Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=127737
Story Retrieval Date: 5/19/2013 2:44:04 PM CST
Illinois is one of only three states in the nation without a law mandating motorcycle helmet use. On April 1, the Illinois Senate rejected a bill 42 to 14 that would have required every motorcycle rider and passenger to wear a helmet.
Proponents of helmet laws point out that statistics show wearing helmets saves lives. A 2007 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study showed 81 percent of people who died in a motorcycle accident in Illinois were not wearing helmets.
Helmet law opponents argue that such laws are unconstitutional and violate their right to freedom of expression.
Patrick Jones loves motorcycles in Chicago.
“Riding in the city is great,” he says. “Especially parking.”
Jones, president of a motorcycle advocacy group in Chicago, says he and his fellow riders feel safe on the city’s streets.
State troopers and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) want to keep it that way.
They're offering free courses for riders in hope of continuing to reduce motorcycle fatalities, as part of Motorcycle Awareness Month, which starts Friday.
Since the program began three years ago, overall motorcycle fatalities have dropped more than 11 percent, a success Sgt. Juan Valenzuela of the state police attributes to the expanded educational opportunities for riders and drivers.
“Not many people (in Illinois) ride motorcycles year-round,” Valenzuela said. “Their skills get a little rusty.”
Chicago has seen similar success in reducing motorcycle fatalities -- motorcycle-related deaths dropped sharply in 2007 to only 12 fatalities compared to 21 the year before.
With higher fuel prices in recent years, officials say more motorcyclists are out on the roads. In urban areas, riders deal with more traffic than in other parts of the state, which may not be a bad thing according to one transportation official.
“It can be a safer environment,” said Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Steele. “A congested environment is one in which traffic isn’t moving very quickly.”
According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, half of all fatal crashes in 2007 occurred on roads with posted speed limits of 55 mph or more.
But speed isn’t the only factor that affects crash numbers. State troopers and IDOT are advocating their “Start Seeing Motorcycles” campaign to remind motorists to be aware of bikers on the road.
“When they see you, they respect you,” Jones said of drivers in Chicago. “I hit the throttle to get their attention.”