A slide show featuring the bloodied and mangled limbs of accident victims helped persuade a Virginia House committee here today that a Harley-Davidson man or any other motorcycle rider won't be well dressed unless he is wearing a helmet.
An all-male contingent of motorcycle riders failed again this year in attempts to get the state legislature to repeal a law that makes it a criminal offense to be caught helmetless while riding motorcycles.
Testifying in support of a bill sponsored by De. Floyd C. Bagley (D-Prince William), members of the group said that helmets should be like seat belts in a car: there, but no one should forced to suse them.
Bagley's bill would have required cyclists to carry helmets with them on the theory, he reasoned, that "if you have the helmets you're certainly more likely to wear them."
But his arguments that making helmets mandatory infringes on personal freedom and amounts to "federal blackmail" were lost in a quiet chorus of squeamish "oohs" and "ughs' as his colleagues viewed slides of accident victims.
"Just think what a head would look like" if subjected to injuries such as those being viewed, argued Dr. Dan Kulund, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Virginia who specializes in sports medicine.
Today's hearing provoked a brief debate about whether a football player would have freedom of choice in deciding whether to wear a helmet.
"If anyone's fool enough to get on a football field without one, that's his privilege," said Bagley, who argued that football players aren't "forced" to wear protective head gear.
But John T. Hanna, head of the state's Highway Safety Division, said football helmets are as mandatory in the games as seat belts in airplanes and flotation devices in boats.
Virginia has had a mandatory helmet law since 1970 when Congress made it a requirement for receiving federal highway funds. That federal requirement was repealed in 1976, and since then only 21 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico still require all cyclists to wear helmets.
Hanna cited federal statistics showing an 88 percent increase in motorcycle deaths in those states where the law has been repealed.
Carl Stook, a resident of Hoadley in Prince William County and a member of the 600-member Old Dominion Motorcycle Association, said that in some cases badly designed helmets increases the chances of head injuries in an accident. He warned that the state could be liable if it continues the mandatory helmet requirement.
Members of the House Roads and Internal Navigation Committee rejected his arguments and voted 10 to 6 to keep Virginia's current law, which subjects helmetles riders to a fine of $1,000 and up to a year in jail.