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Weaker Helmet Laws Lead to Worse Motorcycle Injuries

May 30, 2013

It only makes sense that when helmet laws are diluted, motorcycle injuries worsen, and medical claims increase.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the typical medical claim associated with a motorcycle crash increased by more than one-fifth in 2012 in Michigan; this was after the state ceased mandating all motorcycle riders wear helmets.

In Pennsylvania, lawmakers allowed motorcyclists to decide for themselves whether to wear helmets – so long as they were 21 or older and either had two years of riding experience or had successfully completed the state’s Motorcycle Safety Program. This was 10 years ago, according to TribLive.

Since 2003, deaths from motorcycle crashes in that state increased 35 percent. In 2012 alone, 210 people died in motorcycle crashes, according to PennDOT statistics; at least 104 were not wearing helmets, TribLive indicated. From this past May alone, six motorcyclists died in Western Pennsylvania crashes; at least one motorcyclist was not wearing a helmet, police reports indicate.

David Zuby, chief research officer for the data institute and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said that other studies also reveal an increase in motorcycle fatalities when states remove or weaken mandatory helmet requirements, according to the AP. The industry study was the first to specifically review the effect of reduced or eliminated helmet laws on injury severity against medical insurance claims, Zuby said.

Nationwide, motorcycle fatalities have increased in nearly every one of the past 15 years, with more than 5,000 deaths in 2012 alone, according to the AP, citing analysis conducted by the Governors Highway Safety Association of preliminary 2012 data.

Today, 19 states and the District of Columbia mandate that all motorcyclists wear a helmet, 28 states mandate that younger or newer motorcyclists wear a helmet, and three states do not have any helmet use laws, according to the AP. Over the past 20 years, states have been slowly eliminating or weakening their mandatory helmet laws.

Back in 1967, the federal government mandated that riders in all states had to wear a helmet in order for states to qualify for certain federal safety programs and highway construction aid, according to the AP. By the 1970s, nearly every state had a motorcycle helmet law in place that covered all riders.

Meanwhile, in 1976, Congress stopped the Transportation Department from charging states that did not have helmet laws in place. It was then that state lawmakers began rescinding helmet law statutes, according to the AP. And, although Congress developed statutes in 1991 to enact helmet and seatbelt laws, it reversed itself on those actions in 1995.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSB) looked at the number of motorcycles who wore helmets in 2012 and discovered that, in states with universal helmet laws in place, 97 percent of motorcyclists wore helmets. In states without those mandates, only 58 percent of motorcyclist wore helmets.

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