Scott Brown showed up in New Hampshire this week to talk to the good people of the Granite State about how maybe he wants to be their senator because he likes how they don't wear motorcycle helmets.
Brown has been toying with the idea of running for Senate in New Hampshire's 2014 election. So he drove up there in his pick-up truck, the co-star of a number of the 2010 ads that propelled him to a House-length career in the U.S. Senate. Since the truck has Massachusetts license plates — Brown lives in Massachusetts and was previously the senator from Massachusetts — Politico reports that "liberals" "needled" Brown about it.
Those same liberals — a PAC with the clumsy name of American Bridge 21st Century — also released a video taped in August but only released on Thursday. Politico transcribes:
“You still have more freedoms than most here in New Hampshire,” Brown says... . “I love riding my motorcycle without my helmet. I will tell you that.”
There's a bit of irony that precedes that bit of pandering. He starts off by suggesting that the state motto is "Live Free and Die," not the correct "Live Free or Die." And he says that right before he praises the fact that he doesn't have to wear a motorcycle helmet because it's not mandated by law. Think about that.
We were curious the extent to which helmet laws affected motorcycle fatalities, so we pulled data from the Governors Highway Safety Association. There are only three states that don't mandate the use of a motorcycle helmet: Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire. The most recent data was for the first nine months of 2012. We mapped that as a function of deaths per 100,000 residents of the state:
Those three states without helmet laws are not outliers on this, according to this data. New Hampshire had 25 fatalities in the first nine months of last year, a rate of 1.89 deaths per 100,000 residents. A little above average, but not excessively. Vermont (1.76) and Maine (1.58) were pretty close. Massachusetts, though, was way lower — one-third that of New Hampshire.
According to studies reviewed by the University of Minnesota, the use of a helmet plays a significant role in preventing death despite that data. One study found a 69 percent decrease in the likelihood of death when using a helmet; another, that 45 percent of deaths were among those not wearing one. At higher speeds, a helmet makes less of a difference, but at lower speeds, it can clearly save your life.
The point being this: The "freedom" to ride a motorcycle without a helmet is a pretty stupid thing to celebrate. "Live Free and Die," sure. Or, better, "Give me liberty or give me death, or give me both in rapid succession so I don't mess up my hair." Scott Brown does have nice hair.