In 2010, 439,678 motorcycles were sold in the United States. In that same year, 82,000 motorcyclists were injured in motorcycle crashes, and 4,502 were killed. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the direct cost of these motorcycle crashes was $16 billion or more. Thirty-times more likely to die in a vehicle accident, the typical fatal motorcycle crash costs an estimated $1.2 million according to the report, while non-fatal crashes range from $2,500 to $1.4 million depending upon the severity of the injuries and incidents.
In making its recommendations to curtail the costs associated with motorcycle crashes, the GAO says that only effective measure is the mandatory use of a motorcycle helmet. Citing several studies that say motorcycle helmets reduce the fatality rate of motorcycle crashes by 39%, the GAO also cites the NHTSA, which says that motorcycle helmets prevented 1,550 deaths in 2010. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) says helmets saved the economy $3 billion in those 1,550 instances.
This information seems to confound Jeff Hennie, Vice President of the Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF), who told the Associated Press that his group is “100% pro-helmet, and 100% anti-helmet law,” and went on to state that “putting a helmet law in place does not reduce motorcycle fatalities.” The MRF has the stated goal of promoting motorcycle education and training, but a track record of ignoring the prior, while failing to achieve the latter.
Because of lobbying efforts by groups like the Motorcycle Riders Foundation and the American Motorcyclist Association, both of whom have been vocally against the adoption of helmet laws in the United States, earlier this month the NHTSA has dropped mandatory helmet laws from its list of the ten “most wanted” safety improvements.
Just a two days ago, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) issued a press release, where it praised the GAO for its call to Congress for changes in motorcycle safety. The GAO made two points in its charge to Congress, 1) Congress should give states more flexibility in the way they use funds that have been earmarked to tackle motorcycle safety, and 2) that the NHTSA should provide states with more comprehensive information about motorcycle crashes and injuries.
Unfortunately, roughly 50% of the American motorcycle market is based around the Harley-Davidson biker stereotype, which often trades common sense for fashion sense when it comes to protective headwear. Making personal liberty arguments about the mandatory use of helmets, these single-issue libertarians apparently forget the original point…motorcycle crashes are costing our economy $16 billion each year.
The fact of the matter is that the United States needs a robust and comprehensive study into motorcycle safety issues, so that our leadership can make informed opinions and educated laws regarding motorcycling in the United States. Maybe then, our industry can stop listening to our detrimental leadership, and become functioning members of the 21st century.
The full GAO report can be found here: http://gao.gov/products/GAO-13-42