By June 20, 2006

All the Gear, All the Time

WARNING! A rant follows.

Ben without his helmet Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was involved in a motorcycle accident on June 13th. I’ve let the event and the aftermath of his accident sit with me for a bit before I made this post. On one hand, no one ever wants to see a fellow rider go down. On the other, Ben’s injuries are the result of the preventable, sheer idiocy I see from many other riders.

As a recap to those of you who missed the information about his crash: Ben was riding his motorcycle when a lady in an automobile turned in front of him. This is the #1 accident that a motorcyclist will encounter if the accident involves another vehicle. Ben did what most other motorcyclists do in this situation: he hit the car head first, bounced onto the pavement, and slid. Ben was not wearing a helmet. He has previously stated that he would not wear a helmet if it was legal to do so, and Pennsylvania does not have a mandatory helmet law for those with over two years’ riding experience.

From The Pittsburgh Channel 4 Web site:

Roethlisberger underwent seven hours of surgery after a motorcycle crash near the 10th Street Bridge on Monday morning. He remained in serious but stable condition on Tuesday morning.

According to a police source, Roethlisberger suffered a broken jaw, broke his left sinus cavity, suffered a 9-inch laceration to the back of his head, lost many teeth and has injuries to his knees from hitting the pavement.

With the exception of his knee injuries (we’ll get into those later), what do all of these injuries have in common? Well, yes, they all involve the head. What else? They could have been prevented or lessened if he was wearing a full-face helmet.

His jaw and teeth injuries probably would not have been lessened or prevented if he was wearing the two styles typical for cruisers around here — the “skull cap” helmet or the “half-face” helmet. The skull cap helmet just barely covers the crown of the head, and is the bare minimum required by law. It is worn by such “outlaw” types as a fuck-you gesture to helmet regulations. If these dumbasses had read anything about motorcycle crash stats, they’d know that the top of the head is the least likely place to receive a head injury in a crash. The half-face helmet is seen most frequently, and it has a major, major design flaw. It doesn’t cover your face. Some half-face helmets have a clear shield to protect from rocks/bugs/other shit hitting you in the face, but most of the ones I see around here are open-faced. The number one place you land first on your head during an accident is normally the chin. Gee, I wonder if wearing a full-faced helmet would have prevented the broken jaw and loss of teeth?

And about those knee injuries, Big Ben. You know, the ones that would have been lessened if not prevented by wearing leather pants with CE-approved knee armor? You know, the ones I bought for $160 — I’m sure you could drop two bills out of your pocket and pick up a pair of those without blinking. People make motorcycle safety gear for a reason. Without it, you turn an accident you can walk away from into one requiring seven hours of surgery.

It gets worse. Ben isn’t alone. He’s not the only moron riding a bike underprotected. I am surrounded by them. I very, very rarely see someone with full gear on, even on the highway. I exchanged peace signs with an older gentleman on a stretched chopper cruiser the other day on 288. He was wearing a (shield-less) open face helmet, plastic sunglasses, a t-shirt, jeans, and work boots. This is the extent of most riders’ safety gear down here. Sportbike riders generally have full-face helmets, but aside from that, it’s the same. There’s a jackass who rides a sport-touring bike in a tshirt, shorts, and sneakers. His girlfriend on the back was wearing a tank top, shorts, and flip-flops yesterday. If they go down at even 20MPH they will be scarred for life due to road rash. If you want to see what road rash looks like, do a Google image search for the term, you’ll get an eyeful.

But there’s more. My friend Panda told me today our co-worker’s 17 year old son just bought a motorcycle. He has no gear except a helmet and the leather pants his mother owned (which are probably fashion-grade leather). He has no training. He bought the bike used from a friend, with no telling if the bike has been in a prior accident or has structural damage. He doesn’t have enough money to buy insurance for the bike. And I bet you 50:1 odds the kid doesn’t have, nor ever will, have a motorcycle license.

Current riders aren’t just getting into trouble. Waves upon waves of squids join the ranks daily.

Why am I so pissed off? Aside from the disgust I have for anyone who stares into the face of facts and then look away? Because we’re all paying the hospital bills for these people. Ben has lots of money, sure, but imagine the 17 year old in the example above. Let’s say he is involved in another common, cyclist-only accident: he dumps his bike and slides on the pavement because he took a corner too quickly. Let’s say he only slides for 60′, which is pretty short — according to this crazy ass formula, you can slide for 190 feet at speeds between 69 and 74MPH. A rider on my FZ6 forum slid for 120′ a crash speed of about 55 MPH. Denim pants shred to nothing in less than 20′ of skid. That means that soft skin, muscle, and bone are all that’s left to handle the rest of the way. Without a jacket, without pants, without boots , and without gloves, there’s nothing but skin. And skin is a lot less tough than denim.

Who gets to pay for an amputation when the leg is ground to the bone? Who gets to pay for scrubbing the asphalt out of road rash? Who gets to pay for the skin graft surgery? Who gets to pay for the rehabilitation? Who absorbs the cost of this person being out of work? You do. I do. If we’re lucky, the kid has insurance, and that just means all the other motorcyclists get fucked, because the crash statistics on their transportation of choice just went south. Thank god I don’t drive a squid bike like the Hayabusa (which, incidentally, was Ben’s ex-bike).

If the kid doesn’t have insurance, then we ALL get to pay for it. The government demands that hospitals care for someone, no matter their ability to pay. The government doesn’t pay those hospital bills … your insurance premiums, your tax dollars, and your overall higher healthcare costs do. Despite what gearles riders often say, it’s not about personal choice. We all pay, literally, their idiocy. Granted, this next stat from the infamous Hurt study was published 25 years ago, but at the time, less than 10% of motorcyclists involved in an accident had adequate insurance to pay for their medical bills. We picked up the rest for them.

Fortunately for Ben, he’ll make a recovery. Doctors are saying he’ll spend up to ten weeks eating soft food. Ben opted to not wire his jaw shut in order to retain more weight for football season. Wiring his jaw shut would have resulted in a shorter healing time, but a higher amount of lost weight due to a liquid-only diet. For a man who makes his living by his body, I understand his decision. What I don’t understand is why, from a man who wears a helmet as part of his job, didn’t wear one to protect him in the real world, where danger doesn’t cease at the sound of a whistle.

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1 Comment on "All the Gear, All the Time"

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  1. Tracy says:

    That gets me so mad! What’s even worse is that the local Pitt papers published the lady’s name and where she lived! His stupidity is probably going to make her life hell for awhile.