Motorcycle Helmet Laws Save Lives and Dollars: CDC

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, June 14 (HealthDay News) -- More lives are saved in states with universal helmet laws for motorcyclists and their passengers than in states with partial laws, a new U.S. report confirms.

Universal helmet laws also saved states millions of dollars, the report said.

More than 14,000 deaths of motorcyclists occurred between 2008 and 2010 in the United States, and of these, more than 6,000 involved people who weren't wearing helmets, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Universal helmet laws result in increased helmet use and cost savings," said lead researcher Rebecca Naumann, a CDC epidemiologist.

In all, 19 states have universal helmet laws, 28 have partial laws and three have no helmet laws, she noted.

"In states with universal helmet laws, use approaches 100 percent," Naumann said.

Some people believe that helmets themselves cause injuries and restrict vision and hearing, Naumann noted. However, all studies have shown that that is not the case.

"They make riding safer by protecting the head. Head injuries are the leading cause of death among motorcyclists," she explained.

The report appears in the June 15 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In addition to saving lives, universal helmet laws save money.

Yearly cost savings in states with universal motorcycle helmet laws were almost four times greater compared to states without these laws, the researchers found.

Medical, productivity and other cost savings ranged from a high of $394 million in California, which has a universal helmet law, to a low of $2.6 million in New Mexico, which has a partial law, according to the report.

Universal helmet laws mandate that motorcycle riders and passengers wear a helmet every time they ride.

Partial helmet laws require certain riders, such as those under age 21, to wear a helmet.

The data show that in the 19 states with universal helmet laws, 12 percent of those who died in a motorcycle crash weren't wearing a helmet.

In comparison, 64 percent of those who died in crashes in states with partial helmet laws weren't wearing one; nor were 79 percent of those who died in the three states with no helmet laws (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire).

Helmets prevent 37 percent of motorcycle crash deaths among riders and 41 percent among passengers, the researchers said. In addition, helmets prevent 13 percent of serious injuries and 8 percent of minor injuries to riders and passengers.

There has been a trend in recent years for states to back off universal helmet laws. In April, Michigan repealed its universal law in favor of a partial law, while requiring motorcyclists to carry extra injury insurance.

Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, said that "these findings reinforce what we know about the efficacy of helmet laws."

Yet states are under pressure to repeal these laws.

"The motorcycle lobby is a very influential lobby," Harsha said. "When a state repeals a law there is pressure on neighboring states to do that."

The main argument for repeal is personal freedom, Harsha noted. "They want to be able to ride with or without their helmets. They don't want government telling them what to do," she said.

There will be more repeal attempts, but the CDC research will help counter these repeal attempts, Harsha said.

"Wearing your motorcycle helmet is the most effective thing you can do to help to protect you in the event of a crash," she stressed.

Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, added that "it makes little sense that states are repealing or weakening motorcycle helmet laws."

In the 1970s, nearly all states mandated helmets for all motorcyclists, but now only 19 states have such laws, he pointed out.

"Helmets significantly reduce the risk of serious injury or death in motorcycle crashes. Yet, many states are turning back the clock on highway safety by repealing all-rider helmet laws," Rader said.

MedicalNewsCopyright © 2012 HealthDay. All rights reserved.


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SOURCES: Rebecca B. Naumann, M.S.P.H., epidemiologist, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Barbara Harsha, executive director, Governors Highway Safety Association, Washington, D.C.; Russ Rader, spokesman, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety; June 15, 2012, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report