Motorcycle Helmets Make Sense for All of Us

May 25, 2004 (202) 408-1711 x15

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety Warns Governors
"There's No Free Ride -- Beware of Potential Taxpayer Costs of Helmet-Less Riders"

Washington, D.C., May 25, 2004 -- As Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month comes to a close, a review of motorcycling safety and state legislative considerations of motorcycle helmet laws paints a dismal picture, says Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates).

To date:

Only 19 states and the District of Columbia currently require all riders to use motorcycle helmets.

Of the remaining 31 states, 28 have laws on the books that require only riders under 18 or 21 to wear helmets, and 3 have no helmet laws at all. Age-specific laws are equivalent to no law at all because they are essentially unenforceable.

Since 1997, six (6) states have repealed their all-rider laws (Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Texas) resulting in documented increases in head injuries, deaths and health care costs.

Preliminary 2003 data from the national Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) indicates motorcycle deaths have increased for 6 years in a row, up by 11% in 2003.

Since 1997, motorcycle deaths nationally have increased from 2,116 to 3,592, a 59% increase.

At a time when many states are struggling with Medicaid and other health care crises, an alarming trend has emerged as 15 of the 19 states with all-rider laws considered repealing them in the 2003/2004 legislative sessions.

Hospital studies in states that have recently repealed helmet laws show costs for treating brain-injured motorcyclists soared in the years immediately following repeal, and deaths increased by large percentages.

"Motorcyclists who believe their right to ride with a helmet is a matter of personal choice ignore the cost to taxpayers and governments of picking up the pieces, and the tab, when they crash," said Judith Lee Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates). "Governors should heed our warning that state coffers are drained by hidden costs of increasing motorcycle deaths and brain injuries due to lack of helmet use. Only about 50 percent of motorcycle crash victims have private health care insurance, placing the cost burden of treatment for the other 50 percent squarely on the taxpayer's ticket."

Of the states that attempted to repeal their all-rider laws this past year, most did not consider the publicly assisted health care costs associated with brain-injured riders and reported no fiscal impact in their analysis of the bills. "Only Maryland got it right in calculating the fiscal impact if its law were repealed," said Stone. Maryland's Department of Legislative Services estimated the cost to Medicaid could go up by $750,000 the first year and increase to almost a million dollars a year in ensuing years. The fiscal impact was a factor in the unsuccessful repeal attempt.

"It is imperative that states considering repeals factor in the public health care and social services costs that result from brain-injured riders," urged Stone. "There is a specific and dramatic tradeoff. We are grateful that Maryland figured it out, kept their all-rider law on the books, and set an example for other states."

Helmet-less riders sustain severe and traumatic brain injuries that often require costly long-term medical and rehabilitative treatment. "Clearly, public monies spent on head injuries sustained by riders without helmets means less for teachers or public safety," Stone added. "A rider's choice stops being personal when it ends up costing all of us."

Numerous studies show that the average hospital charges for helmet-less riders are significantly more than for helmeted riders, ranging from 10 percent to 200 percent higher. For victims of serious brain injury, acute hospital care might be only the first stage of a long and costly treatment program. Other costs include ongoing medical care, long-term nursing care, rehabilitative therapy, and lost wages.

The Texas Trauma Registry reported that in the first three months after the state repealed their all-rider law in 1997, the cost of treating a brain-injured motorcyclist went from $18,400 (in the same three months in 1996) to more than $32,000, and motorcycle deaths doubled by 2002.

States that considered but failed to repeal their all-rider helmet laws in the 2003/2004 legislative sessions were California, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

States with all-rider use laws experience use rates close to 100 percent. Those without such laws usually have use rates at 50% or lower.


Please see the accompanying documents:

Fiscal Impact of Helmet Laws

Increase in Deaths after Helmet Law Repeals

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), an alliance of consumer, health and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America's roads safer, is actively involved at the federal and state levels to reduce the terrible tragedy of crashes to families across the nation. More information about the unfinished highway and auto safety agenda can be found on Advocates' web site,

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