An Oregonian Editorial

The following editorial was written by Bob Caldwell, 221-8197, of the Oregonian Staff. Mr. Caldwell quotes "information" that was provided by Grant Higginson, 731-4399, Oregon State Health Officer. Both Mr. Caldwell and Mr. Higginson have ignored requests for the source(s) of these "facts". Refer to the letter I sent to these folks and Elinor Hall, 731-4000, Administrator, Oregon Health Services and Gary Weeks, 945-5944, Director, Oregon Human Resources. Presumably, these are the same State provided "facts" that have been given to Oregon Law Makers as they consider the fate of HB2454. One has to wonder how reliable and how scientific this "data" is, when everyone connected with this "study" has refused to comment on it.

Reprinted from Washington Country ABATE chapter newsletter, March, 1997

"Oregon House poised to end safety requirement. Vote to overturn voter-approved motorcycle helmet law."

"On Monday, the Oregon House of Representatives will vote again on a bill to end the State requirement that all Motorcyclists wear protective helmets. Incredibly, the bill is likely to pass. Cyclists have opposed the helmet law since voters approved it by a huge margin in 1988 and have pressured Legislators to repeal it in every session since then. Until now, Legislators had been wise enough to resist. Opponents of the helmet law see it as a question of personal freedom, much as opponents of seat belts once saw laws requiring their use as restrictions on personal freedom. But some matters of personal choice have such a huge impact on everybody else that restricting them is justified. So it is with motorcycle helmets. Dr. Grant Higginson, the state health officer pointed out in a recent letter that the helmet law saves Oregonians $20 million annually. The reason of course is that skulls surrounded by helmets are less easily broken than those that are not. The $20 million comes from lower hospitalization costs, fewer days of lost work and fewer subsidies to families of motorcycle accident victims. National Studies show that helmets are effective in preventing deaths and brain injuries. In 1987 in Oregon, the year before the voters enacted the helmet law, there were 74 motorcycle accident deaths. By 1994, the number had dropped to 22. Higginson and others attribute this to the helmet law. "If the Oregon helmet law is repealed," Higginson said "Oregonians who have health insurance will end up paying higher insurance premiums as injuries increase." A Washington state study determined that taxpayers there spent between $1.6 million and $3.3 million a year to care for injured, helmetless bikers and their families. The new bill, HB2454 would remove the requirement that adults wear helmets. It would keep the requirement for people under age 18. It failed Friday in a 30-26 vote in favor. That result left the bill one vote short of a majority in the House. When it is reconsidered on Monday, it's supporters think it will pass. That would be a real, expensive shame. If cyclists could ride bareheaded and not affect the rest of us, we'd be all for them. But that isn't the case. We know that. The voters know that. And Oregon Legislature should know that too.

Easyrider responds in a letter to the Editor:

ATTN: Mr. Bob Caldwell

Hi Bob,

I maintain an Internet homepage at
I'm doing some research on motorcycle helmet safety and wanted to ask you a couple of questions about an article you wrote for the Oregonian recently . I have a reprint of what is supposed to be a 3/9/97 Editorial which I have attached to this message. Could you please confirm that this piece is indeed an accurate copy of the original? Also, could you confirm that the piece was an editorial and not a news story?

I would like to get a little more detail on the statistics stated in your report. For example, how would I contact Dr. Grant Higginson who you quoted as the source of your information? May I have a copy of the letter that he sent to the Oregonian which claims a $20 million annual medical expense savings? I have heard some big numbers thrown around regarding the costs to care for those injured by not wearing a motorcycle helmet. However, in many cases, these figures were arrived at by studies that were less than scientific.

Could you please tell me which National studies you are referring to with regard to providing proof that helmets are effective in preventing death and brain injuries?

You quoted 74 motorcycle accident deaths for 1987, the year before the helmet law was enacted in Oregon. You also quoted 22 fatalities for 1994. What is your source for this information and can you tell me what the fatality figures were for the years 1978 through 1986 and 1988 through 1996? How many of these fatalities were not wearing a helmet and what were the circumstances of the accident?

Could you please tell me which study in Washington determined that Taxpayers there will spend between $1.6 million and $3.3 million a year to care for injured motorcyclists who weren't wearing a helmet?

Why will Oregon save a whopping $20 million annually when Washington is only saving between $1.6 million and $3.3 million? Aren't motorcycle registrations and accident rates about the same for both States?

In 1988, what was the public vote for and against the mandatory helmet law?

I presume that you have all of this data in your files, so if it would be more convenient for you to FAX them to me, I would be very grateful. My FAX number is (503) 615-1150.

I presume that we are all in search of the truth here. On my web site, I maintain a catalog of relevant motorcycle injury data. I am always anxious to hear about new studies and new data whether they support the use of helmets or not. I am presuming that the Oregonian has no problem providing the facts that it used to publish these conclusions Statewide.


Bob Caldwell responds:

Dear Sir:

This is in regard to your list of requests for the sources of my information about motorcycle helmets.

First, no, I won't share my notes, sources or Dr. Grant Higginson's letter with you.

Second, Dr. Higginson is, or was, a state official. I assume his number is in the state telephone book. Maybe he would send you a copy of his letter. He may even be willing to share whatever helmet studies he knows about in case you want to use them on your website.

Bob Caldwell

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