Do Motorcycle Helmet Laws Save Lives?

There is nothing like the warm spring air reacquainting you with that feeling of freedom and exhilaration that comes with that first ride of every spring season aboard your favorite bike. But wait, are you wearing a helmet?!

Helmet Laws that currently exist

It may depend on which state you live in (check your state’s helmet law) and where you personally stand on the age-old debate in the biker community; to wear a helmet, or to not wear a helmet. It is an issue that continues to make its way to the forefront of many state legislatures across the country, with a handful of states passing universal helmet laws and a majority passing partial helmet laws. In fact, the only states to not pass a helmet law at all are Iowa, Illinois, and New Hampshire.

Most riders would agree; there really is nothing like the feeling of cruising along the open road in charge of your own destiny, the sun beaming down and the wind in your hair. Conversely, safety really is a concern for riders everywhere as every year there are too many bikers getting injured in all sorts of incidents. Injuries that may have been prevented if wearing proper safety gear.

The contentious debate between the “nanny state” and freedom of choice has, understandably, a number of advocates on either side of the issue. Motorcycle rights groups lobby for the rider’s freedom of choice while health and safety groups demonstrate the helmet’s ability to save lives.

A study published in 2012 by the Center for Disease Control researched the effectiveness of helmets in terms of their ability to save lives. The findings reveal that helmets do save lives and that states with a universal helmet law topped the list in terms of the number of lives saved through the use of a helmet. It’s also good for the wallet! The CDC found if you are wearing a helmet when you get in an accident, you save money on your medical expenses. In North Carolina, the state that topped the list with 80 lives saved through the use of a helmet, the annual cost saved per registered motorcycle was $1627 in socio-economic costs. Interestingly, helmets laws, where implemented, do encourage riders to comply. Helmet use approaches 100 percent where universal laws are in place versus approximately 28 percent usage in areas with no such laws.

Those are undeniable stats, but, this is America! A land built on individual freedoms and there are motorcycle rights groups who strongly advocate freedom of choice. There are groups such as the American Motorcyclist Association, (AMA) and American Bikers Aimed Towards Education, (ABATE) that do agree that a helmet is an effective safety-enhancing device, but also firmly believe it is the rider’s choice to wear one. The AMA’s stance on the issue is as follows; “The AMA believes that adults should have the right to voluntarily decide when to wear a helmet. The AMA does not oppose laws requiring helmets for minor motorcycle operators and passengers. The AMA asserts that helmet use alone is insufficient to ensure a motorcyclist’s safety. There is a broad range of other measures that can be implemented to improve the skill of motorcycle operators, as well as reduce the frequency of situations where other vehicle operators are the cause of crashes that involve motorcycles.”  ABATE has a similar stance, as chairman, John Peirce has said their “position is very simple, that helmets are a good device but it should be our choice to wear one…We believe in the right to decide to wear a helmet.”

Do helmets save lives? Undoubtedly, yes, but, should the decision to wear one be up to the individual and the individual alone? This is a debate that will continue for the foreseeable future as it does pit safety against inalienable rights to freedom of choice. A balancing act between both sides for sure. Which side of the debate are you on? Leave a comment below. Whatever your feelings on the issue might be, making sound riding decisions, following the law, and operating your bike responsibly will always contribute to your safety. Be safe out there!

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Author: Matt Goettsch