The following letter was emailed to Nevada legislators today. It includes at the end a transcript of testimony given before a California legislative committee a decade ago by a motorcyclist who explains how wearing a helmet didn’t save her life, but ruined it. Very powerful.
Dear Nevada Legislator:
AB 300 would repeal Nevada’s mandatory motorcycle helmet law for adults over the age of 21 who have completed a riding safety course and have at least one year’s worth of riding experience under their belts. This is a personal liberty issue for adult Nevadans and I strongly urge your support.
Citizen Outreach will be including AB 300 in our 2009 Ratings of the Legislature.
The debate over this bill will most assuredly include claims that “helmets save lives,” although that is not what this bill is about. It’s about who gets to decide: the government or the individual. That being said, it is important to know that while motorcycle helmets may save lives and reduce the risk of serious injury, it’s also likely that in some accidents the use of a helmet does more harm than good.
Below please find the testimony given by Shannon Laughy, a rider paralyzed by a helmet, before the California Senate Transportation Committee when repeal of that state’s mandatory helmet law was being discussed. Although Ms. Laughy will not be testifying before the Nevada Legislature on AB 300, I think her tragic story ought to be considered when weighing your decision on this bill.
Thank you for your consideration.
President, Citizen Outreach
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Testimony by Shannon Laughy
California Senate Transportation Committee
May 7, 1996
Shannon Laughy: My name is Shannon Laughy and I’m one of your statistics.
I am an orthopedic technician. I was trained by the U. S. military during the Viet Nam War. I served in Plei Ku in 1969.
Senator Kelley: Could you speak a little closer to the microphone?
Shannon Laughy: I served in Ku Che for an additional year in 1970. By the time I got out of the military, I was discharged in Washington State. I practiced medicine as a general surgery technician up there working on cardiac and orthopedic cases.
I came to the bay area in 1973. I started working with the San Francisco Orthopedic Residency program in San Francisco and ultimately ended up at Kaiser Hospital in San Rafael.
On September 30th, I joined your statistics, because as a motorcyclist I had been riding since the age of three. My father was compulsive about safety and so I have always worn a helmet. I was so compulsive that in Los Angeles, because the ozone depletion of my helmet and sun damage, every two years I backed over my helmet and destroyed it myself and replaced it with another DOT or Snell approved helmet.
At the time of my accident, it was 5:29 in the afternoon. We were traveling in a direction that has no sun glare involved. I was in a school zone so I knew I was doing 24 miles an hour. And a woman made a left turn in front of me. I slammed on both front and rear brakes and tried to swing my bike to the left in the hopes that the wheels would hit first. Unfortunately the wheels didn’t hit first, I did.
From the shoulder down I impacted at the passenger’s side door. My body ended up laid across this lady’s back trunk. My helmet, which weighs a little over four pounds since it was a Shoei complete full-face helmet, it continued moving at 24 miles an hour when my body stopped against that car, and the right side leading edge of that helmet impacted my cervical spine at the transference processes of C-3, took out the C-3, 4, 5 and 6 and three and a half inches of my collar bone and shredded three cervical nerves that exit through that area, and those three nerves completely inervated my dominate side and my whole upper right quadrant. As a result, at the age of forty-four, I became a permanently disabled person because of my honest belief that a safety helmet was to my advantage.
I am not with any organization at this particular point. I am speaking from my own standpoint when I say that as a medical professional, using something that improves the quantity of my life without assuring me a quality to my life is not something I want to support. I won’t tell you that I wish I had died in that accident. I will tell you that if I had known then what I know now, I never would have put that helmet on, and as a result I would have been back to work for Kaiser Hospital providing services that Kaiser has had to stop providing. I was the only technician in the county that made neck braces. That made fittings for artificial legs for amputees. That dealt with quadriplegic and paraplegic motorcycle riders as a specialist. T
They don’t have me any more so that means those people don’t have me any more either.
I would really really appreciate your considering my own personal story when you consider the vote that you cast on this helmet law.
Senator Kelley: Thank you very much.
Senator Russell: If you’d not had a helmet, would your head have struck the car?
Shannon Laughy: No. My helmet was sent down to the USC primate helmet lab to be studied to see what kind of damage it incurred in the accident. My helmet sustained no damage at the time of the accident. The damage to my helmet was sustained when the paramedics tore my face shield off and they broke two plastic screws on the right side of my helmet. My helmet is completely unmarred and undamaged, and if I ever ride again, I can guarantee you that that is one helmet that will not be on my head.
Senator Russell: Your head did not strike the automobile?
Shannon Laughy: No, I had no impact with the car at all in any place but the shoulder, down on the right side, and I had a grade 3 open semi-traumatic amputation of the right leg. That would have been my only injury if I had not been wearing that helmet. And I honestly believe that it is a design in a helmet, that by increasing the weight and mass of my head and by putting an artificial fulcrum, it caused the accident to my neck. It caused the fracture to my neck. My doctor that I worked for at Kaiser, John Tote, felt that that was the only thing that could have caused it because I never hit anything with my head or my neck.
Senator Kelley: Thank you very much; I appreciate your comments.