Saturday, April 19, 2014

Little Natzi's Seek Changes in Alaska Motorcycle Helmet Laws

If eighth graders at the Anchorage School District's Gruening Middle School have their way, everyone who rides a motorcycle will have to wear a motorcycle helmet. While some say it's not necessary, the students say all you have to do is look at the numbers.

Every spring, many Alaskans who own motorcycles look forward to their first ride of the year: getting on their bikes and taking them out to enjoy the Last Frontier.

Anchorage School District students at Gruening want people to experience those rides for a long time to come -- and as part of their Project Citizen class, they want to change state law to make everyone wear a motorcycle helmet.

"You can still do all the same stuff and be safe at the same time," said class member Alex Oleniczak. "Why would you risk just dying just to not wear a motorcycle helmet?"

The students say knowing that 80 percent of Alaska's motorcycle accidents are fatal is a big motivator.

"We see people die from this all the time and it changes their lives -- you can't take that back," said eighth grader Hailey Walser.

The students' initiative is more than just talk. They have started a petition, written letters to Anchorage Police Department Chief Mark Mew and Mayor Dan Sullivan, and even spoken before the Anchorage Assembly.

To hear all perspectives on the issue, students also invited one of Alaska's premier bike shops -- Spenard-based dealer House of Harley-Davidson -- to be part of the discussion, despite disagreements on the question at hand.

"There's a lot of things that impact motorcycle safety a lot more than helmets do," said House of Harley-Davidson owner Dia Matteson.

Matteson, an avid rider for the last 11 years, stresses the importance of rider training.

"I've ridden here to Milwaukee, Wisconsin twice down the Alcan (Highway)," Matteson said. "Really it's just riding within your ability -- even if you ride a really fast bike, if you are not trained and capable of riding it, you shouldn't take it above your skill level."

Students are taking Matteson's information in, in service of their goal to make sure riders are safer on the roads.

"We are just trying to make it easier so there's less mistakes and less pain," Walser said.

The students' push to change the helmet law might even take them to the state Legislature in Juneau.

While current state law makes wearing motorcycle helmets optional for people over 19 years old, experts say driver awareness and proper training are keys to keep people safe.

Copyright © 2014, KTUU-TV

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