Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Motorcycle Helmet Facts

According to 2007 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 5,154 motorcycle riders were killed on our nation's roads last year, an increase for the tenth year in a row. Motorcycle helmets have been shown to save the lives of motorcyclists and prevent serious brain injuries. Twenty states and the District of Columbia require helmet use by all motorcycle drivers and their passengers. Twenty-seven other states have laws only covering some riders, especially those younger than 18. Three states - Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire - have no helmet requirements at all. All-rider helmet laws are effective in increasing motorcycle helmet use, thereby saving lives and reducing serious injuries.

As states repeal helmet laws, fewer riders are wearing helmets. According to the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), conducted from the fall of 2000 to the summer of 2002, helmet use dropped from 71 percent to 58 percent nationally.


Motorcycles make up nearly 3% of all registered vehicles and only 0.4% of all vehicle miles traveled, but motorcyclists account for over 9% of total traffic fatalities. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, 2008)

In 2007, 63% of fatally injured motorcycle riders were not wearing a helmet in states without all-rider helmet laws, compared with only 14% in states with all-rider helmet laws. (NHTSA, 2008)

Per vehicle miles traveled, motorcyclists are about 21 times as likely as passenger car occupants to die in a traffic crash and four times as likely to be injured. (NHTSA, 2001)

In 2007, 36 percent of all motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes were speeding, compared to 24 percent drivers of passenger cars, and 19 percent for light trucks. The percentage of alcohol involvement was 28 percent for motorcyclists, compared to 23 percent for drivers of passenger vehicles. (NHTSA, 2008)

Motorcyclist fatalities are rising fastest among motorcycle riders over age 40. In 2007 alone, fatalities increased by 7%. (NHTSA, 2008)

Helmets reduce the risk of death by 29% and are 67% effective in preventing brain injuries to motorcycle riders. (NHTSA, 2001)


Surveys have shown that helmet use is essentially 100% in places with all-rider motorcycle helmet laws compared to 34 to 54% at locations with no helmet laws or with age-specific helmet laws. All-rider laws significantly increase helmet use because they are easy to enforce due to the rider's high visibility. (NHTSA, 2000)

NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,784 motorcyclists in 2007. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, an additional 800 lives could have been saved.

The average hospital charge for motorcyclists with serious head injuries was found to be almost three times that of motorcyclists with mild or no head injuries, $43,214 v. $15,528. (Orsay, et al., 1994)

In 1997, Arkansas and Texas repealed all-rider helmet laws. As of May 1998, helmet use fell from 97% in both states to 52% in Arkansas and 66% in Texas. Motorcycle operator fatalities increased by 21% in Arkansas and 31% in Texas. (NHTSA, 2000)

In 1992, the first year of California's all-rider motorcycle helmet law, 327 motorcyclists died in traffic crashes, compared to 512 in 1991 - a 36% reduction in fatalities in one year. Additionally, the number of hospitalized brain-injured motorcyclists fell by over 50%, from 1,258 in 1991 to 588 in 1992. (California Highway Patrol, 1999, Trauma Foundation, 2002)

After passage of Maryland's all-rider motorcycle helmet law in 1992, motorcyclist deaths dropped dramatically - 20% in 1993 and 30% from 1993-1994. (Maryland Department of Transportation)

In Oregon, there was a 33% reduction in motorcycle fatalities the year after the helmet law was re-enacted. Nebraska experienced a 32% reduction in fatalities the first year of its law. Texas experienced a 23% reduction in fatalities; Washington, a 15% reduction; California, a 37% reduction; and, Maryland, a 20% reduction. (NHTSA, 2001)

By an overwhelming majority (80%), Americans favor state laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets. (Lou Harris, for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, 2004)

An estimated $13.2 billion was saved from 1984 through 1999 because of motorcycle helmet use. An additional $11.1 billion could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets. (NHTSA, 2000)

Analysis of linked data from the Crash Outcome Data Evaluation System (CODES) in three states with all-rider helmet laws showed that without the law, the total extra patient charges due to brain injury would have been almost doubled from $2.3 million to $4 million.

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