Motorcycle Helmet Use

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					Traffic Safety Facts
                                                                                                                    April 2004

Motorcycle Helmet Use Laws

Motorcycle helmets provide the best         ■	 Per mile traveled in 2002, a motorcy-      lyzed 3,600 traffic crash reports cov-
protection from head injury for motor-         clist is approximately 27 times more       ering motorcycle crashes, concluded
cyclists involved in traffic crashes. The      likely to die in a crash than some-        that wearing helmets was the single
passage of helmet use laws governing           one riding in an automobile.               most important factor in surviving
all motorcycle riders is the most effec-                                                  motorcycle crashes.
                                            ■	 Head injury is a leading cause of
tive method of increasing helmet use.
                                               death in motorcycle crashes.            ■	 A 1994 study by the National Public
The National Highway Traffic Safety
                                            ■	 An unhelmeted motorcyclist is 40           Services Research Institute conclud-
Administration (NHTSA) encourages
                                               percent more likely to suffer a fatal      ed that wearing motorcycle helmets
States to enact legislation that requires
                                               head injury and 15 percent more            does not restrict a rider’s ability
all motorcycle riders to wear helmets.
                                               likely to suffer a nonfatal injury         to hear auditory signals or see a
Additionally, NHTSA strongly sup-
                                               than a helmeted motorcyclist when          vehicle in an adjacent lane.
ports comprehensive motorcycle safety
programs that include motorcycle hel-          involved in a crash.                    ■	 All motorcycle helmets sold in
met usage, rider education, motorcycle      ■	 NHTSA estimates that motorcycle            the United States are required to
operator licensing, and responsible use        helmets reduce the likelihood of a         meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety
of alcohol.                                    crash fatality by 37 percent.              Standard 218, which established
                                                                                          the minimum level of protection
Key Facts                                   ■	 The Crash Outcome Data Evaluation          helmets must afford each user.
■	 In 2002, 3,244 motorcyclists died           System (CODES) study found that
                                               motorcycle helmets are 67 percent       ■	 Helmet use laws governing all mo-
   and approximately 65,000 were
                                               effective in preventing brain inju-        torcycle riders significantly increase
   injured in highway crashes in the
                                               ries and that unhelmeted motorcy-          helmet use and are easily enforced
   United States.
                                               clists involved in crashes were three      because of the riders’ high visibility.
                                               times more likely to suffer brain
                                                                                       ■	 As States begin to repeal helmet
                                               injuries than those wearing helmets.
  Inside This Issue                                                                       laws fewer riders are wearing
                                            ■	 From 1984 through 2002, NHTSA              helmets. According to the National
  ■ Key Facts                                  estimates that helmets saved the           Occupant Protection Survey, from
  ■ Legislative Status                         lives of 13,774 motorcyclists. If all      the Fall 2000 to the Summer of 2002,
  ■ Cost Savings                               motorcycle operators and passen-           helmet use dropped from 71 percent
  ■ Who Supports Universal                     gers had worn helmets during               to 58 percent nationally.
    Motorcycle Helmet Laws                     that period, NHTSA estimates that
                                                                                       ■	 Data on crashes in States where
                                               9,508 additional lives would have
  ■ Information Sources                                                                   only minors are required to wear
                                               been saved.
  ■ Status of State Motorcycle                                                            helmets show that fewer than 40
    Helmet Use Requirements                 ■	 A study conducted at the University        percent of the fatally-injured minors
                                               of Southern California, which ana-         wear helmets even though the law
   requires them to do so. Helmet laws        53 percent for operators and 41              ous year when the helmet law was
   that govern only minors are ex-            percent for passengers, unchanged            in place. Arkansas pre-hospital
   tremely difficult to enforce.              from 2001.                                   EMS data showed an increase in the
                                                                                           number of injured motorcyc-
■	 According to NHTSA’s 1998 Motor         Legislative Status                              lists and in the proportion of all
   Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey,
                                           ■	 Nineteen States, the District of             injured motorcyclists with head
   public support for motorcycle hel-
                                              Columbia, and Puerto Rico require            injuries following the change in
   met use laws in the United States is
                                              helmet use for all motorcycle opera-         helmet laws. Texas Trauma Registry
   strong, with four out of five people
                                              tors and passengers. In another 28           data showed that the proportion of
   aged 16 and older, supporting such
                                              States, only those under a certain           motorcyclists treated for traumatic
   laws. This support has changed
                                              age, usually 18, are required to wear        brain injury increased and that
   little from earlier occupant protec-
                                              helmets. Three States do not have            treatment costs for traumatic brain
   tion surveys, in 1996 - (81 percent)
                                              laws requiring helmet use.                   injury cases also increased fol-
   and in 1994 (82 percent). Support
                                                                                           lowing the law change. Treatment
   was more prevalent among women          ■	 Since 1989, six States (Oregon,              costs for other injury cases did not
   (89 percent) than men (71 percent),        Nebraska, Texas, Washington,                 change to any major extent.
