ONONDAGA, N.Y. (AP) - A man riding bareheaded on one of about 550 motorcycles in an anti-helmet law rally lost control of his cycle, went over his handlebars, hit his head on the pavement and died, police said Sunday.
The motorcyclist, 55-year-old Philip A. Contos, likely would have survived the accident if he'd been wearing a helmet, state troopers said.
The accident happened Saturday afternoon in Onondaga, a town in central New York near Syracuse.
Contos was driving a 1983 Harley-Davidson on a helmet protest ride organized by the Onondaga chapter of American Bikers Aimed Towards Education, or ABATE, troopers said. The organization states that it encourages the voluntary use of helmets but opposes mandatory helmet laws.
Contos, of Parish, hit his brakes, and his motorcycle fishtailed and went out of control, flipping him over the handlebars, police said. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The statewide president of ABATE, Thomas Alton, said Contos wasn't a member of ABATE but was a motorcyclist with 30 years of experience.
"He was one of the public who wanted to join in support of helmet freedom," Alton said.
Participants in the ride, which the Onondaga chapter has held annually for 11 years on the July 4th weekend, were told it was their choice whether to wear helmets, Alton said, and some wore them while others didn't.
"I don't believe we've ever had a fatality on any group run of any kind," he said.
The ride, on a hot, sunny afternoon, was about 30 miles long from Syracuse to Lake Como near Cortland.
No other motorcycles were involved in the accident, Alton said.
"An officer of my group said there may have been equipment difficulties for the rider," he said. "Apparently he was riding a motorcycle that wasn't his usual one. Some vehicles have different quirks."
While mandatory helmet laws are a major issue for ABATE, the group also lobbies for numerous other issues, including adding motorcycle awareness to driver's permit exams and fighting motorcycle-only police checkpoints.
"Awareness is our first issue," Alton said. "A large percentage of motorcyclists killed on the highway have been because a car turned left in front of it."
New York is one of 20 states that require all motorcycle riders to wear helmets. Lobbying by motorcyclist groups has led some states to repeal helmet laws.
A helmet that meets federal standards reduces the wearer's chances of being killed in an accident by more than 40 percent, said safety consultant Jim Hedlund, of the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Annual motorcycle fatalities have more than doubled since the late 1990s, peaking in 2008 at 5,312 deaths but dropping to 3,615 last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says.