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Going helmetless means freedom, but it also risks serious injury

"The wind passing by your ears, it's music to your soul," James F. told the Associated Press. "It's so relaxing."

You, too, may feel that riding a motorcycle without a helmet is music to your soul. Many bikers believe that enclosing your head in a helmet defeats much of the purpose of riding.

Texas law technically requires every rider and passenger of a motorcycle, moped or motor scooter to wear a helmet, but people 21 and over can opt out of the requirement. All it takes is completing a Department of Public Safety-approved motorcycle operator training course and/or obtaining at least $10,000 in "motorcycle health" insurance.

With that in mind, however, statistics show that riding without a helmet increases your chance of injury and death. In fact, a 2010 study considered whether the 1997 repeal of Texas's previous helmet law had an impact. It did.

Even taking into account the increase in ridership, there was a "sudden upward trend" in fatal motorcycle accidents the month the helmet law changed (September 1997). At the same time, the change in the law saw substantially fewer bikers wearing helmets.

How big was the increase in fatalities overall? Deaths per 100,000 registered motorcycles rose from 89 in 1994 to 101 in 2004. That represents a 15-percent increase. When measured by miles traveled, the death rate increased by 25 percent.

It makes sense that riding without a helmet makes you more vulnerable to injury. Unfortunately, the reality is that you cannot always prevent motorcycle accidents. Perhaps more often than not, bikers are the victims of drunk, drugged or distracted drivers -- or drivers who don't seem to see the motorcycles they share the road with.

Even being convinced of the increased risk won't stop all bikers from going helmetless. For many, the right for adults to ride without helmets feels fundamental to a free society.

If you become involved in a motorcycle crash and aren't wearing a helmet, however, you may encounter people who blame you. They may consider you to have been negligent even when the wreck was due to another driver's negligence or wrongdoing. In fact, a judge or jury may assign you partial fault or reduce your compensation.

We recommend you discuss your case immediately with a personal injury attorney experienced in motorcycle accident cases.

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