Thursday, May 24, 2018
Public safety

Motorcycle helmet law advocates say rising Florida deaths prove need

Mandatory motorcycle helmet laws are at the end of the road in Florida, despite a sharp rise in cycling deaths. Florida repealed its helmet law in 2000, and virtually no one in Tallahassee is talking about bringing it back.

But beyond its borders, Florida is emerging as a national poster child for mandatory helmet laws.

Safety advocates recently used Florida's example to help beat back attempts to repeal helmet laws in Louisiana, Nebraska, Tennessee and Vermont. The same legislative fight is raging in five other states.

"The first time I looked at Florida's data, it was hard to believe. That's a lot of deaths," said Karen Morgan, who oversees lobbyists in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee as the public policy manager for AAA Auto Club South. "That's our main argument against repealing helmet laws in these other places. It's helpful to show that eliminating these laws will have consequences."

In the three years before Florida relaxed its helmet law, the state averaged 160 motorcycle deaths per year.

In 2001 after the law changed, helmet use plummeted, motorcycle registrations rose and the annual death toll jumped to 246.

By 2006, it had reached an all-time high of 550.

After Florida enacted a mandatory motorcycle training law, deaths dropped for three straight years from 2008 to 2010. (Registrations also dipped when the economy soured.)

Now fatalities are creeping back up, according to data compiled by the state. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, Florida motorcycle deaths totaled 382, 452 and 457, respectively.

Meanwhile, Florida statistics show a disturbing new trend: Older motorcycle riders are getting back in the saddle and dying in increasing numbers.

"When you make safety optional, people won't take steps to protect themselves. That's human nature," said Lynne McChristian of the Insurance Information Institute in Tampa.

Florida allows riders who are 21 or older to go without helmets if they have $10,000 of personal injury insurance coverage.

Across the country, the tide is turning against stricter universal helmet laws.

Beginning in the mid 1960s, all but three states passed such laws after Congress threatened to take away their federal highway money if they didn't.

Congress changed its position a decade later. One by one, states began repealing their laws.

By 1997, 26 states had universal helmet laws. Today only 19 do. This year, nine of them have been considering weakening those laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In recent weeks, helmet laws survived challenges in four states. The fight is ongoing in Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, New York and Washington.

Motorcycle activists are lobbying legislators, squaring off against trauma doctors and insurance groups who are arguing the other side. Safety advocates point to rising death rates in Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan, which relaxed helmet laws in 2000, 2003 and 2012, respectively.

"All those states that repealed their helmet laws had an increase in injuries and fatalities. There are larger numbers in Florida, where there's a longer riding season," said Heather Drake, who oversees lobbyists for AAA in 13 states. "We drive home the safety argument: You don't need to repeat their mistakes."

Motorcycle groups like ABATE, American Bikers Aimed Toward Education, fought to get rid of Florida's universal helmet law for eight years before succeeding. ABATE lobbyist James "Doc" Reichenbach led the effort.

"Deaths went up because registrations went up. Motorcycle registrations jumped when I got that thing passed," Reichenbach said. "If you get 20,000 more motorcycles, you get more deaths."

Others will debate that point. Andreas Muller, a University of Arkansas professor who studied the effect of relaxing Florida's helmet law, found that it resulted in more deaths even after adjusting for a rise in registrations.

The vast majority of riders escape harm. In Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Hernando counties, a quarter-million people have motorcycle endorsements on their licenses, meaning they've passed a training course.

In 2012 in that four-county area, 1,680 motorcycle crashes resulted in 1,564 injuries and 78 deaths, according to the state.

Young men account for most of those. But Chanyoung Lee, a researcher at the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research, found that as baby boomers retire and take up motorcycling as a hobby, more older riders are dying.

Between 2005 and 2007, bikers 55 to 64 accounted for 10.3 percent of Florida motorcycle deaths. Between 2009 and 2011, that number was 16.6 percent. For bikers ages 45 to 54, the percentage rose from 17.8 to 19.9.

