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Basem Wasef

Helmetless ABATE Rider Crashes, Dies From Head Injuries While Protesting Helmet Laws

By July 3, 2011

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Whether or not you choose to ride with a helmet, it's hard to avoid the irony of this news item: during an ABATE protest of helmet laws involving nearly 600 motorcyclists in central New York, a rider on a 1983 Harley-Davidson panic braked, fishtailed, and succumbed to injuries after striking his head on the pavement. Troopers later said the victim, 55 year-old Philip A. Contos*, "likely would have survived the accident if he'd been wearing a helmet."

According to one news source, the victim's brother said he was so passionate about not wearing a helmet, "he'd do it again if he could," reflecting the-- pardon the pun-- hard-headed attitude held by many riders who think helmet laws are bunk.

Does the strength of the victim's convictions make him right, even in death? Do helmet laws miss the point, or does this loss of life suggest that helmet legislation is spot on?

Source: Associated Press, Syracuse.com


* For the record, the victim was not a member of ABATE
Photo © Vincenzo Lombardo

July 4, 2011 at 9:15 am
(1) Dabber says:

I’ve been on both sides of this debate. when I first started riding I would never wear a helmet,was a member of ABATE and would go out of my way to tell people what could happen when wearing a helmet.The typical Abate argument. Well, after being run off the road and bouncing off a telephone pole at 45 mph and knocked out for most of 24hr day and a ruptured rotator cuff, I’ve changed my tune. Now I wear a full face helmet jacket gloves ect.. Still today I’m torn over the Gov. getting involved in our riding habits. It’s horrible what happend to this fellow rider and his loved one’s. Anything can happen any time. I love motorcycles and think everone should ride or should at least go for a ride. Any thing we can do to mitigate the chances of the ultimate,We should. So We can ride another day.

July 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm
(2) SmilinPete says:

Wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle makes good sense. A fall can cause bruises, abrasions and broken bones. Most of those can heal in time, but a bruise to the brain or a broken skull can very likely lead to permanent brain injury or death.

A license to ride a motorcycle, just like a license to drive a car may be tied to some good sense regulations, like the riquirement to obey speed laws, to wear a seat belt in a car and the requirement to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle.

July 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm
(3) Estevon says:

I always wear a helmet, and I think it is rather foolish to ride without one, but I still think it should be up to the individual rider to make that decision for him/herself.

July 4, 2011 at 9:19 pm
(4) Vinetta says:

Helmuts save lives.

July 4, 2011 at 9:47 pm
(5) Pete says:

Sincere condolences to his family…what a completely avoidable tragedy.
This does smack of considerable irony. It also pays tribute to the “chlorine in the gene pool” point of view…not to mention an very honorable spot in the Darwin Awards.

July 4, 2011 at 10:38 pm
(6) r says:

time to thin the herd

July 5, 2011 at 10:32 am
(7) Steve in GA says:

People ride motorcycles for all sorts of reasons. Some because bikes are relatively economical to operate. Some because bikes can give you supercar acceleration for the price of used compact car.

But, perhaps most riders love their bikes for the thrill and feeling of freedom that motorcycling brings. Which brings me to the subject of helmets.

Many riders feel that helmets dilute the thrill and freedom of motorcycling, and they equate it to the old, “OSHA Cowboy” cartoons of a hapless cowboy wearing seatbelts and all sorts of safety equipment while seated on the saddle of Ol’ Dobbin. Although I can understand this viewpoint, it ignores the positive aspects, even the benefits of helmet use.

A good helmet, in addition to its crash protection qualities, does other things for you. First, a helmet will quiet things down.

I have ridden long distances both with and without helmets. And, I can tell you that the noise-blocking qualities of a helmet will allow you to end a long ride less tired and without that “shell-shocked” feeling you get when exposed to wind, traffic and exhaust noise for hours.

Second, even with a windshield, you will eventually get dirt, bugs or other debris in your eyes if you ride without a helmet’s faceshield. And, at 70 mph on a crowded Interstate, your sudden inability to open your dirt-clogged eyes is likely to be your last motorcycling adventure.

