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New Hampshire: Helmet Laws Scrutinized Following Horrific Motorcyclist Deaths

By Glynn Cosker
Managing Editor, EDM Digest

On June 21, a pickup truck towing a trailer struck 10 motorcyclists (head on) on Route 2 in Randolph, N.H. – leaving seven riders dead and three seriously injured. New Hampshire State Police Col. Christopher Wagner called the collision “one of the worst, tragic incidents that we have investigated here in the state.”

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New Hampshire Has No Motorcycle Helmet Laws

New Hampshire is one of only three states with no motorcyclist helmet laws on its books. The other two states are Illinois and Iowa. However, wearing a helmet is a choice that most riders in the Granite State see as their sacred right – and a vast majority of motorcyclists ride without any head protection. The state’s motto, “Live Free or Die” appears on every vehicle’s license plate – including those found on motorcycles. It is not yet clear whether any of the motorcyclists involved in the recent horrific crash were wearing helmets.

Pickup Driver Has Lengthy Driving Record

The motorcyclists involved in the New Hampshire incident were all members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club – comprised of veterans and military personnel. The pickup driver, Massachusetts resident Volodoymyr Zhukovskyy, has a lengthy negative driving record. The company he was working for while driving the pickup truck (Westfield Transport in West Springfield, Mass.) has also faced various violations “in the last two years, including two instances where drivers were in possession of narcotic drugs.” Those facts have many people shaking their heads as to why Zhukovskyy was even on the highway.

On Tuesday, officials charged Zhukovskyy, 23, with seven counts of negligent homicide, and later revealed that Zhukovskyy was charged with  “operating under the influence” (OUI) in Connecticut only weeks before the Randolph crash. He also had his license suspended in 2013 for another OUI infraction and was listed – at the time – as an “immediate threat” to the safety of other drivers.

At his first court appearance related to the recent motorcyclists’’ crash, Zhukovskyy accepted a bail agreement that keeps him detained in New Hampshire. The bail order, issued at Coos County Superior Court, said due to Zhukovskyy’s criminal and driving history “exhibit[ing] a pattern of operating a motor vehicle in a dangerous manner,” his release would “likely present a danger to the safety of [himself] or the public.”

Questions Pondered During a Tragic Time

Yet, there he was allegedly driving “erratically and across the double-yellow center line” on a rural highway before reportedly smashing into 10 motorcyclists with enough devastating impact to make his own vehicle burst into flames. One has to ask a few questions, i.e., are the motorcyclists at fault if they were not wearing helmets? Alternatively, is the Massachusetts Department of Motor Vehicles at fault for not keeping Zhukovskyy off New Hampshire’s (or any state’s) highways? Or is Westfield Transport responsible because of their frequent violations? These questions weigh heavily on people’s minds in New England.

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Should New Hampshire’s Helmet Laws Be Changed?

Nonetheless, is it time to change the helmet regulations in New Hampshire? It might be time, but it is not going to happen any time soon. There are approximately 75,000 licensed motorcyclists in New Hampshire – that equates to approximately seven out of every 100 adults in the state.

However, most New Hampshire riders do not opt for a helmet. For comparison, two out of every 100 adults in neighboring Massachusetts are motorcycle riders. Helmet use is mandatory in Massachusetts. Changing the helmet laws in New Hampshire might save lives, but, more likely, the change would result in a sharp reduction in motorcyclists and a huge increase in traffic citations for helmetless riders.

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy in New Hampshire, Governor Chris Sununu said, “The no helmet issue is something the state has been dealing with for ages…We don’t see any movement on that coming forward.” This is another clear indication that no new legislation is on the cards.

Motorcycling Fatalities

Overall traffic-related deaths in the United States have decreased in recent years, but motorcycle deaths have increased by 55 percent since 2000. Further, while only approximately 20 percent of all car or truck accidents result in death, a staggering 80 percent of all motorcycling accidents are fatal.

However, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), wearing a helmet versus not wearing one is surprisingly not a factor in motorcycle fatalities. NHTSA uses the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) to gather data regarding fatal traffic injuries.

The table below from FARS shows recent motorcyclist fatalities by helmet use, helmet use rates, lives saved, and additional lives that were savable. Of 5,286 fatal accidents involving a motorcyclist in 2016, 3,054 riders were wearing a helmet while 2,089 were not.

Interestingly, of the three states with no helmet laws, New Hampshire fares best. Of New Hampshire’s motorcycling fatalities in 2016, 42 percent were not wearing a helmet, whereas the non-helmeted fatalities in Illinois and Iowa were 75 percent and 78 percent, respectively. However, the last two columns on the chart tell the biggest story: 1,859 lives were saved due to helmet use and a further 802 people would have survived their accidents had they worn a helmet. As precious as even one human life is, 802 lives were lost in 2016 alone due to unprotected heads.

motorcycle helmet safety chart

Source: FARS 2016 Annual Report File.
Shaded states are those with laws requiring helmet use for all motorcyclists, at the time of publication.

New Hampshire: ‘Live Free Or Die’

However…no laws were broken in New Hampshire – it’s up to each rider as to whether or not he or she wants to wear a helmet. Most of New Hampshire’s population points back to the state’s proud heritage and “Live Free or Die” mentality.

Visitors to the state are usually left flabbergasted when they see helmetless motorcyclists – especially when it comes to the health care costs involved in taking care of helmetless riders – nearly all of whom suffer traumatic head injuries. In fact, FARS has another chart that shows that $20.6 billion was saved (in overall health care costs) in 2016 due to riders wearing a helmet – and an additional $9.2 billion could have been saved had 100 percent of riders in the U.S. wore helmets.

It’s a lot of money, it’s a lot of lives, and it’s unlikely to change in New Hampshire. For now, the state mourns seven citizens who were minding their own business when a young man with a lengthy driving record in other states allegedly caused their deaths.

Here is the list of the motorcyclists who died as a result of the June 21 accident:

Joanne and Edward Corr, both 58, of Lakeville, Mass.
Michael Ferazzi, 62, of Contoocook, N.H.
Albert Mazza, 49, of Lee, N.H.
Daniel Pereira, 58, of Riverside, R.I.
Desma Oakes, 42, of Concord, N.H.
Aaron Perry, 45, of Farmington, N.H.

Glynn Cosker is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. In addition to his background in journalism, corporate writing, web and content development, Glynn served as Vice Consul in the Consular Section of the British Embassy located in Washington, D.C. Glynn is located in New England.

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