States with universal motorcycle helmet laws report fewer deaths and annual cost savings four times greater than the annual costs of states without universal helmet laws, according to a new report looking at the years 2008-2010 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC report’s inescapable conclusion, according to the American Motorcyclist Association: “Universal helmet laws are the most effective strategy for increasing helmet use and protecting motorcycle riders and their passengers.”

According to the AMA, a CDC analysis of fatal crash data from 2008 to 2010 showed 12 percent of motorcyclists involved in a fatal collision in states with universal helmet laws were not wearing helmets. In comparison, 64 percent of riders involved in a fatal collision were not wearing helmets in states with partial helmet laws, and 79 percent of riders involved in a fatal collision were not wearing helmets in states with no helmet laws.

The AMA strongly urges motorcyclists to wear helmets as part of a comprehensive motorcycle safety program. It opposes helmet mandates, however, because of what it calls “unintended consequences.”

“Historically, the enforcement of helmet mandates has siphoned away scarce funds from effective crash prevention programs such as rider education and motorist awareness,” said Wayne Allard, AMA vice president of government relations.

The Washington Post said the CDC report includes some grim numbers to support its conclusions: The report says 14,283 motorcyclists were killed in crashes during the period from 2008 to 2010; of those, 6,057 (42 percent) were not wearing a helmet. And in 2010, 4,502 drivers and passengers were killed in motorcycle crashes. That represents 14 percent of all road-traffic deaths that year, the report notes, even though motorcycles accounted for less than 1 percent of vehicle miles traveled.

Among the key findings, according to the Post:

  • On average, in states with no helmet laws, 79 percent of fatally injured motorcyclists were not wearing helmets when their accident occurred. That’s compared to 64 percent in states with partial helmet laws (those in which only some riders, typically those under age 21, are required to wear helmets) and just 12 percent in states with universal helmet laws.

  • In states with universal helmet laws, society saved an estimated $725 per registered motorcycle as a result of helmet use. In states with no helmet laws, helmet use saved society just $198 per registered motorcycle.

  • Overall, about $3 billion in costs were saved as a result of helmet use in the United States in 2010. But, the report says, “another $1.4 billion could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets.”

I am torn on the issue of helmet laws.  I believe that helmets make it more likely you will survive a crash, which is a good thing.  I also believe that less people will wear helmets if they are not required.  But I also believe in self determination – that people should be allowed to make their own decisions about their life – and if that decision is one that exposes them to personal risk, that is their choice.

The biggest argument in support of helmet laws has always been that severely injured motorcyclists, especially those not wearing helmets, end up with medicaid or medicare paying their medical bills.  Since the state ends up paying the bills, they have an interest in regulating the conduct.  This study attempts to draw some of those conclusions by quantifying the savings of bikers wearing helmets.  The study is flawed, though, because it makes no attempt to estimate the increased costs associated with bikers who might have survived fatal crashes had they been wearing a helmet.  Since these crashes were significant enough to cause death, it is safe to presume that had they survived the collision by virtue of wearing a helmet, there would still have been serious injuries and great expense.

As I have said before, helmet use is a deeply personal issue.  I wouldn’t get on a bike without my helmet, but I respect other bikers’ right to make their own decisions.

Thanks for reading, and always ride safely!

ZiffLaw Attorney, Esq.
NY and PA Motorcycle Accident Attorney
The Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, NY  14901
Phone: (607)733-8866
Fax: (607)732-6062