So, a helmet can have good things going for it other than just crash protection.

But, what about freedom? Especially the effects on your freedom imposed by state helmet laws? Should the state be allowed to tell you that you can’t act in a manner that the state considers unsafe, even when your behavior does not endanger other people? Well, I have an opinion about that, too, but it will have to wait. My comment here today is too long already.

July 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm
(8) Daniel says:

When I was a kid I was riding my bicycle without a helmet when I slipped on some sand and slammed my head onto concrete. To this day that was the worst pain I’ve ever been through and I still have a bald patch to remind me of it. The day I got my first motorcycle was the same day I got my first motorcycle helmet.

July 5, 2011 at 8:35 pm
(9) R1200GS says:

Why do we never see automobile drivers staging a parade to protest mandatory seatbelt use?

July 5, 2011 at 11:25 pm
(10) Scottie says:


Find some solid object next to you. Stapler. Keyboard. Book. Now, just tap it on your head. Tap a little harder. Hurts, doesn’t it.

Now drop that item, lean over to pick it up and catch your head on the table’s edge when you snap up.

Now You are crying like a baby.

Now think about driving on a twisty from Phoenicia, NY to Woodstock NY on a road (rte 212) that is second nature to you. “Ridden it a million times”. A month ago you knew the winter took its toll on the road, but now with wet weather, worse. You come around a familiar turn at just 25 mph to find the road with what looks to be a 5″ wide and 10′ long tear in it. It’s right in your line. With no time it swallows your front tire, you have no idea where the rear is, but SOMEHOW hang on and get out of it bringing your big bike to a slow roll, and a deep breath.


Then think about it:

Boots/feet: probably OK
Jeans/legs and butt: included in my skin grafts
Jacket: Glad I had it. 10 lbs of leather would have helped out a lot, but I’m slacking – I wore it on my ride on 7/4 and not 7/2
Helmet: Need better. I wear a 3/4, maybe a full-face in my future.

July 6, 2011 at 10:41 am
(11) Breeze says:

You are all entitled to your opinions. I believe it’s 50/50 if a helmet can save you, or, create another problem such as the extra weight snapping your neck. Since a helmet is really only good for direct impact of 13 mph, the safety factor is moot.
If you don’t care about your freedom, do what the Government tells you and don’t “rock the boat”.

July 6, 2011 at 10:54 am
(12) victor says:

I was in my first accident last year due to some idiot failing to stop at a stop sign. Thank the Lord aboe that i was able to get up and walk away from it. The emergency response crew told me that the what saved my life was my helmet. i was riding with a buddy of mine who was able to avoid the wreck and he took pictures of the accident using his cellphone. I have those pictures posted on our helmet rack (there are 3 of us who ride in the house) that helmets do save lives.

July 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm
(13) Bonnie says:

Freedom of choice for anyone who rides. We all know the consequences, and it should be OUR choice to wear a helmet or NOT.Not the government’s

July 6, 2011 at 12:09 pm
(14) MadMike says:

The point is, a lot of us feel like we don’t require babysitters. A “No helmet” law does not mean we don’t wear helmets, it simply means it is our choice, right or wrong to Basem or anyone else.

July 6, 2011 at 12:12 pm
(15) MadMike says:

Scottie et al, think about it. Yoy choose to ride your motorcycle down that road while I take my GMC Sierra crew cab. I laugh at the potholes while you go down in a near death experience. So why not just prohibit such a dangerous mode of transport altogether? Don’t Tread on Me.

July 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm
(16) Mordy Rischall says:

I always wear a helmet, however I do believe a person has the right to decide for themselves. I would just like to suggest that when a rider gets their motorcycle license they sign a waiver that if they do not wear a helmet and suffer a brain injury the state will not be required to give them healthcare . With individual freedom come individual responsability.

