Because of the relative lack of safety features on motorcycles, in comparison with most other types of vehicles, motorcyclists face extremely serious risks to their health on the road. In fact, in 2011, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association projected approximately 4,500 deaths resulting from motorcycle accidents on our nation’s roads, an increase of more than 64% from the same number in 2000.
However, the use of motorcycle helmets has been shown to dramatically reduce the severity of injuries in motorcycle accidents for those who use them. To date, 19 states and the District of Columbia require all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet on the road, and 28 states have laws requiring at least some motorcyclists to wear helmets. Only three states have no laws regulating motorcycle helmet use.
Motorcycle helmet use has been increasing in recent years, although far too many riders continue to operate their vehicles without the use of this important safety equipment. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcycle helmet use increased from only 48% in 2005 to 67% in 2009. However, this is still lower than the 71% of motorcycle riders who reported wearing helmets in 2000.
FACTS ABOUT MOTORCYCLE USE
Several different government agencies and non-governmental groups collect data on motorcycle use each year. Among other things, these data show that:
- Motorcycle fatalities have increased significantly since 2000 (by more than 64%). However, in recent years, the trend has actually been a slight decline in motorcycle fatalities: since 2008, fatalities have decreased by 15% (GHSA, 2011).
- Drunk driving is a serious problem in motorcycle accidents in particular, with 28% of motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes having a BAC of greater than .08% (CDC, 2010).
- Motorcycle fatalities are heavily linked to age – among 20 to 24 year-olds, motorcycle accident fatalities occur at a rate of close to 4 out of 100,000 individuals, while among motorcyclists over the age of 60, the fatality rate is only 1 out of 100,000 (CDC, 2010).
- According to estimates from the NHTSA, motorcycle helmets saved as many as 1,829 lives in 2009 alone (NHTSA, 2011).
- Facts about Motorcycle Helmets and Motorcycle Helmet Laws
Motorcycle helmets are widely understood to significantly reduce the likelihood of fatalities or brain injuries for motorcyclists involved in all types of accidents. However, many states do not require all riders to wear a motorcycle helmet. The consequences of these decisions can be partly understood through the following facts:
- Research from the CDC has shown that laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets in all circumstances both increase helmet use and reduce costs associated with motorcycle accidents: annual savings for states with universal helmet laws are more than four times of those in states without these laws, and in California alone, the savings from universal helmet laws was as much as $394 million annually.
- In states with universal helmet requirements for motorcycle riders, only 12% of cyclists involved in fatal accidents were not wearing helmets. In comparison, states with only partial helmet laws saw 64% of motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes not wearing helmets, and the number was even higher (79%) in states without helmet laws at all (CDC, 2011).
- The state of Florida waived its universal helmet requirement in 2000, changing the law to only require helmet use for riders under the age of 21 or those who did not carry at least $10,000 in insurance coverage. Between 2001 and 2003, motorcycle fatalities in the state increased by 81%, nearly double the overall increase in the national average. Helmet use declined among all groups, including those under the age of 21, and a significant increase in hospital admissions for non-fatal motorcycle injuries also occurred (NHTSA, 2005).
- In 1999, Louisiana dropped its universal helmet requirement law. From 1999 to 2003, the percentage of motorcycle riders involved in crashes who were wearing helmets at the time was only 42%. When the universal helmet law was reinstated in 2004, the percentage of riders involved in a crash who were wearing a helmet increased to 87%. In 2004, fatalities resulting from motorcycle crashes decreased for the first time in Louisiana since 1999. Motorcycle accidents resulting in either fatal or serious injury decreased as a proportion of all motorcycle accidents in 2004, as well (NHTSA, 2008).
- Texas and Arkansas repealed their universal helmet requirement laws in 1997. Helmet use dropped from 97% in both states to 52% in Arkansas and 66% in Texas following the removal of the legal requirement. The percentage of motorcycle accidents resulting in head injuries increased substantially in both states. Between 1996 and 1998, fatalities among motorcycle drivers increased by 21% in Arkansas and 31% in Texas (NHTSA, 2000).