   and among non-motorcyclists                California, and Maryland) have
   (83 percent) than those who rode           enacted helmet use laws that              ■	 Motorcycle crash-related injuries,
   motorcycles (47 percent), with this        govern all motorcycle occupants.             fatalities, and fatality rates in-
   gap seeming to have widened in             In Oregon, there was a 33 percent            creased in Kentucky (1998) and
   the past two years. Support also           reduction in motorcycle fatalities           Louisiana (1999) following the
   was higher in States requiring all         the year after its helmet law was            weakening of their helmet laws
   riders to wear helmets (84 percent),       restored; Nebraska had a 32 percent          covering all riders. Kentucky crash
   compared with States having lesser         reduction in the first year of its law;      data show that in the two full years
   requirements (75 percent) or no            Texas had a 23 percent reduction;            just prior to the helmet law repeal,
   requirement (79 percent).                  Washington State had a 15 percent            there was an average of 573 motor-
■	 In 1976, the Highway Safety Act            reduction; California had a 37 per-          cycle crash related injuries, while in
   was amended to remove sanctions            cent reduction; and Maryland had             the two post repeal years, there was
   against States without motorcycle          a 20 percent reduction.                      an average of 785 injury crashes, a
   helmet laws. Between 1976 and 1980,                                                     37 percent increase. Louisiana crash
                                           ■	 Since 1997, six States (Arkansas,            data show injuries increased by
   motorcycle fatalities increased 61
                                              Texas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Florida,         more than 48 percent, from an aver-
   percent while motorcycle registra-
                                              and Pennsylvania) have weakened              age of 741 motorcyclist injuries in
   tions increased only 15 percent in
                                              universal helmet laws to limit cov-          last two years of the all-rider helmet
   comparison with 1975, the year
                                              erage to those under the age of 21.          law to 1,101 in 2000. Fatality num-
   before repeals began.
                                              These six States were the first States       bers increased in Kentucky from
■	 Caution must be exercised when             since 1983 to repeal or weaken a             an average of 23 per year prior to
   comparing motorcycle crash statis-         universal helmet law.                        repeal to an average of 36 following
   tics between States. This is because                                                    the repeal. In Louisiana, the average
                                           ■	 Helmet use decreased following the
   States differ significantly on a                                                        number of fatalities jumped from
                                              changes in helmet laws in Arkansas
   number of factors, such as weather,                                                     26 to 55. In Kentucky motorcyclists
                                              and Texas. In the first full year
   length of riding season, population                                                     killed per 10,000 registered motor-
                                              following repeal of the law,
   density, and urban versus rural                                                         cycles averaged 6.4 in the two years
                                              fatalities in Arkansas increased
   roads. The real issue is what hap-                                                      prior to repeal and jumped to 8.8
                                              by 21 percent, compared with the
   pens within a State after a helmet                                                      in the two years following repeal.
                                              fatality rate in the last full year
   law is adopted or repealed.                                                             Similarly, in Louisiana, the average
                                              under the law that required all
                                              riders to wear a helmet. In Texas,           fatality rate went from 4.5 in the
■	 Reported helmet use rates for fatally
                                              operator fatalities increased by 31          two years before repeal to 7.9 in the
   injured motorcyclists in 2002 were
                                              percent compared with the previ-             year following repeal.
