are likely to hear passionate debate today about the personal freedom of motorcycle riders to not wear helmets…”

Woodward: “Let’s see how passionate the other road users get when told they have to wear helmets.”

Gossard: “…and perhaps the even more specious argument that tourism is a reason not to wear helmets…”

Woodward: “Ain’t nothing specious about it. My wife and I avoid slave states as do many other riders.”

I predict that Mr. Gossard will likely close with something along these lines…

“AB 300 is not good public safety policy.  When universal helmet laws are repealed, helmet usage rates decrease dramatically, while motorcycle deaths and injuries increase markedly. Nevada currently has a good law that requires use of helmets for riders and passengers that meet federal protective standards.  It is a sound public safety law.  It should not be weakened.  The Safety Board, therefore, urges this Committee and the Nevada Legislature to reject this bill.”

And Mr. Woodward would likely respond with something along the lines of, “And that’s what he’s been paid to say.”