1984: The young woman lay quietly on her back on the asphalt of Foothill Boulevard in the warm afternoon, not a mark on her, her blonde hair streaming out around her head as though for a photo shoot, her clear blue eyes staring upward at the equally blue, cloudless sky, but uncomprehending, blinking slowly, then closing softly.
Her breathing was becoming more shallow, slower. She moaned and moved her arms slightly, then lay still again.
She'd flown off the back of her husband's motorcycle when he'd hit gravel and skidded on the pavement, sliding to a stop. Neither wore a helmet. His knee was banged up, but he was otherwise unhurt.
He stood over her, in stunned disbelief. A small crowd had gathered, watching, unsure how to help. A siren was coming, and we could do little but protect her neck and wait, and wait, for a seemingly interminable time.
The ambulance pulled up, an emergency medical technician and paramedic jumped out and provided head and neck support, intubating the woman on the second try as she stopped breathing. I bagged her as she was put on the gurney and given emergency medication, put into the ambulance, and run for the University Hospital two miles away.
I followed close behind. I had to. She was wheeled into the emergency room, examined quickly. Pupils fixed and dilated, no pulse. She was dead.
I later went to her funeral, spoke briefly with her husband and two children. I left thinking what a tragedy, how senseless.
Three months later, I testified at a transportation committee meeting during the Legislature; the committee heard testimony on a proposed motorcycle helmet law that would make it a misdemeanor not to wear one.
The room was lined on three sides with men and women in bulky black leathers, very imposing, obviously without helmets under their arms, while their spokesperson touted freedom from governmental controls. The committee was completely cowed by the show of silent force, and voted the bill down. I left thinking what a tragedy, how senseless.
2012: Yesterday, driving across the valley, I counted 16 motorcycle drivers and riders, seven with helmets, the rest with hair blowing around vacuous heads. Again I thought, how senseless, tragedies waiting to happen.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently stated that "five times as many no-helmet biker deaths occur in states with less restrictive laws" as in those with more restrictive laws. The report said more than $3 billion were saved in the United States due to helmet use, and another $1.4 billion could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets.
We taxpayers pay for much of the cost of injury treatment and rehab when insurance runs out, as it almost always does. Utah's current law requires helmet use only by riders under 18 years of age.
Is this the year, with newly and re-elected legislators, when a majority of lawmakers can do what all the education of the past years has failed to do? Will a majority of legislators stand up to the bikers, to the senselessness of lives lost, and to the tremendous cost to taxpayers?
I can only hope so. Voters should ask campaigning politicians if they'll be courageous enough to do the right thing. Senselessness could be overridden, tragedies could be prevented.
Tom Metcalf is a Salt Lake physician.