Saturday, August 22, 2009

give me liberty, even if it means more deaths

oh, the things i do for you, my audience. this week, i subjected myself to watching indiana week in review, and i did it all for you.

the quality of actual political debate on the show leaves something to be desired. for example, the IWIR panel discussed recent protests in richmond over changes in school dress codes... and did so without even mentioning what people were complaining about! (among the complaints you didn't hear about: that the dress code is far too restrictive, such showing collarbone will get your kid suspended; that the school district didn't work with local retailers to ensure that acceptable clothes were available; that many parents had already bought their kids school clothes before learning that said clothes were unacceptable; and so on.) how can you cover a protest without discussing the protesters' complaints? (the answer: poorly.)

but the reason i watched was for the coverage of the governor's recent statements on motorcycle helmet safety, which host jim shella told us were "misundersood".

so what was the alleged misunderstanding? apparently, some people interpreted mitch's comments as being against wearing helmets altogether, when he is only opposed to a mandatory helmet law. (mitch himself wears a helmet, and has been photographed wearing it many a time, so clearly he's not against wearing them, but anyway...)

i did learn one thing from IWIR: that mitch wrote a letter to the editor, which was published with no fanfare on wednesday. here is mitch's published letter, in its entirety:

As I expected when I saw it, a misstatement in The Star on Aug. 16 has caused confusion. When asked about a law to force people to wear motorcycle helmets, I said (tape available) that I always wear one and encourage everyone to do so. The headline writer wrote that I said bikers should "use their heads, not cover them." That is the reverse of my constant advice and example.

Another government mandate of behavior, especially where the data are very inconclusive that it would matter, is a totally different question from urging people to take a reasonable precaution. There are many dubious behaviors that we stop short of ordering people to change by force of law, and in a free country that's as it should be.

okay, fine, so mitch encourages people to wear helmets. good for him. but he is still blatantly lying when he says "the data is inconclusive" about mandatory helmet laws. the data is crystal clear: mandatory helmet laws save lives. here are some more statistics from an NHTSA fact sheet:
  • When Florida repealed its universal rider motorcycle helmet law in 2002, there were 40 percent more motorcyclists admitted to hospitals for treatment in the 30 months immediately following the helmet law change compared to the 30 months just before the law change (4,986 versus 3,567).
  • After the first year of the enactment of universal helmet use laws, the following reductions of motorcycle fatalities occurred: Oregon, 33 percent; Nebraska, 32 percent; Texas, 23 percent; Washington State, 15 percent; California, 37 percent; and Maryland, 20 percent.
  • Helmet use decreased following the changes in helmet laws in Arkansas and Texas. In the first full year following repeal of the law, fatalities in Arkansas increased by 21 percent, compared with the fatality rate in the last full year under the universal use law. In Texas, operator fatalities increased by 31 percent compared with the previous year when the universal helmet law was in place.
  • The 1998 universal helmet law repeal in Kentucky and the 1999 repeal in Louisiana produced similar effects to those experienced by Arkansas and Texas. Observed helmet use dropped from nearly full compliance under the universal law to about 50 percent without the law. Motorcyclist fatalities increased by over 50 percent in Kentucky and over 100 percent in Louisiana. Injuries also increased substantially in both States (48 percent in Louisiana and 34 percent in Kentucky). The rates of fatalities and injuries per registered motorcycle increased in both States following the helmet law repeals.

incidentally, indiana does have a law on the books requiring helmet use, but it only applies to riders under age 18. here's what NHTSA has to say about such laws:
  • Data on crashes in States where only minors are required to wear helmets show that fewer than 40 percent of the fatally-injured minors wear helmets even though the law requires them to do so. Helmet laws that govern only minors are difficult to enforce.
  • Helmet use laws governing all motorcycle riders (universal helmet laws) significantly increase helmet use and are easily enforced because of riders’ high visibility.
  • On September 11, 2007, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that States that do not have universal helmet use laws enact them, and that all States require motorcyclists to use FMVSS 218-compliant motorcycle helmets while riding (operating), or as a passenger on any motorcycle.

care to hazard a guess on whether anyone on the IWIR panel mentioned any of this?

if you guessed no, then congratulations! the entire discussion lasted at most 90 seconds. first, shella mentioned poor misunderstood mitch's letter to the editor, and that mitch is in favor of wearing helmets, but against a mandatory helmet law. shella went on to suggest that "you could never get a law passed" requiring motorcycle helmets in indiana. then democratic flack ann delaney wondered whether mitch is in favor of mandatory seat belt laws. finally, republican flack toby mcclamroch reiterated the correctness of mitch's position, stating that helmets are good because "motorcycles are dangerous." (really, toby? you don't say!) with that, the discussion—and the whole program—were over. the two journalists on the panel weren't given a chance to respond—not that i imagine they would've had much to say. it didn't seem like anyone on the show had bothered to do any research; no actual facts were discussed at any time during the 30-minute program, only conventional wisdom.

truly, a shameful effort all around. the governor lies, repeatedly, to the press about motorcycle helmet safety, and nobody in the local media—nobody at the indy star, and nobody on indiana week in review—makes even a token effort to confirm whether his statements are true.

how is the public supposed to know the truth when the media refuses to fact-check what politicans say, when people like mitch daniels are allowed to lie with impunity, knowing that nobody in the media will call them out on it? our political discourse is thoroughly broken.

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