It’s the freedom of choice they like.
They ride their motorcycles with the wind in their hair and say helmets shouldn’t be required by law.
In Oklahoma, adults 18 and older don’t have to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle, only those younger than 18.
John Pierce, 69, of Collinsville, staunchly defends bikers’ choice to wear a helmet. Pierce is the legislative chairman for the American Bikers Active Toward Education, a group of about 1,100 motorcycle enthusiasts in the state.
“Our position is very simple, that helmets are a very good device but it should be our choice whether to wear one,” Pierce said. “We believe we have the right to decide whether to wear a helmet.”
Others say it is a safety issue and helmets should be mandatory. No helmet law increases insurance rates, they say.
The most recent statistics available from the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office show there were 98 motorcycle fatalities in 2011.
Of those killed, 81 percent were not wearing helmets. In 2010, the figures were 78 people killed and 85 percent not wearing helmets.
Oklahoma City police have reported 10 motorcycle fatalities this year. Seven of those people were not wearing helmets, police Capt. Dee Patty said. In 2011, Oklahoma City police worked eight fatal motorcycle crashes; six people who died did not wear helmets, Patty said.
AAA Oklahoma, a company that sells insurance, supports enacting an Oklahoma helmet law to save lives, spokesman Chuck Mai said.
“The proof is there. AAA Oklahoma strongly supports enactment of legislation requiring motorcycle riders and passengers to wear helmets and encourages all motorcycle riders to educate themselves of the lifesaving qualities of helmet use,” Mai said.
He said motorcycle insurance premiums can be affected by claims in a geographic area. Texas does not require a helmet for adult riders age 21 and older who have $10,000 medical insurance coverage. Kansas requires motorcycle riders younger than 18 to wear helmets.
Mai said many motorcycle enthusiasts support helmet use but are opposed to any law that requires them to wear one.
“You can certainly be killed on a motorcycle wearing a helmet, but your chances of surviving a crash are greater if you wear one,” Mai said.
Pierce, a retired airplane pilot who has been riding motorcycles for more than 50 years, said he will wear a helmet if it is cold or rainy or there are a lot of bugs in the air. He said he works year-round as an advocate for motorcycle safety issues.
“We are protective of our rights,” Pierce said.
Paul Brinker, 56, of Tulsa, a machinist and motorcycle rider who has been the ABATE group’s safety officer, said in many impact accidents, the survival chances are not good whether the rider wears a helmet or not. He supports freedom of choice.
“We’re not anti-helmet; we’re anti-helmet law,” Brinker said.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol encourages all motorcycle riders to wear helmets, trooper Betsy Randolph said.
“We’re an enforcement agency and if the Legislature passes a helmet law we will enforce it, but we respect the Legislatures’ right not to pass one,” Randolph said.
She said troopers all too frequently respond to fatal motorcycle crashes. Troopers on motorcycles are required to wear helmets.
Randolph, who rides motorcycles as a hobby, says she always wears one.
“We do believe it’s important to wear a helmet and we strongly encourage people to wear one,” she said.
State law requires all motorcycle riders to wear eye protection, whether it is sunglasses or goggles, Randolph said.
“A person can’t ride if you can’t see,” she said.