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The University of Florida is an enormous campus, with a size of over 2,000-acre and more than 1,000 buildings, is one of the largest campuses in the United States. Because of its size, for students, driving a scooter do allow for efficient transportation, but there’s a downside that should be addressed: the lack of helmets on scooter drivers. Even though Florida state law states that an individual is not required to wear a helmet while driving a scooter if not exceeding 30 mph on level ground and if the engine is smaller than 50 cm3 (Mueller), helmets should always be worn. Additionally, “Scooters can go as fast as 60 mph” (Mueller); therefore, by exceeding that speed without wearing a helmet, and by being under 21 years of age is a crime and extremely dangerous. “In regard to helmet use, numerous observational studies demonstrate that motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of death and head injury up to 42% and 69%, respectively” (Hooten, Murad). This happens because during a crash most of the energy created is absorbed by the helmet rather than by the head and brain. Additionally, wearing a helmet can protect from rain, wind, and road debris and can even make riders more visible due to its reflective properties that help increase riders’ visibility to others on the road.
Furthermore, statistics from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, in the Helmet Use & Injury Levels of Moped and ATV Drivers and Passengers section, show that in 2016 there were more than 1,600 moped and scooter accidents in the state of Florida, without taking into account the not specified section. 84 percent of those accidents resulted in injury. Out of all the injuries, 95 percent where traumas suffered by individuals that were not wearing a helmet during the time of the impact. Additionally, 80 percent of all the fatalities counted were due to the absence of the helmet on the driver. According to these alarming statistics, especially since the use of scooters is prevalent in college communities, the University of Florida Police Department (UFPD) should implement a law that increases the use of helmets in scooter drivers. Large college campuses, in particular, have higher rates of scooter use. The University of Florida alone has more than 50,000 students. Since scooters are a convenient and low-cost mean of transportation, used by students to make short distances trips, they are becoming more and more popular resulting in more and more students purchasing them. In fact, as stated in the Gainesville Sun Journal: “In the 2014-15 academic year TAPS sold 4,847 scooter decals compared with 14,745 student car decals. In the 2016-17 academic year, parking officials saw those numbers grow to 6,268 and 15,770, respectively” (Faiello). Additionally, highly populated areas such as those that surround the University of Florida, often have heavy traffic which includes big trucks and buses that can make the risk of traveling by scooter even more dangerous.
How it works
In the past years there have been many cases of serious injuries and even deaths among UF students. The Gainesville Sun Journal, a newspaper published daily in Gainesville, has reported many scooter accidents in the past years that resulted in severe injuries and even death. In 2009, a University of Florida student died after being involved in a scooter crash. In 2015 Sydney Sokolsky, a University of Florida student who was not wearing a helmet, sustained a head injury and broken femur when her scooter crashed into a pickup truck near campus. In 2016, another University of Florida student, Denise Carino, who was not wearing a helmet, was brought to the hospital with head injuries. After being dismissed, Carino wrote the article, “A Nightmare on 34th Street” where she describes her accident and stresses the importance of helmets as she states: “I definitely learned through the hardest way possible that being safe should always be the number one concern in everyone’s lives. Wearing your helmet at all times is not a joke and I really don’t know why it’s not enforced enough” (Carino). These are some of the many other scooter accidents that happened and keep happening in the city of Gainesville. In all the cases helmets had not been worn, in fact severe head and brain traumas and even death took place. If the drivers of the scooters, involved in the accidents described above, would have been wearing helmets, they would have probably suffered less serious traumas and would have recovered more quickly. The helmets would have deadened the impact between the students’ heads and the ground, saving the head and brain from serious damages.
Even though UF has many helmet campaigns and programs which encourage the use of helmets, no one of these programs seems to have worked so far. Additionally, in the past, the University of Florida has even had UFPD officers educating scooter drivers about helmet safety and has even distributed free scooter helmets; but once again, failing to solve the issue. In fact, few students wear helmets when driving their scooter both on and off campus. In the article “Scooter driver is stable; issue of using helmets debated”, released by the Gainesville sun Journal, UF student Morgan Jones, who was also involved in a scooter accident in the past, said: “If the cops would enforce it, then I probably would follow it, but since they don’t, I don’t feel the need to” (Jones). In the previous quote, Jones is referring to the use of helmets on scooters. As she said, the only way to force helmets is by imposing their use. “A NHTSA study found that when universal helmet laws were repealed, helmet use rates decreased from 99 percent to 50 percent. In states where the universal law was reinstated, helmet use rates again increased to above 95 percent” (AANS, CNS). Additionally, “Mortality rates for motorcycle riders 15-20 years of age are 31% lower in states with universal helmet laws, while states with partial laws fail to see a reduction in mortality for this age group” (Nolte et al). Therefore, to increase the number of helmeted scooter drivers among UF students, it will be crucial for the city of Gainesville to implement a law that encourages scooter riders to wear helmets.
The University of Florida Police Department should create a law that benefits those who wear helmets, when driving their scooter, but that, at the same time, penalizes drivers who do not wear helmets when driving their scooters. This issue will be greatly decreased by implementing a law that leaves students their freedom of choice but that, at the same time, encourages riders to wear helmets. As similarly stated in the journal article “Motorcycle Policy and the Public Interest: A Recommendation for a New Type of Partial Motorcycle Helmet Law”, the law will allow riders to purchase one of the following two types of scooter registrations, a “helmet” or a “non-helmet” registration. The price of each registration will differ depending on the registration type. “Each registration will be linked to a distinctive reflective license plate” so that police can recognize those who do not follow to law just by looking at the license plate. The “helmet” registration type will cost slightly less than the standard amount, and it will require riders to wear DOT, Department of Transportation, approved helmets. The other type, the “non-helmet” registration type, “Will allow riders to ride without a helmet but at an additional cost”. This second one will cost the standard amount plus an extra fee created by injured non-helmeted scooter riders. Such a law will not only allow citizens to make their own choice, but “It could potentially increase helmet use resulting in fewer scooter crash-related injuries and deaths and decreased associated costs.” However, laws are inconsistent and not always followed; therefore, “To ensure compliance, riders of helmet-registered motorcycles caught driving without a helmet should be subject to a substantial fine” (Nolte et al.). Funds from “non-helmet” registrations could be used by the hospitals found in Gainesville to improve trauma care due to scooter injuries and by the UFPD to hire more police officers to make sure that the law gets followed. Such a law has never been implemented anywhere but “The concepts behind it have been tested” since “Economic costs passed on to consumers through tax and price polices can change behaviors” (Nolte et al.). Once UFPD new helmet law will be enacted, implementation costs are minimal. Regarding the implementation time, UFPD could establish a precise date, such as January 31st 2019, from which anyone will have to follow this new law. The new scooter helmet law will be easy to enforced since helmet use is easily observed.
This law will not only benefit UF, by having less severe brain injured students, but it will also benefit the city of Gainesville and its citizens as a whole because whether as taxpayers or insurance customers or medical consumers, everyone pays healthcare; therefore, by having less severe injuries to treat, the public would greatly decrease the millions of dollars spent annually in hospital charges for non-helmeted.
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