July 6, 2011 at 1:45 pm
(17) Peter says:

I live in BC. The government’s argument for wearing a helmet is standard fare, including costs to our medical systems, costs to our provincial insurance system and a burden on society as whole. The crazy thing though, that boggles my mind is with all their strict enforcement, Sikhs are allowed to ride with their bikes with turbans only. This is mind-boggling. The burden on society and all those points are ignored for them. That isn’t just religious freedom, that is special favortism. That is PC at it’s worst.
Riding a motorcycle or car isn’t a right, but a privilege as they say, so in my opinion, if the law is for helmets, then motorcycling should not be for you, if you can’t follow the law.
Can you imagine the outcry if a sect couldn’t wear sealtbelts, because their faith said they mustn’t ever be bound up?

July 6, 2011 at 1:46 pm
(18) scott says:

I believe in personal choice, and I prefer that the government not interfere. However, I’m riding for a long time and have always donned a full face helmet with protective clothing. I can’t understand why somebody wouldn’t want maximum protection. I understand this not a guarantee against injury or death, but it does have a possible buffering life saving effect. Another point: if a motorcyclist is injured or killed in an accident that is due to another vehicle, is the vehicle driver liable for the injuries or death of the motorcyclist? I think this is an insurance concern that has influenced state laws.
I have seen riders not wearing helmets, and carrying children(12-15 yrs old on the back without a helmet. This is basic stupidity. Fortunately most underage passenger riders do wear helmets. This is exercising common sense.
Be safe and do the right thing.

July 6, 2011 at 1:46 pm
(19) michael streuly says:

not wearing a helmet when riding a motorcycle on the street or in the dirt is stupid. here in california we have a helmet law and i do not have a problem with it. the guy in new york got what he had coming to him.

July 6, 2011 at 2:16 pm
(20) Speed says:

The two worst accidents I’ve been through in my 50 years of motorcycling were from being cut off in traffic and hitting that car and from being run off the road. BOTH times,I was wearing a helmet,BOTH times I was told by the Paramedics and the Cops that the helmet “saved my life”,and BOTH times there wasn’t a scratch on my shiny helmet. Believe me,these people are all “programmed” to say that. Whether a helmet saves my life is not the issue-the issue is that the Bureaucrats (most of whom don’t even ride) have no business telling riders how they must dress to ride their bikes. It’s the RIDER’S life,and should be the RIDER’S choice to wear a 14mph-rated helmet or not. Laws forcing riders to wear helmets is not the way. The real answer is to teach riders to be more focused in their riding and more skilled in their riding abilities,and teaching auto/truck drivers to hone THEIR skills and their concentration on DRIVING. See-the idea here is to NOT HAVE ACCIDENTS! Then,there won’t be a reason for them to direct our lives with these mandates.
And before the “Public Liability” issue shows,when I bought my first three Harleys new,the INSURANCE cost more than the bike payments. Even after they were paid off,I’ve been required by LAW to have insurance to license ‘em. Know what it covered? Replacing the bike,or parts thereof,Hospital bills,physical therapy if needed,prescriptions,etc.,JUST like CAR insurance does. BTW-think about how many CAR drivers die every year from HEAD injuries-more than bike riders do. But do we push for helmet laws for CAR drivers? No,and why? Because,again,the Government has NO BUSINESS dictating how ANYONE dresses to operate their vehicle. That is something every vehicle operator should make his or her own decision on.
Even the best helmets’ ability to “save” lives is still a crap shoot,but it needs to be the individual’s call to make.

July 6, 2011 at 2:48 pm
(21) Valkrider says:

We all have a few things in common, one of those is that we will die. But, very few of us will get to die doing something we believe in. This man got to.

I’ve been riding 40 years with 86,000 miles and 22 states on my current bike. I work in a hot, dirty, dangerous, environment and ride to work daily. I usually wear a helmet on my way to work, but when I’m covered with filth, grease and sweet on the way home the helmet stays on the backrest. If I was forced to wear one on the way home then it would have to be a $20 helmet both ways instead of $300 helmet one way.

