It’s pretty hard to ignore the statistics surrounding helmet use and motorcycle accidents.
Head injuries are the most common cause of motorcycle fatalities, and even when motorcyclists survive a crash, injuries are generally more serious and long-lasting for riders and passengers who weren’t wearing helmets. According to estimates from the US Department of Transportation, wearing a helmet reduces a rider’s chance of dying in a crash by about 37%. A study by the Governor’s Highway Safety Administration also found that 44% of all people fatally injured in a motorcycle accident were not wearing helmets. Additionally, the GHSA found that wearing a helmet saved the lives of 1,829 riders in the course of a year.
With everything we know about helmet safety, it seems like a no-brainer that bikers should be using them. Unfortunately, many bikers are still unwilling to give up the feel of the wind in their hair when they ride. Riders who go helmetless argue that they’re exercising their freedom to choose, and that if they want to increase their odds of being in a fatal accident, it’s their right.
But it’s not just the individual rider who is being affected. If a motorcycle rider offers a ride to a friendand doesn’t have a helmet to offer him or her, then he or she is also at a greater risk for suffering a fatal head injury. Refusing to wear a helmet also sends a message to other riders that helmets are not a part of “true” motorcycle culture,perpetuating the idea that protective equipmentis ultimately optional.
The True Cost of Not Wearing a Helmet
It’s not just motorcycle riders and passengers who are affected by a rider’s failure to wear a helmet. Dr. Lori Terryberry-Spohr, a physician at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Nebraska, told The Economist that she can always tell which motorcycle accident victims weren’t wearing a helmet because they suffer internal bleeding and cell death across large areas of their bodies. Those helmetless riders who actually survive typically rack up about $1.3 million in direct medical expenses. As you might imagine, this far exceeds the insurance coverage that most motorcyclists have. Because of this, taxpayers end up footing about 63% of the bill.
If the loss of human life is not enough of an incentive, more states should be motivated to enact universal helmet laws based on the cost to their taxpayers. However, surprisingly few states have laws that require all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet.
States Shun Universal Helmet Laws
Currently, only 19 states and the District of Columbia have universal helmet laws. Three states – Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire – have no helmet laws whatsoever, meaning that even child passengers can ride along without a helmet. Every other state only requires helmets for riders under a certain age, usually 17 or 18. In Florida, riders can shun helmets as long as they’re 21 or older and carry at least $10,000 in insurance.
Some opponents of helmet laws say that they support the idea of wearing helmets, but that riders should come to the decision to wear a helmet on their own, without being forced into it by the government. They say that wearing a helmet is the smart thing to do, and responsible riders will realize that.
Unfortunately, not nearly enough riders are willing to wear helmets if they’re not legally required to. This week’s Daytona Beach Bike Week, one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the country, emphasized that fact. If you look through images of the gathering, it appears that the overwhelming majority of riders in attendance chose not to wear helmets. The event saw a total of four motorcycle accident fatalities, at least two of which involved head injuries to riders who were not wearing helmets.
States Need to Reassess Helmet Laws
The 33 states that do not currently have universal helmet laws should look to the 19 states that do andacknowledge the positive benefits this type of enforcement can have. The CDC has found that states with universal helmet laws have four times the cost savings of states that don’t. While a whopping 64% of riders in states without universal helmet laws choose to ride without helmets, only 12% of riders in states with universal laws go helmetless. As a result, the states with universal laws see fewer serious and fatal motorcycle injuries, which results in lower medical costs and loss of productivity costs.
It’s time that Florida, and all the other states with partial or no helmet laws, push to adopt universal laws. Of course, this change won’t happen overnight, and in the meantime it’s important that riders choose to wear helmets regardless of what state they live in. There may still be situations where riders get into accidents through no fault of their own, but by wearing a helmet, they can give themselves the best possible chance of surviving and recovering.