Helmet law second chance

Posted April 02, 2009, at 7:44 p.m.

Lawmakers are on track to extend the state’s motorcycle helmet law to riders under the age of 18. While this is an improvement, legislators can do better by requiring helmets of all motorcycle riders.

The Transportation Committee strongly supported LD 437, which would require motorcycle operators and passengers up to age 18 to wear helmets. Current law requires helmets only for those 15 and younger.

This change would improve motorcycle safety, but it falls far short of the benefit of a universal helmet law, which 20 other states already have. Twenty-six states require helmets for younger riders.

Although it earlier rejected LD 453, a universal helmet law, the Transportation Committee is scheduled to reconsider the bill today. It should send it to the full Legislature with its support.

Opponents of a universal helmet law argue that wearing a helmet should be a matter of personal choice and that cars are the cause of most motorcycle accidents.

Both fail to address the fact that helmets save lives and reduce medical expenses, which are spread across all of the state’s population, not just those who ride motorcycles.

Numerous studies have documented the safety benefits of motorcycle helmets. For example, in the four years after Congress amended the National Highway Safety Act to remove sanctions against states without motorcycle helmet laws, motorcycle fatalities increased 61 percent, while motorcycle registrations increased only 15 percent compared with 1975, the year before the national law change.

In states that have re-enacted helmet laws, motorcycle fatalities dropped between 15 percent and 37 percent in the first year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Nonhelmeted riders are twice as likely as those who wear helmets to suffer serious head injuries. An Oklahoma review found that nonhelmeted riders accounted for 72 percent of motorcycle injury hospital care costs. Of those costs, two-thirds were covered by the government or taxpayers. The Na-tional Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that helmet use saved $1.3 billion in 2002. That number would have nearly doubled if all riders were required to wear helmets, according to the agency.

Motorcycle helmets also save lives. The administration estimates that nearly 10,000 motorcycle fatalities could have been prevented between 1984 and 2002 if helmets were required. Nonhelmeted riders are twice as likely as those wearing helmets to die in an accident.

And unhelmeted riders involved in crashes are less likely to have insurance, according to NHTSA.

The argument that helmets don’t prevent accidents is true, but misses the point. Accident avoidance is a worthwhile goal. But accidents occur and helmets can minimize their consequences.

That’s why lawmakers should support LD 453.

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