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Motorcycle helmet laws save money, study finds

June 19, 2012
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motorcycleAnnual cost savings in states with universal motorcycle helmet laws were nearly four times greater (per registered motorcycle) than in states without these comprehensive laws, according to a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report study released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Universal helmet laws require that motorcycle riders and passengers wear a helmet every time they ride.

Annual costs saved from helmet use, in terms of medical, productivity, and other costs, ranged from a high of $394 million in California (which has a universal helmet law) to a low of $2.6 million in New Mexico (which has a partial law). Partial helmet laws require that only certain riders, such as those under age 21, to wear a helmet.

Universal helmet laws result in cost savings by increasing helmet use among riders and passengers, which reduces crash-related injuries and deaths. According to a CDC analysis of fatal crash data from 2008 to 2010, 12 percent of motorcyclists in states with universal helmet laws were not wearing helmets.  In comparison, 64 percent of riders were not wearing helmets in states with partial helmet laws, and 79 percent of riders were not wearing helmets in states with no helmet laws.

“Increasing motorcycle helmet use can save lives and money,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “In 2010, more than $3 billion in economic costs were saved due to helmet use in the United States. Another $1.4 billion could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets.” 

Helmets prevent 37 percent of crash deaths among riders and 41 percent among passengers. They also prevent 13 percent of serious injuries and 8 percent of minor injuries to riders and passengers.

For the study, CDC researchers analyzed data from two national sources: 2008-2010 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data and 2010 data on economic costs saved by motorcycle helmet use, both from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Cost savings estimates included medical and emergency services costs, work-related and household productivity losses, insurance administration costs, and legal costs resulting from deaths and injuries from motorcycle crashes.

The CDC concluded that universal helmet laws are the most effective strategy for increasing helmet use and protecting motorcycle riders and their passengers. As of May 2012, 19 states and the District of Columbia had universal helmet laws, 28 states had partial helmet laws, and three states had no helmet law.

The CDC is also releasing an updated version of Motorcycle Safety: How To Save Lives and Save Money (Motorcycle Safety Guide), designed to convey evidence-based motorcycle safety information in an easy-to-use format.

"It’s simple advice – wear a helmet to save your life. Motorcycling is fun and provides riders a sense of freedom, but that also brings responsibility to use proper safety equipment, including helmets,” said Linda C. Degutis, Dr. P.H., M.S.N., director of CDC's Injury Center.

CDC encourages motorcycle riders to:

  • Always wear a helmet.
  • Never ride a motorcycle after drinking.
  • Wear protective clothing that provides some level of injury protection.
  • Avoid tailgating.
  • Maintain a safe speed and exercise caution when traveling over slippery surfaces or gravel.

For more information about motorcycle and overall motor vehicle safety, go to www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety.

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