■	 Observed helmet use dropped in            2002. An additional $14.8 billion     ■	 Emergency Nurses Association
   both Kentucky and Louisiana. In           would have been saved if all motor-   ■	 Emergency Nurses CARE
   Kentucky, observed helmet use             cyclists had worn helmets during
   dropped from 96 percent in 1997           the same period.                      ■	 Epilepsy Foundation of America
   to 56 percent in 2001. Louisiana’s                                              ■	 GEICO
   observed helmet use dropped             Who Supports Universal
   from 100 percent in 1997 to 52          Motorcycle Helmet Laws?                 ■	 General Federation of Women’s
   percent in 2001.                                                                   Clubs
                                           ■	 AAA
                                                                                   ■	 Indian Health Service
Cost Savings                               ■	 Advocates for Highway and
                                              Auto Safety                          ■	 Motorcycle Industry Council
■	 Analysis of linked data from the
   Crash Outcome Data Evaluation           ■	 Allstate Insurance Company           ■	 National Association of County and
   System (CODES) in three States                                                     City Health Officials
                                           ■	 American Academy of Family
   with universal helmet laws showed          Physicians                           ■	 National Association of Orthopedic
   that without the helmet law, the                                                   Nurses
   total extra inpatient charges due       ■	 American Academy of Orthopedic
   to brain injury would have al-             Surgeons                             ■	 National Association of Public
   most doubled from $2,325,000 to                                                    Hospitals
                                           ■	 American Association of State
   $4,095,000.                                Highway and Transportation           ■	 National Association of Emergency
                                              Officials                               Medical Technicians
■	 A number of studies have compar-
   ed hospital costs for helmeted and      ■	 American Academy of Pediatrics       ■	 National Association of State EMS
   unhelmeted motorcyclists involved                                                  Directors
                                           ■	 American Coalition for Traffic
   in traffic crashes. These studies          Safety, Inc.                         ■	 National Association of State Head
   have revealed that unhelmeted                                                      Injury Administrators
   riders involved in crashes are less     ■	 American College of Emergency
   likely to have insurance and more          Physicians                           ■	 National Center for Injury
   likely to have higher hospital costs                                               Prevention and Control
                                           ■	 American College of Preventive
   than helmeted riders involved in           Medicine                             ■	 National Conference of Black
   similar crashes.                                                                   Mayors
                                           ■	 American College of Surgeons
■	 The CODES study, mentioned                                                      ■	 National Flight Nurses Association
                                           ■	 American Driver and Traffic Safety
   earlier, also found that brain injury                                           ■	 National Safety Council
                                              Education Association
   cases were more than twice as costly
   as non-brain injury cases for the       ■	 American Insurance Association       ■	 National Sheriffs Association
   one-year period studied. Among the      ■	 American Medical Association         ■	 Nationwide Insurance
   un-helmeted motorcycle in-patients,
   charges for those suffering brain       ■	 American Nurses Association          ■	 Native American Injury Prevention
   injuries were 2.25 times higher than                                               Coalition
                                           ■	 American Public Health Association
   for those without brain injuries.                                               ■	 Prudential Insurance
   Long-term costs were not included.      ■	 American Trauma Society
                                                                                   ■	 State and Territorial Injury
                                           ■	 Association of Women’s Health,
■	 NHTSA estimates that motorcycle                                                    Prevention Directors Association
                                              Obstetrics, and Neonatal Nurses
   helmet use saved $1.3 billion in 2002                                           ■	 Students Against Destructive
   alone. An additional $853 million       ■	 Association for the Advancement of
   would have been saved if all motor-        Automotive Medicine
   cyclists had worn helmets.                                                      ■	 State Farm Insurance
                                           ■	 Brain Injury Association
                                                                                   ■	 Think First Foundation
■	 NHTSA estimates that motorcycle         ■	 Center for Rural Emergency
   helmet use saved $19.5 billion in          Medicine                             ■	 Wellness Councils of America
   economic costs from 1984 through
Information Sources                       benefits of motorcycle helmets and           port also indicates that safety belt and
                                          the effectiveness of motorcycle helmet       motorcycle helmet use saves millions
Evaluation of the Repeal of Motorcycle    laws. The multimedia package discuss-        of dollars in direct medical costs.
Helmet Laws in Kentucky and Louisiana.    es NHTSA’s comprehensive approach
U.S. Department of Transportation,                                                     Report to Congress on The Benefits of
                                          to motorcycle safety and makes three
October 2003 (DOT HS 809 530). This                                                    Safety Belts and Motorcycle Helmets.
                                          points: (1) motorcycle helmets save
report examines data from Kentucky                                                     U.S. Department of Transportation,
                                          lives and reduce head injuries to mo-
and Louisiana to assess the effects of                                                 NHTSA, February 1996 (DOT HS 808
                                          torcyclists in crashes; (2) helmet laws
their helmet law changes on helmet                                                     347). This study employed methods
                                          for all riders increase helmet usage;
use and motorcycle fatalities and inju-                                                whereby Statewide data from police
                                          and (3) helmet laws reduce the societal
ries. Based on statewide observational                                                 crash reports, emergency medical ser-
                                          costs resulting from injuries and fatali-
surveys, motorcycle helmet use de-                                                     vices, hospital emergency departments,
                                          ties in motorcycle crashes.
creased substantially following repeal                                                 hospital discharge files, claims, and
of the universal helmet laws.             The Effects of Motorcycle Helmets Upon       other sources were linked so that those
                                          Seeing and Hearing. U.S. Department of       people injured in motor vehicle crashes
Evaluation of Motorcycle Helmet Law       Transportation, NHTSA, February 1994         could be followed through the health
Repeal in Arkansas and Texas. U.S.        (DOT HS 808 399). This study exam-           care system. Information for both the
Department of Transportation, June        ined the effect of wearing a helmet on       injured and uninjured was then used
2000 (DOT HS 809 112). This report        the ability of motorcycle riders to: (1)     to determine the benefits of protective
examined what happened in Arkansas        visually detect the presence of vehicles     devices in motor vehicle crashes.
