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Helmetless Riders Make Good Organ Donors

Organ Donors Are Heroes by Miller Langhorne

In July 2000, Florida changed the motorcycle helmet law to allow adults to ride without a helmet if they had $10,000 of medical insurance. This made a lot of riders very happy. It also might have brought new hope to some of the people on the organ donor waiting list.

Most riders have probably heard the joke about medical staff referring to their rides as donorcycles. Not trying to be morbid but the facts are that in every state where mandatory helmet laws have been loosened, motorcycle fatalities have increased. And, according to a study about organ donors and motorcycle helmet laws done at Michigan State University in 2009, there was also a ten percent increase in organ donations in those same states. The study states that, “Empirical evidence consistently shows that motorcyclist deaths are disproportionately concentrated among those riding without a helmet. Based in part on this evidence, helmetless motorcyclists are perceived as a major source of transplantable organs, particularly within the medical trauma community.” It differentiates between two types of death, brain death and cardiac death. In cardiac death, the heart stops pumping blood and the organs quickly deteriorate. Whereas in a brain-dead body, the heart keeps beating. Even though your lungs stop functioning once you're brain-dead, a ventilator can be used to keep your blood oxygenated.

Not all riders understand that a seemingly minor low-speed collision can cause fatal head injuries if you're not wearing a helmet. It might kill you but the good news is that the rest of your body is likely not to be severely injured. Whereas, in a high speed violent collision, there's probably going to be severe internal injuries to the entire body, lessening the prospects for transplants.

One organ donor can benefit up to eight people who are on a donor waiting list. The organs transplanted include kidneys, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, lungs, bones, bone marrow, skin and corneas. Another positive from something tragic like a motorcycle accident is that the victims tend to be “better than average organ donors”. Why? Because many of the fatalities are younger, healthy men.

There are three easy ways to register as an organ donor in Florida:

  1. Online through the Florida Organ Donor Registry at

  2. Through the DMV office. When getting a new driver's license, or renewing your current one, you can have the “organ donor” designation added to the front of your license. FDOT will forward this information to Donate Life Florida.

  3. Include your desire to be an organ donor in any of your estate planning documents. In Florida, this can be done via a health care surrogate designation. This is when you designate another person to make medical decisions for you. Registration is free and there is no cost to your family for the harvesting of the organs. Your family cannot overrule your decision but you can cancel the registration if you should change your mind. Some states have considered making the donor registration part of the qualifications to get a motorcycle license. A few states have tried to make the organ donor consent presumed for any helmetless motorcyclists killed in an accident, even if the person hadn't signed up. None of them have yet to succeed in passing any such legislation and so it remains voluntary.

Be a Hero. Be a Donor.