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Motorcycle helmet laws save lives and money

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on June 3, 2013 at 5:45 pm with No Comments »
June 3, 2013 5:24 pm

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

When a vehicle and a motorcycle collide, it is likely not going to be good for the motorcycle — or its rider.

That imbalance and its aftermath is why another term for motorcyclists in hospital emergency rooms is “organ donors.” And it’s why many states, including Washington, enacted mandatory helmet laws for motorcyclists, the theory being that at least some cranial protection was better than nothing and would increase survival rates.

This year, the state’s mandatory helmet law is again under fire, with Republican lawmakers trying to limit it to riders younger than 18. We hope this ill-conceived bill again dies in the Legislature.

This newspaper has long supported mandatory helmets for all riders. If the public must pay some or all of accident victims’ medical costs and long-term care in cases of brain injury — which is so often the case — then they should cut those costs by wearing a helmet.

Now there’s hard evidence that laws requiring motorcyclists to wear a helmet do, indeed, have an effect on costs.

Michigan offered the perfect laboratory. It had a mandatory helmet law for 40 years, but in 2012 that law was changed to require only riders younger than 21 to wear protective headgear.

In the year since, the average medical claim from a motorcycle crash in Michigan rose from $5,410 to $7,257. While many motorcyclists in that state continue to wear helmets, it’s clear many have stopped. Of the riders involved in crashes before the law changed, 98 percent were wearing helmets. That percentage dropped to 74 in the year after the law was watered down.

Sadly, what happened in Michigan is happening in many other states, where in the last two decades motorcyclists have been persuading lawmakers to overturn or weaken helmet laws. At the same time, and not coincidentally, motorcycle death rates have been going up.

The number of motorcycle deaths has risen in 14 of the past 15 years, with more than 5,000 in 2012. They account for more than 14 percent of all traffic deaths, even though motorcycles account for only about 2 percent of vehicles on the road.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, when taking into account miles driven, a motorcycle rider is more than 30 times likelier to die in a crash than someone in a car. A helmet increases a rider’s chances of surviving a crash by 37 percent and reduces the risk of head injury by 69 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Helmet laws make sense and save lives. States that overturn or weaken them do their citizens a grave disservice.

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