Federal Regulators, Helmet Laws And Motorcycle Deaths

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration handed out $45.9 million in motorcyclist safety grants from 2006 to 2012. Per the instructions of Congress, none of that money was used support the passage of helmet laws or to support helmet campaigns. This is despite the fact that the NHTSA has concluded that laws requiring the use of helmets are the only proven method of reducing motorcycle accident fatalities. The Government Accountability Office is now asking Congress to abandon their policy and allow federal regulators to award grants that will be used to advocate helmet use, as well as the traditional goals of improving motorcyclist training and motorist awareness of motorcycles.

Motorcyclists have long relished the freedom of riding without the encumbrance of a helmet. While many riders choose to wear helmets voluntarily, only 19 states currently have laws requiring helmet use and lobbyists are working to undo those laws in several states. Balanced against that freedom is data indicating that helmets prevent more than one third of fatal injuries among motorcyclists and 41 percent of fatal injuries among motorcycle passengers. According to the GAO, the societal cost of the 4,502 motorcycle deaths in 2010 was $16 billion.

Motorcyclists are undoubtedly at a greater risk of fatal injury than those in passenger cars. According to the NHTSA, there is a 30 times greater risk of suffering a fatality, per mile driven, on a motorcycle than in a car. The anti-helmet law supporters believe that it is the motorcyclist’s life to risk and the choice of whether or not to wear a helmet should remain with the individual. While both sides are interested in motorcycle safety, the GAO is now asking Congress to allow money to be spent on one side of a very divisive issue. Whatever choice is made is bound to cause significant uproar.

Source: Detroit News, “GAO: Give states more flexibility to reduce motorcycle deaths,” by David Shepardson, 28 November 2012