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How Helmet Laws Impact Motorcycle Rider Fatalities

POSTED BY Jon C. . March 27, 2018

It seems like motorcycle culture has exploded in recent years. It’s hard to turn on a television without seeing a show dedicated to motorcycle enthusiasts or their lifestyle. Sales are as strong as they were ten years ago, with a lot of people still buying these two-wheeled machines. In 2015, over 500,000 people bought a new motorcycle. While those numbers pale in comparison to car sales, it’s still a substantial number. Motorcycles aren’t as safe as cars. Most won’t argue that point, but there are laws in place to make motorcyclists safer. For instance, in West Virginia where our firm is headquartered, motorcycle riders must wear a helmet while operating a motorcycle. Once you cross the river into Ohio however, that rule no longer applies. On a warm summer day, while driving through southwest Ohio, it’s common to see many motorcyclists riding their bikes sans helmet. Most argue that it offers them greater freedom, and it helps them “get away from it all”. So the question must be asked: “Does wearing a helmet really matter?”

Let’s examine what happened in the state of Michigan. For over 40 years, Michigan required all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet in their state. In April of 2012 that law changed. After the 12th of April, the only individuals who were required to wear a helmet were individuals under the age of 21. All other riders were permitted to ride without a helmet if they passed a motorcycle safety class, or if they held the motorcycle endorsement on their license for at least two years. It’s worth noting that Michigan also required riders to carry no less than $20,000 worth of medical coverage.

Overall, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that helmets cut the risk of a fatality by 37%. The NHTSA was not alone in their stance on helmet laws. The University of Michigan analyzed the fatal motorcycle accidents in Michigan during calendar year 2013. They suggest that 26 fewer fatalities would have occurred during the year if the riders would have been wearing helmets.  Helmets could have reduced fatalities 21%.

Every state in the union requires seatbelt laws in cars, so it seems contradictory that there are states that don’t require helmets. What’s staggering is that only 19 states require all riders to wear a helmet while operating a motorcycle. There are currently three states in which no helmet law exists. The remaining 28 states have some helmet laws, mostly requiring riders under a certain age to wear a helmet.

The stats regarding fatalities produce some interesting insights. For instance, when looking at the country as a whole, the number of motorcycle-related fatalities is down from 2008. It’s easy to argue that 2008 was the worst year for motorcycle fatalities as it topped 5,000 for only the second time since 1975. In 2016, the most recent year that statistics were available, there were 4,976 motorcycle deaths. It’s down from the high of 5,112 in 2008, but it’s rising. The most staggering change occurs when you compare today’s numbers with those reported 20 years ago. There were 2,077 motorcycle deaths in 1996. By 2016, that number more than doubled to 4,976.

So, do helmets really matter? The NHTSA offers one last statistic the sheds some light on the debate. In 2016, 91 percent of fatally injured motorcyclists were helmeted in states with helmet laws that cover all riders, in contrast to only 27 percent in states with no helmet law. In states with helmet laws that cover only some riders, 40 percent of fatally injured motorcyclists were helmeted.

The stats obviously show that a helmet won’t necessarily save one’s life in every situation. However, in states that don’t mandate helmet use, fewer people died while wearing helmets.

We know that it takes a special kind of person to a ride a motorcycle. You probably play by your own rules, love your freedom, and won’t take no for an answer. If you’re injured in a motorcycle accident, you’ll want an attorney who also refuses to take no for an answer. If so, call us today for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-JanDils (1-877-526-3457). If you can’t talk now, fill out this form so we can talk to you at a better time.

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