"We call them 'born again bikers.' The kids are out of the house and the wife says, 'You can have that motorcycle you've always wanted,' " said Lane Craven, a motorcycle instructor for the Suncoast Safety Council in St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

"Seasoned riders don't take as many risks," he said. "But the reflexes go, the eyesight goes."

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBrassfield.

Comments
Pasco sheriff: Man stabbed driver, kicked officer

Pasco sheriff: Man stabbed driver, kicked officer

DADE CITY — A 42-year-old man was arrested Tuesday night after the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said he jumped on top of a car, stabbed the driver multiple times and then kicked an officer.Roscoe James faces charges of attempted murder, two counts o...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
Pushing the stroller, mashing the gas pedal: A fatal encounter on Bayshore

Pushing the stroller, mashing the gas pedal: A fatal encounter on Bayshore

TAMPA — Jessica Raubenolt seized on the sunshine and blue skies at mid-day Wednesday to take her daughter out in the stroller for a walk along scenic Bayshore Boulevard. Visiting from Ohio, the family had been cursed by rain all week.At the same time...
Updated: 23 minutes ago
One day after fatal accident, Tampa moves to lower speed limit on Bayshore Blvd

One day after fatal accident, Tampa moves to lower speed limit on Bayshore Blvd

TAMPA — City officials announced Thursday they are reducing the speed limit on Bayshore Boulevard, one day after a mother was struck and killed by a speeding car while pushing her 21-month-old daughter across the street in a stroller.Starting today, ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Three men charged with street racing in Bayshore Boulevard crash are recent graduates of Tampa Catholic High School

Three men charged with street racing in Bayshore Boulevard crash are recent graduates of Tampa Catholic High School

TAMPA— The Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg confirmed Thursday that the three men involved in the Bayshore Boulevard crash that killed an Ohio mother and critically injured her 21-month-old daughter are recent graduates of Tampa Catholic High Schoo...
Updated: 7 hours ago
GoFundMe page for woman killed on Bayshore has raised more than 10 times its goal

GoFundMe page for woman killed on Bayshore has raised more than 10 times its goal

TAMPA — Friends were hoping to use GoFundMe to raise $2,000 for the family of Jessica Raubenolt, who was struck and killed Wednesday while pushing her 21-month-old daughter in a stroller across Bayshore Boulevard.As of Thursday morning, more than $20...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Three arrested for street racing after mother fatally struck pushing stroller on Bayshore Boulevard

Three arrested for street racing after mother fatally struck pushing stroller on Bayshore Boulevard

TAMPA — The two cars raced each other along Bayshore Boulevard just before noon, witnesses told police. One was a black 2018 Mustang. The other a gold Nissan. They sped side-by-side, trading the lead, police said, despite the traffic and pedestrians ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Clearwater deputy fire chief resigns as report on sick leave abuse is released

Clearwater deputy fire chief resigns as report on sick leave abuse is released

CLEARWATER — A months-long probe into abuse of sick leave within the fire department concluded this week with the resignation of a deputy chief and the release of an internal review.The city paid $93,816 in unearned or unauthorized sick time, benefit...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Son tells NC police he found dog leash around neck of strangled Hillsborough developer Bill Bishop

Son tells NC police he found dog leash around neck of strangled Hillsborough developer Bill Bishop

After a prominent Hillsborough County developer died last month in North Carolina, word spread it was a heart attack that claimed his life.But records from that state show the death of William "Bill" Bishop was much more complicated.His 16-year-old s...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18

Woman hit, killed while crossing road in Tampa

TAMPA — A pedestrian was struck and killed by a vehicle while crossing N 40th Street near E Hanlon Street on Wednesday night, according to Tampa police.The crash took place just before 8 p.m. The driver was heading north on 40th Street before strikin...
Published: 05/23/18
Coast Guard suspends search for man missing from Tampa cruise

Coast Guard suspends search for man missing from Tampa cruise

The Coast Guard announced Wednesday night that it has suspended the search for a man who was reported to have gone overboard from a cruise ship that left Tampa.Officials aboard the Carnival Paradise told the Coast Guard on Tuesday morning that Brian ...
Published: 05/23/18