The link between helmet laws and motorcyclists fatalities may seem intuitive and obvious, but now because of a study published in the American Journal of Surgery we have scientific proof that helmets save lives.
The study focuses around Michigan, which repealed its mandatory helmet law (thanks to help from the AMA) in April 2012, and has since had three riding seasons with a greatly reduce helmet-wearing requirement.
After the repeal, motorcyclists in Michigan can now ride without a helmet if they are over 21-years-old, have had their license for at least two years, and have at least $20,000 in additional medical insurance coverage.
Postulating that legislatures made a mistake in that repeal, the basic conclusions from the study are that the state has seen an increase in injury severity for motorcycles, a higher in-patient mortality for motorcyclists, and worse neurological damage for motorcyclists.
While those are all painful logical results, the numbers paint an even more grim picture.
If you’ve already filed your 2014 tax return, you might want to make an addendum before April 15th, as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has made several last-minute exemption to the US Tax Code, one of which allows motorcyclists to claim up to $500 on a new helmet purchase as tax deductible.
The move comes about after a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study that suggested billions of dollars could be saved if all motorcyclists wore helmets.
Citing the efforts of groups like the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) whose anti-helmet political agenda has resonated the most with the same anti-tax libertarians who routinely fail to pay federal income taxes, the IRS has finally decided to fight fire with fire, and believes it has effectively found a way to bring a non-compliant tax group in line with the law.
Call it the ever-increasing nanny state, or maybe just blame the liberals in Sacramento who just can’t help themselves, but starting with all 2015 model year bike, motorcycles OEMs will have to affix tobacco-style warning labels to any motorcycle they wish to sell in the great State of California.
Passed this morning, SB 0401 cites the overwhelming statistical evidence that motorcycles are likely to lead to serious injury or death, which has prompted California State Surgeon General Avril Trompez, working with a consortium of Democrat California Senators, to write and pass a bill that would treat motorcycles more like cigarettes when it comes to warning of these “potential” dangers.
The American Motorcyclist Association recently issued a bulletin stating that a federal task force from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is poised to recommend a nationwide mandatory helmet law. True to form, the AMA is opposed to the recommendation.
Citing the organization’s official party line, AMA Vice President for Government Relations Wayne Allard said that while the AMA strongly advocates helmet use, the organization believes that motorcyclists should have the right to choose whether or not they wear a helmet.
The AMA press release goes on to refute the CDC task force’s claim (one that is backed up by the GAO, we might add) that there could be a meaningful economic benefit from drafting mandatory motorcycle helmet laws, citing that helmets do not prevent motorcycle crashes, that fatalities from motorcycle crashes are too few in number, and that their reduction would have no meaningful impact on the economy.
The AMA then also reiterated one of its main talking points, that the best way to reduce rider fatalities is to not crash in the first place, and thus programs in rider safety and training should be the focus of the government, not a mandatory helmet initiative.
Honestly though, it is about time that the AMA, and we as motorcyclists, got a bit more honest and real about motorcycle safety, and stopped capitulating to a vocal group of libertarian riders who see riding without a helmet as an integral part of motorcycling culture.
Here at Asphalt & Rubber, we spend some pixels talking about the finer points of helmet usage, especially when it comes to the debate regarding mandatory helmet laws. Looking at helmets from 50 years ago, and the basic concept hasn’t changed all that much in the time since.
A hard shell, some impact material, and a soft lining mated to a visor and chin-strap system, over the last half-century most of the improvements to the basic helmet design have been for added fit and comfort, or cheaper and lighter materials — even the more creative and innovative designs that are being hocked around the internet right now don’t stray far from the current concept.
Think 50 years ahead though, and it is hard to imagine the same shapes and designs staying constant. In fact, it becomes possible to imagine motorcyclists wearing no helmets at all. No, I am not talking about some sort of libertarian movement that will rush through our political system, freeing us from the shackles of big government.
Instead, I am talking about the true next-generation of safety devices for the gray matter that resides between your ears, which might put the mandatory helmet law debate to rest (well…probably not).
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.
The US Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an interesting report regarding the economic impact of motorcycle helmet laws, based on data from 2008-2010.
While the takeaway shouldn’t surprise anyone, as it doesn’t take a genius to understand that more riders helmeted means fewer fatal crashes from motorcycles, the figures coming from the CDC with that observation are a bit shocking.
According to the statistical analysis done by the CDC, riders wearing helmets during a motorcycle crash were 37% less likely to receive fatal injuries than riders that were not wearing a helmet.
Additionally, states with universal helmet usage laws are estimated to have save 4x as much in economic costs associated with medical, productivity, insurance, legal, and other expenses. For 2010, the total economic impact of having helmeted riders topped $3 billion in savings. Chewy.
Some tragic news with a twist comes to us from the long holiday weekend, as we get word that a helmetless rider from Onondaga, NY died after crashing his 1983 Harley Davidson motorcycle during a protest rally.
Though it’s always unfortunate when we lose a member of the motorcycle community, this story has a bit of irony as we learn that Philip A. Contos was participating in a motorcycle helmet protest when the 55-year-old flipped over the handlebars of his motorcycle, and hit his head against the pavement.
According to the attending physician, and based off the evidence and information at the scene of the accident, Contos would have survived the fall had he been wearing a DOT approved helmet, but instead sadly perished from his injuries.
Twice now Michigan has come close to repealing its helmet law for motorcycles, with both instances being vetoed by Democrat Gov. Jennifer Granholm. But now with Gov. Granholm no longer in office, and with Republicans also having control over the legislature, the stars have seemingly aligned for the state’s riders to make another bid on nixing the law.
I should preface that there are two separate proposals being lobbied in Michigan. First there is House Bill 2008, submitted by Rep. Richard LeBlanc, and the Michigan State Senate has its own bill to contend with, Senate Bill 291, which is co-sponsored by five Democrat and twelve Republican State Senators. The bill in the Senate is your typical approach to helmet laws, and holds that anyone who is over 21, and has either passed a motorcycle safety course, or had a motorcycle endorsement for two years, can ride a motorcycle without a helmet.
I love our neighbors to the north, endless outdoor fun, progressive thinking, and an affinity for things of a more “crunchy” nature. But as a 5th-generation Californian, it is ingrained in my head to fear and mistrust the oppressive dictatorship and hate machine the Oregonians run (the California public school system starts this process in the second grade), as they steal children in the middle of the night and brainwash them into Birkenstock-wearing slave labor and questionable physical hygiene boot camps.
So it comes as some surprise that the Oregon State House of Representatives is introducing a bill to allow motorcycle riders, ages 21 and over, the choice of whether they want to ride with helmets or not (an act that misguided tea party wannabes equate with freedom on the open road).
The Missouri State legislature has passed a bill that, if signed, would repeal the state’s mandatory helmet regulation, thus allowing riders over the age of 21 who are traveling on city roads, to do so without a helmet. The passage of this bill is naturally divisive, with advocates of individual liberties and safety experts squarely on opposite sides of the table. Should personal liberty advocates win this debate, the bill would make Missouri 1 of 28 states with such a helmet law on the books.