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CDC: Motorcycle Helmets Save Lives and Money

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BMW Motorcycles [riders wearing helmets]Laws requiring all motorcycle riders to wear helmets save lives and money, according to a new report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). As Steven Reinberg writes in HealthDay via U.S. News & World Report, according to the study, 19 states have universal helmet laws (requiring all motorcycle riders to wear helmets), 28 have partial helmet laws (requiring only specific groups, usually young riders, to wear helmets), and three (Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire) have no helmet laws. Colorado requires motorcycle helmets to be worn by operators and passengers 17 and younger, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Lead researcher and CDC epidemiologist Rebecca Naumann told Reinberg that some people believe helmets cause injuries and restrict vision and hearing, but all studies show that it’s not the case. “They make riding safer by protecting the head. Head injuries are the leading cause of death among motorcyclists,” she said.

A note in the report, “Helmet Use Among Motorcyclists Who Died in Crashes and Economic Cost Savings Associated With State Motorcycle Helmet Laws — United States, 2008–2010,” by the editors of the CDC’s June 15, 2012, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report says:

The findings in this report indicate that fatally injured motorcycle riders were less likely to wear helmets in states that do not have universal helmet laws. During 2008–2010, fatally injured motorcyclists in states with a partial helmet law were more than five times as likely not to have been wearing a helmet as those in states with a universal helmet law (64% versus 12%). Fatally injured motorcyclists in states with no helmet law were more than six times as likely not to have been wearing a helmet as those in states with a universal helmet law (79% versus 12%).

In 2010, the 4,502 motorcycle operators and riders killed in accidents comprised 14% of all road deaths, even though motorcycles accounted for less than 1% of all vehicle miles traveled, according to the report. And during 2008 through 2010, a total of 14,283 motorcyclists were killed in crashes, among whom 42% were not wearing a helmet.

To create the report, researchers analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) Fatality Analysis Reporting System, plus economic data to compare the costs saved as a result of helmet use by the type of motorcycle helmet law (or lack thereof) per state for the years 2008 through 2010.

An Associated Press article on says that in states that mandate helmets, more money is saved per registered motorcycle ($725) than in states with partial helmet laws or no helmet laws ($200). The savings include injury-related costs, such as medical and emergency services, and household and work productivity losses; and such other costs as property damage and travel delay, according to the report.

Reinberg writes that despite the fact that helmets save lives, states are under pressure to repeal helmet laws, because, as Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, told him, the motorcycle lobby is very influential. The main argument for getting rid of helmet laws is that motorcyclists want to be able to ride without helmets, she said.

Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told Reinberg that it makes “little sense” that states are repealing or weakening helmet laws:

‘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.

In a related matter, notes that last Thursday, the NHTSA urged motorcyclists not to wear the 5X5 brand, SA-08 model motorcycle helmet, because federal testing found that the helmets failed to meet penetration protection requirements.

Image by Benjamin Thompson, used under its Creative Commons license.


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