Truth is, I’d gladly give my life to retain my freedom to choose.

July 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm
(22) Tom says:

I’m all for wearing a helmet and safety gear whether going on a short or long ride. I’d rather be safe than have an expensive hospital bill. I enjoy keeping my body from being in pain. And what is a person’s brain and pride worth?

For those who choose to wear or not wear a helmet it should be their choice. But keep in mind the consequences of your choice. Even though a helmet cannot provide 100% protection from an accident, it’s better than nothing.

July 6, 2011 at 4:41 pm
(23) Pete says:

Although I’m in Toronto at the moment, B.C. was home for 40 years and will be again. It’s a shame the whole sect thing (turbans and all) isn’t really right for this forum because I agree totally with you that the favoritism shown certain minorities is enough to put you in a straight jacket.

Valkrider….”He died doing what he liked”. What a crock of shxx!! He’s DEAD!! Given a choice I bet he’d sooner not be.

Where did this 13 / 14MPH crap come from?? Ask a SBK or MGP rider if a helmet is only good to 13MPH.

July 6, 2011 at 5:49 pm
(24) Peter says:

“the whole sect thing (turbans and all) isn’t really right for this forum”

See Pete, this is the kind of Canadian PC I’m talking about. I was not criticizing turbans, nor Sikhs. (Even Sikhism has tenets about taking care of one’s body). I was just stating it as a fact here, and that the helmet law is a farce if there are going to be exemptions. This negates any argument the government here might have for us to wear them, and to give stiff fines and make us walk home.
I am basically showing the foolishness of this law here, and that if you can’t wear a helmet, whether faith or you have a square head, then you mustn’t ride if that law has any credence at all.
I know such an exemption in many US states would go over like a lead balloon.

July 6, 2011 at 7:16 pm
(25) Jguarfn28 says:

Always wore a helmet since I started riding in the 70′s. My family is more important than my pride/freedom. If you elect to ride helmetless, please do the right thing and sign a organ donor card to help others. Some good can come of your selfishness, some family will appreciate your generosity and your family will miss you.

July 6, 2011 at 7:46 pm
(26) RobKW says:

I gave up my ABATE membership because all they seemed to concentrate on was repealing the helmet lay in NY. I did a poll when I was an editor of a local Motorcycle magazine and I asked what were the most important issues MRO’s should be concentrating on for the betterment of our riding lifestyle. One that’s ONE out of Eight said helmet law. How about tar snakes or illegal motorcycle stops, they were on the top of the list. RIP helmetless rider, you rode the way u wanted…..no further comment on that from me.

July 6, 2011 at 8:15 pm
(27) Louise says:

We all pay for the riders who have accidents and don’t choose to wear helmets. Insurance costs, medical costs, etc. They are not only impacting themselves like they want to believe. It was never the major crash I worried about – it was the slow crashes where I would be a vegetable in a survivor body. Crash with a hit a run pickup caused some broken bones, but helmet saved head injury. Needed a new helmet though. Cheap price to pay.

July 6, 2011 at 8:31 pm
(28) Peter says:

Basem, with all my pontificating, I should have asked how well the impact of this ABATE rally went. Did the media have a field day with this, and were the organizers embarrassed and went off to lick their wounds?

July 6, 2011 at 9:35 pm
(29) Luis Gomez says:

Helmet fabricators should investigate why some people dont want to use a helmet. During summer the helmet is something unconfortably due to the heat. I would like to have an air conditioned helmet

July 6, 2011 at 9:56 pm
(30) Mike says:

Sad that he died. Personally I think they should outlaw all automobiles. Do you know how many more people are killed each year by cars? Also, how much safer it would be for motorcycles if there were no cars. If we want the government to take away our freedoms for safety, lets start with a real killer.
How many lives do helmets save each year?
How many more lives would eliminating cars save?

