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Politics & Government

To Wear a Helmet or Not Wear a Helmet? That's Still the Question

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month in Pennsylvania, and while everyone wants to keep riders safe, how to best do that is still up for debate in the commonwealth.

When Gov. Tom Corbett declared May Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month he encouraged riders to head to the PennDOT-sponsored website to get tips on how to stay safe while riding. Along with tips such as wearing sturdy shoes and checking tire pressure, it also recommends that riders wear a helmet.

That suggestion runs contrary to the beliefs of many riders who think helmets do more harm than good. At a recent rally in Harrisburg, supporters of the motorcycle awareness and education group A.B.A.T.E Pennsylvania celebrated the 10th anniversary of the passage of legislation repealing Pennsylvania’s mandatory helmet law.

“We want the right to decide," said state Sen. John Wozniak (D-Cambria), who was among the lawmakers leading the charge 10 years ago to repeal the law. "It’s our fate; it’s our responsibility. To this day I still think it was the right decision to make.”

According to PennDOT, there were 854,493 licensed motorcyclists in the state last year. That's a 13 percent increase from a decade ago. At the same time, the data shows there was a 9 percent uptick in crashes involving motorcycles statewide, from 3,600 in 2011 to 4,000 in 2012. Those crashes resulted in 210 fatalities, which is up from 199 in 2011.

Most wrecks involving motorcycles do not involve any other vehicle.

Last year the Corbett administration moved forward on motorcycle safety by supporting Act 84 of 2012, which requires motorcycle permit holders under 18 years old to take and successfully complete the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program’s Basic Rider Course in order to receive their license.

“What is given by a stoke of a pen can be removed by a stroke of a pen,” Wozniak said, adding that it is a “privilege to wear that helmet or not to wear that helmet.”

All sides agree that keeping motorcycle riders safe is not just the responsibility of the rider. Both camps are using the proclamation of Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month to remind all drivers that “bikes are everywhere” and are repeating the bumper sticker slogan “look twice, save a life."