In America, freedom and responsibility often don't ride together -- as evidenced by motorcyclists allowed to ride without safety helmets, a practice that courts senseless death.
The operation of any vehicle -- autos or motorcycles -- is a privilege, not a right. States license drivers and riders and rightly insist that they follow rules in the name of safety, like the seat belt requirement for motorists.
But since 2003 most motorcycle riders in Pennsylvania have been allowed to go helmet-less in the name of freedom. The results have been predictable. The Governors Highway Safety Association reports a rising national epidemic of motorcycle fatalities, including 210 in Pennsylvania last year -- a 5.5 percent increase.
More than 5,000 riders died in the nation in 2012, only the third time that has occurred. The report points out that the number of motorcycle deaths more than doubled between 1997 and 2011, even as overall traffic fatalities fell by 23 percent.
The Alliance for Bikers Aimed Toward Education, a group that lobbied hard to gut Pennsylvania's helmet law, argues that more people are riding motorcycles and therefore more are being killed. ABATE is right about that. But the problem is really that more people are riding and riding without helmets -- meaning they aren't part of the general improvement in traffic safety.
Dangerous situations demand helmets. Football players don't play without them, soldiers don't fight without them and competitive motorcycle racers strap them on. The human brain is fragile. When an unprotected skull hits the roadway, the brain usually loses.
In fact, the exceptions to the state law -- helmets are mandated for riders under 21 and for older riders in the first two years of being licensed -- underscore how dangerous riding can be.
Motorcycle tragedies do not happen in a vacuum -- they involve first responders, emergency physicians and hospital staff and insurance companies. Families are stricken and the costs spread to society at large.
It's time to end Pennsylvania's failed 10-year experiment of condoning needless injuries by reinstating a comprehensive motorcycle helmet law.