July 6, 2011 at 10:26 pm
(31) wildechoes says:

What is the first thing we do when we sit in our cars.the law of the land says to put on your seat belt.our freedom of choice has been taken away from us. we live with it. if the law of the land states to wear a helmut in your province or state you wear it. live with it.it’s the law of the land. Pride over Life is a stupd emotion.

July 6, 2011 at 11:11 pm
(32) rettY says:

i refer to Estevon comments. yes it may be individual’s right or choice who has to clean up the bloody mess but the authorities who have other things to do.

I have owned Honda CB550, BMW RT1150 and currently own BMW1200 and a Hayabusa 1300 and i am fully geared up including a flip-up and a full face everytime i ride a bike.

The weather here (Singapore/Malaysia) is hot and humid but being fully geared up pays to ride another day.

Agree with the comments about bugs and insects hitting us at the speed of 70mps, it pains and scars and can cause us to panic and cause an major accident.

Happy safe riding to all

July 7, 2011 at 1:37 am
(33) Basem Wasef - About.com Motorcycles Guide says:

Ahh, Peter.

You should know me better than to bait me with such questions– and besides, I’m having too much fun reading comments!


July 7, 2011 at 5:01 pm
(34) alex ugur says:

I heard that train drivers often suffer psychological damage, when individuals commit suicide, by jumping onto the tracks in front of their locomotives. Even if a motorist is innocent of wrong doing, when involved in a crash where someone is killed, it is common to feel guilty of being on the road that day, of being guilty for that death. Carnage makes it worse. Consider what it feels like to drive over someones head, when they are not wearing a helmet. (Apologies for my graphic imagination)

July 8, 2011 at 10:57 am
(35) stupidMike says:

Have had one bike, and laid it down twice. In Fla, you either wear a helmet or carry $10K of insurance. My last crash, I didn’t hit anything, but just passed out from the heat, while on the highway. Lots of road-rash, fracture ribs, and shoulder, but above the neck was fine. The one thing that I remember most about any crash, is that no one gives a crap how badly you’re injured. The cops will ticket you, the ambulance will toss you in the back and take off, and doctors and nurses will sneer while applying their trade. Wear the helmet !!! You need your wits about you, even after a crash, and you can’t think with your wits scattered on the road.

July 8, 2011 at 11:50 am
(36) pETE says:

I’ve been accused of a lot things, but being PC is not on the list. My reference to your reference about – as an example only – turbans preventing one from wearing a helmet is a perfect example of – and here we agree – the law falling flat on it’s face.
But…my point is – the law is the law. If you want to ride, wear a !@#$%^! helmet!
The beauty of free countries is the option to make choices. If you don’t like the law, go to jail, or leave! Unfortunately, politicians will never take that stance. Votes are too important.

July 11, 2011 at 4:12 pm
(37) Alex says:

Decades of safety testing by SNELL has proven that helmets help to avoid head injuries. Bottom line, helmet laws save lives.

July 13, 2011 at 11:59 am
(38) Tammy says:

I’m sorry, but helmet laws are wrong, as well as seat belt laws…It should be left up to the individual as to whether they wear a helmet or a seat belt…The fact that helmets and save lives isn’t really the issue…Of course they save lives…The issue is my right to choose whether I wear them…If I’m stupid enough to get on a motorcycle without a helmet or get in a car and not put my seat belt, then I deserve exactly everything that happens…I myself put my seat belt on every time I get into a car, and I wear a helmet, not because it’s the law in NJ, but because I’m not stupid enough to not wear one…One major thing people don’t seem to realize is that so many motorcycle accidents happen not because of the motorcyclist, but because of other drivers who aren’t paying attention to what they are doing, who are lazy and inattentive…Watch what you are doing when you get behind the wheel of that car, and give us some space, we don’t have the metal shell of protection around us that you have…

July 13, 2011 at 1:00 pm
(39) Pete says:

Tammy….no problem.
Here’s the release that say’s :
“I dumb ass, attest that neither public funds, Insurance, or the medical system will pay for my rehab, or the rest of my life in a wheel chair”
Sign it and you’re good to go!

