Do Motorcycle Helmet Laws Work?

Motorcycle helmet laws—or the practice of wearing a helmet—saved at least 1,815 lives in 2016 according to estimates made by the CDC. It was estimated that 802 deaths could have been averted if the driver wore a helmet. Total savings of the economic costs of accidents would total more than $1 billion dollars. Helmets reduce head injuries by 69% and the risks of death by 37%.

Are Universal Helmet Laws Needed?

A universal helmet law would probably reduce deaths and accident injuries, but some studies disagree with the impact of universal helmet laws. According to an article posted at, a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that the impact of a universal helmet law had limited impact in protecting people and property [source].

An increase in motorcycle fatalities mirrors the increase in the number of motorcycle riders. Comparing states with no helmet laws with states that require riders to wear a helmet found that universal helmet laws might reduce fatalities by 11.1%. States that just require helmets only for underage riders had no appreciable increase in estimated fatality rates when compared with states that required all riders to wear a helmet.

That would seem to indicate that focusing on underage riders is the best way of decreasing motorcycle accidents and fatalities. Those states that repealed universal helmet laws only found an increase in fatalities of 12.2%, which wasn’t subdivided into underage riders and regular drivers over the age of 21.

Rebels With a Cause

Studies also show that passing a universal helmet law doesn’t substantially increase the number of people who wear them. Motorcyclists are known for daredevil stunts, and some people just refuse to wear a helmet. Studies also show that helmets only protect people partially from the risks of death or injury.

Motorcycle riding is dangerous, and reports show that there are about 4,300 motorcycle deaths each year, which is about one-tenth of total vehicle deaths. In a crash, helmets stand a 35% chance of protecting a motorist from death. That compares with a 60% reduction of the risks of death when motorists wear seat belts.

Government Stance on Motorcycle Safety

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) takes a more absolute position on the effectiveness of universal helmet laws. They report that helmet-use rates approach 100% when universal helmet laws apply, primarily because it’s so easy for law enforcement to detect motorcycle riders who don’t wear them.

The U.S. General Accounting Office discovered that 92% of motorcycle riders wear helmets in states with universal helmet laws. Only 42% up to 59% wore helmets if the law exempted use for older drivers. When helmet laws are repealed, helmet use dropped from 99% to 50%.

The government doesn’t like age-specific laws because they’re difficult to enforce. It’s nearly impossible to tell the age of a motorcycle rider in motion, even without a helmet on. Additionally, people of all ages wear them for safety. The government’s position is that helmet laws increase helmet usage, and helmets should be mandatory equipment when operating any type of dangerous motorcycle.

Dangers and Risks of Motorcycle Accidents

Motorcycle accidents can be caused by driver error or result from bad driving by another party. If you’re involved in a motorcycle—no matter which party—you should know about the recoverable losses for motorcycle accidents. A motorcycle accident could leave you with high medical bills and an inability to work. Hiring a knowledgeable attorney who specializes in vehicle accidents is the first step of recovering damages related to a motorcycle accident.