and Texas when these States weakened      in adjacent lanes before changing lanes;
motorcycle helmet use laws to cover       and (2) detect traffic sounds when           Report to Congressional Requesters C
only a segment of the riding popula-      operating at normal highway speeds.          Highway Safety: Motorcycle Helmet Laws
tion. The study reports declines in       Results indicated that wearing a helmet      Save Lives and Reduce Costs to Society.
observed helmet use in both States,       does not restrict the likelihood of see-     U.S. General Accounting Office, July
increases in injuries and fatalities      ing a vehicle in an adjacent lane or the     1991 (GAO/RCED-91-170). This report
resulting from motorcycle crashes, and    ability to hear auditory signals.            evaluates studies on motorcycle helmet
increases in costs to treat traumatic                                                  laws. The report summarizes each
brain injury cases resulting from mo-     The Crash Outcome Data Evaluation
                                                                                       study’s findings on: (1) the effective-
torcycle crashes.                         System (CODES): Technical Report.
                                                                                       ness of helmets in preventing deaths
                                          U.S. Department of Transportation,
                                                                                       and serious injuries; (2) the effect of
Without Motorcycle Helmet Law We          NHTSA, January 1996 (DOT HS 808
                                                                                       helmet laws on helmet use and fatality
All Pay the Price. U.S. Department of     338). This document presents State-spe-
                                                                                       rates; and (3) the cost that society in-
Transportation, August 1998 (DOT          cific results from the CODES project.
                                                                                       curs when un-helmeted motorcyclists
HS 808 600). Consolidates motorcycle      These results show that safety belts
                                                                                       are involved in crashes. All studies
helmet effectiveness information by       and motorcycle helmets are effective in
                                                                                       comparing helmeted riders to un-
documenting the life and cost-saving      reducing fatalities and injuries. This re-
                                                                                       helmeted riders found that helmeted
                                                                                       riders had a lower fatality rate.
State Motorcycle Helmet Use Requirements
April 2004

19 States, D.C. and P.R.                   Virginia                                   Indiana
Required Use For All Riders                Washington                                 Kansas
                                           West Virginia                              Kentucky (3)
                                                                                      Louisiana (4)
California                                 Not Required In 3 States                   Maine (5)
District of Columbia                       Colorado                                   Minnesota
Georgia                                    Illinois                                   Montana
Maryland                                   Iowa                                       New Hampshire
                                           28 States Require Use For A                New Mexico
                                           Specific Segment of Riders                 North Dakota
                                           (Usually Under 18)                         Ohio (6)
Nebraska                                   Alaska
                                                                                      Pennsylvania (9)
Nevada                                     Arizona
                                                                                      Rhode Island (7)
New Jersey                                 Arkansas
                                                                                      South Carolina
New York                                   Connecticut
                                                                                      South Dakota
North Carolina                             Delaware (1)
                                                                                      Texas (8)
Oregon                                     Florida (2)
Puerto Rico                                Hawaii
Tennessee                                  Idaho

1. Required for riders under age 19 and helmets must be in the possession of other riders, even though use is not required
2. Required for riders under age 21 and for those without $10,000 of medical insurance that will cover injuries resulting
   from a motorcycle crash.
3. Required for riders under age 21, riders operating a motorcycle with an instruction permit, riders with less than one
   year’s experience, and/or riders who do not provide proof of health insurance to county clerk. (insurance provision
   repealed effective July 15, 2000).
4. Required for riders under age18 and those who do not have a health insurance policy with medical benefits of at least
   $10,000. Proof of policy must be shown to law enforcement officer upon request.
5. Required for riders under age 15 years of age, novices, and holders of learners permits.
6. Required for riders under age 18 and first year operators.
7. Required for riders under 21 and first year operators.
8. Required for riders age 20 and under and those who have not completed a rider training course or who do not have
   $10,000 medical insurance coverage.
9. Required for riders under 21 and age 21 or older who have had a motorcycle operator’s license for less than two years or
   who have not completed an approved motorcycle safety course.
This report and additional
information are available from
your State Highway Safety Office,
the NHTSA Regional Office
serving your State, or from NHTSA
Headquarters, Impaired Driving
and Occupant Protection Office,
ATTN: NTI-110, 400 Seventh
Street, S.W., Washington, DC
20590; 202-366-4913; or NHTSA’s
web site at

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