August 2, 2011 at 8:21 pm
(40) alphatwin says:

I’m extending an enthusiastic High-five to ya Pete!

Not wearing a helmet??? The same bikers who choose not wearing helmets would never consider getting in the ring with Smokin’ Joe or Ali or Iron Mike without a helmet on before steppin thru the ropes….getting their brains pummelled by those guys in thier prime isn’t even close to what a concrete wall or a moving vehicle or an asplalt slab of roadway could do.

October 19, 2011 at 10:53 am
(41) Jay says:

Hit a DEER at 40MPH!

Hey wake up folk’s. It will someday happen to you! I like to ride with an open face helmet, but a full face would be better. It gets hot and it get’s cold in Florida, yeah like bike week in March…cold in the AM and hot in the afternoon. Octoberfest, sometimes both, and Lakeland, Starke, same. I say DRESS FOR THE ACCIDENT not to be cool!

Idiot driver’s are everywhere. do your loved one’s a favor.

Just checkout the accident videos and it may convince you to DRESS FOR THE ACCIDENT not to be cool!

Deer will spook you! Oh Just hit the dang deer God will make more!

April 30, 2012 at 2:56 pm
(42) TISH says:

After fifty years of riding, I have come into contact with the pavment three times. Always hitting my head, significantly. IF riders do not want to wear a helmet fine, but their familiies should not be able to sue the other pary, unless significant gross negligence can be proven. No brain, no helmet….half a brain half a helmet.

June 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm
(43) Bill ( Wildbill) says:

I choose not to wear a helmet as it makes me feel closed in and it cuts down on your periferal ( sp ? ) vision and it also reduces what you can hear going on around you…..which makes you more prone to having an accident. I figure if you crash at 55 or 65 MPH, that skid lid ain’t gonna do you much good………!

August 9, 2012 at 10:35 am
(44) Michael says:

There is no doubt that helmets have the ability to reduce head trauma. Have you ever read the disclaimer inside a helmet even an expensive full face helmet says that the manufacturer makes no claim concerning the effectiveness of the helmet in preventing injury. Snell testing is good but it doesn’t test the helmet for impacts at greater than 13 or 14 mph.

If you crash without a helmet you are going to get injured but even if you wear a helmet there is no guarantee that you won’t sustain a head injury.

I wear a helmet even in states whee it isn’t required, but I can understand why some individuals refuse or don’t like to wear one.

As for the public burden issue that helmet-less motorcycle riders cost the general public money that is complete and total hogwash. Motorcyclists are insured just like automobiles. The insurance industry and the general public pay far more money from injuries sustained by children playing little league than they do treating injured motorcyclists.

January 9, 2013 at 11:42 am
(45) old bll says:

OK, the law says to use your headlight at night, when was the last time you didn’t do so in order to express your “freedom of choice?” Kinda stupid not to, same as not wearing a helmet me thinks…

April 2, 2013 at 2:38 pm
(46) Chuck says:

I noticed by the comments that every body left that you people think that cycles are are the only place you get head injuries. You helmet lovers absolutely have to wear a helmet on your motorcycle but don’t even consider it at all in a car. (Evidently it’s ok to die in a car from a head injury even though 10% of car accidents produce a head injury death!)The reality of it IS that driving a safer vehicle causes fewer deaths per mile but since every one drives cars far more miles than cycles, the risk of getting killed in cars from the very same reasons as cycles, becomes the SAME!!! Even a monkey on drugs can figure that one out.I ride in my home town of 1,964 people without a helmet because no one has EVER died on a cycle here in a century. Most small towns rarely have any deaths in their city limits from ANY VEHICLES and yet we have to be threatened by you helmet /seat belt law lovers with more laws! I’ve ridden 250,000 miles over the last 48 years and am tired of all you people trying to put me in sweaty helmet on a hot day where NO ONE HAS EVER DIED!!! I am supposed to suffer from your stupidity? Stay out of other people’s business!!!!!

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