The Impact of Universal Helmet Laws

From the visitors who flock to Thunder Beach Motorcycle Rally to the many residents who use motorcycles as their primary means of transportation, motorcycles are a common sight in Bay County. As an attorney for motorcycle riders in Panama City and the surrounding region, Wes Pittman knows that the risks of riding are very real. We believe in legal representation of the wrongly injured, but we believe in prevention first. Helmets are one of the best protections available to riders, a proactive safety measure that matters. Universal helmet laws, the focus of today's discussion, also have proven safety results.

Task Force Finds Universal Helmet Laws Increase Use, Prevent Injuries, and Save Lives

The Community Prevention Services Task Force, created in 1996 by the Department of Health and Human Services to pinpoint life-saving (and life-improving) health interventions, authors a Community Guide supporting universal helmet laws. The Task Force reviewed 69 studies with 78 study arms (54 arms focused on the U.S.) and concluded that universal helmet laws, which require all motorcycle riders (both operators and passengers) to use helmets on public roads, are more effective than partial laws that only apply to certain groups.

Evidence tied to both repealing and implementing universal helmet law is cited in support of the comprehensive approach. States that moved from a universal law to either a partial law or no helmet requirement saw a drop in helmet usage rates and an increase in injuries and fatalities tied to motorcycle accidents. Taken together, the studies found a 38% increase in motorcycle fatalities, including a 21% increase per registered bike and 25% increase in deaths per mile traveled, as well as a 47% increase in non-fatal injuries. In contrast, moving from a partial or non-existent requirement to a universal helmet law found the opposite - an increase in helmet use and a decrease in deaths and injuries.

Similar findings supporting universal helmet laws resulted from comparisons between states with and without universal requirements. A particularly interesting result involved young riders. Even though all partial helmet laws covered young riders, universal laws still resulted in increased youth helmet usage rates and a reduction of head injuries impacting young riders when compared with the partial systems. Universal helmet laws also created economic benefits, particularly lower healthcare costs and reduced productivity losses, significantly in excess of their costs.

Florida's Helmet Law Experience

This past Spring, the Tampa Bay Tribune carried an interesting article focused specifically on The Sunshine State. In 2000, Florida repealed its own universal helmet law and moved to a rule that allows riders ages 21 and up to ride without a helmet if they a minimum of $100,000 in personal injury coverage (see Florida Statute 316.211). The Tribune notes that there has been little talk of returning to the universal rule, despite the fact that, "beyond its borders, Florida is emerging as a national poster child for mandatory helmet laws."

In fact, several safety groups have cited Florida's experience when lobbying against repeals in other states. The years following repeal saw decreased helmet use and increased death tolls, statistics that were more dramatic than in most jurisdictions perhaps because of the longer riding season. While some interest groups attribute the rising accident numbers to an increase in registrations, safety officials say there is still an increased death rate when the rise in ridership is taken into account.

Protecting Riders, Encouraging Riders to Protect Themselves

We urge both motorcycle operators and passengers to wear helmets every time they ride, regardless of whether the law requires doing so. We have met many people who regret not wearing a helmet, but never a rider who wished s/he hadn't worn one. While we advocate for helmet usage, we never forget that an at-fault driver who causes a motorcycle crash is at-fault regardless of whether the rider wore a helmet. Put another way, the failure to wear a helmet does not impact the right to recover damages. We are a law firm for motorcycle riders in Northwest Florida, advocating for riders injured or killed because of someone else's negligent or wrongful action. Call to discuss how we can help you.

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