Now, community leaders are coming together in a renewed push for a law change to make helmets mandatory on motorbikes as they are in other developed nations.
Counsellor Thomas Wynne says he had attended in the funerals of nine young people who died in bike crashes – and he’d had enough.
In a column in today’s Cook Islands News, he invites members of the public to a meeting at University of the South Pacific at 4pm on Monday, to discuss helmet law reform.
“To the families that have lost loved ones to road accidents and especially motorbike accidents, my heart goes out to you all and I pray God’s love and support no matter how long it may have been,” he says.
“Let’s find the same courage we muster to protect our oceans, and our environment, and change the law and protect our people also, because the law needs to be made stronger again.”
The existing helmet law requires riders under 25 to wear helmets, as well as tourists and anyone riding more than 40kmh. It was introduced as part of a push to reduce road traffic deaths to zero and drop the number of serious injuries by 2020.
But alcohol and speed remain major problems causing crashes – and because most people continue to ride without helmets, crashes more often prove fatal. Cook Islands is thought to have the highest road death rate in the world.
Police spokesmen Trevor Pitt said there had been four motorcycle fatalities so far this year; none of the victims was wearing a helmet.
So too for injury crashes: “I think it’s safe to say that almost all the reported crashes involving motorbikes did not include helmets,” said Pitt.
Volunteer fire fighter Tarina Moorfield has been the first to motorbike crashes, and as a trained first responders, is the person fighting to save the critically injured riders’ life.
“It can be scary,” she said. “The important thing is to remain calm, take a step back and look at the bigger picture.”
Helmets helped, she said, but they were one part of a bigger picture. Drink-driving and speeding were also to blame for the deaths, she said. “And the biggest variables are people’s driving competence.”
Cook Islands Security director Chris Denny said times had changed: dogs, traffic and tourists all contributed to a more dangerous driving environment. In addition, with better-sealed roads, people were driving faster.
He acknowledged wearing helmets was not part of Cook Islands culture – but the problem was too serious to disregard. He urged people to put on helped when they got on their bikes.
* Police say the death of a fifth man on the road, near the hospital last month, is believed to have been caused by a heart attack.