Helmet Law Facts

By Warren Woodward, Chair, State Legislative Committee

Street Bikers United Hawaii, 2007

If helmets have significant safety benefits, then the ratio of deaths to accidents should decline as the use of helmets increases, such as after a mandatory helmet law is enacted. Yet in most states the Death to Accident Ratio (DAR) averages between 2{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} to 3{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} both before and after helmet laws have been enacted.

Below is a table prepared from information supplied by the Maryland Department of Transportation for the years 1985 to 2000.



The Maryland data looked at another way:



Maryland is not an isolated case. Here is a table of total motorcyclist fatalities nationwide in 1994 (data from the Motorcycle Industry Council). Note the similarities in the DAR at the right of
the table.

Registrations Reported Accidents Fatalities Accidents per 10,000 Registrations Fatalities per 100 Accidents
Mandatory Helmet Use 2,352,293 52,270 1,557 222.21 2.98
Voluntary Helmet Use 1,497,923 29,062 844 194.02 2.90
Totals 3,850,216 81,331 2,401 211.24 2.95

Another example is from California before and after their helmet law enactment on January 1, 1992 (data from CHP). Note that the Death to Accident Ratio is little changed. If helmets worked, there should be a dramatic decrease in the DAR for years 1992 & 1993, but there isn’t.

1990 1991 1992 1993

Fatalities 565 509 328 302

Accidents 20,386 18,402 13,708 12,269

DAR 2.896 2.896 2.496 2.596

Note that the total number of accidents and deaths in both
Maryland and California did decline after helmet law
enactment. This is what helmet law proponents always point to as
proof that “helmet laws save lives”. What they inevitably
fail to mention is that this overall decrease has been accomplished,
not because of helmets (which are incapable of preventing accidents),
but because many people simply quit riding. Fewer riders = fewer
accidents = fewer deaths.

Look at the dramatic decline in motorcycle registrations in
California—a state with great roads and great weather—after
their helmet law went into effect in 1992.

California Motorcycle Registrations
1991 – 99

Year Annual Year to Year {019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} 1991 to Year {019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5}
1991 639,388
1992 583,222 -56,166 -8.78{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} -56,166 -8.78{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5}
1993 557,986 -25,236 -3.95{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} -81,402 -12.73{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5}
1994 527,666 -30,320 -4.74{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} -111,722 -17.47{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5}
1995 518,120 -9,546 -1.49{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} -121,268 -18.97{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5}
1996 511,637 -6,483 -1.01{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} -127,751 -19.98{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5}
1997 391,080 -120,557 -18.86{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} -248,308 -38.84{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5}
1998 397,032 5,952 0.93{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} -242,356 -37.90{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5}
1999 413,676 16,644 2.60{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} -225,712 -35.30{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5}

Source: California Department of Motor Vehicles

In other states, new motorcycle sales dropped 41{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} in Nebraska, 36{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5}
in Oregon, and 20{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} in Texas in the first full year following
enactment of their mandatory helmet laws.

Conversely, when states remove mandatory helmet laws,
registrations soar. Helmet law proponents constantly point to
Florida’s increase in motorcyclists’ fatalities after
helmet law repeal in that state in 2000, yet never mention the fact
that, in the first seven years after repeal, motorcycle registrations
increased by a whopping 157{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} !

Speaking of Florida, below are the Florida Department of Highway
Safety and Motor Vehicles’ motorcycle accident statistics for 2005.

No Injury {019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} PossibleInjury {019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} Non-Incapac-itating


{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} Incapac-ItatingInjury {019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} Fatal {019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} InjuryNotStated {019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} Total
Driver 392 47.75 812 49.57 2,069 53.55 1,313 50.27 252 52.83 0 0.00 4,838
Passenger 44 5.36 88 5.37 185 4.79 129 4.94 20 4.19 0 0.00 466
SUBTOTAL 436 53.11 900 54.95 2,254 58.33 1,442 55.21 272 57.02 0 0.00 5,304
Driver 307 37.39 630 38.46 1,415 36.62 1,019 39.01 189 39.62 0 0.00 3,560
Passenger 78 9.50 94 5.74 187 4.84 149 5.7 16 3.35 0 0.00 524
SUBTOTAL 385 46.89 724 44.2 1,602 41.46 1,168 44.72 205 42.98 0 0.00 4,084
Use Not Stated
Driver 0 0.00 14 0.85 8 0.21 2 0.08 0 0.00 3 100.0 27
Passenger 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0
SUBTOTAL 0 0.00 14 0.85 8 0.21 2 0.08 0 0.00 3 100.0 27

Note that riders without helmets have the better numbers across
the board. Percentages of injuries and fatalities are less for
riders involved in accidents who aren’t wearing helmets.

The following is an economic impact report for the first seven
years after Florida’s repeal. The registrations are compiled
from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. The
registration and title fees come from the Florida License and
Registration Bureau. From 1999 to April 2007, Florida motorcycle
registrations went from 198,601 to 509,036, a 157{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} increase.

310,435 motorcycles at an average of $10,000 each 3,104,350,000

Sales tax on Motorcycles at 6{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} 186,626,100

Registration Fees and Tags for Motorcycles 11,330,877

Change of title ___9,235,441

Total $3,311,542,418

This is over three billion dollars in seven
years that has been put into the economy of the State of Florida.
Over two hundred million dollars went directly
into the Florida State Treasury. This does not include the tourist
money that has increased because of Florida being a freedom of choice
state. According to the Daytona Beach Chamber of Commerce, in the
past seven years almost four billion dollars has
been spent at Bike Week and Biketoberfest.

Motorcyclists being labeled a “public burden”
therefore, is particularly irksome and has at its basis ignorance and

According to the National Center for Health Statistics,
approximately 1.16{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} of total U.S. Health costs are attributable to
motor vehicle accidents, and the costs associated with the treatment
of motorcyclist injuries account for less than 0.001{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} of total
U.S. health care costs. Only a portion of that less-than-0.001{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5}
cost is attributable to un-helmeted motorcyclists, and the majority
of that cost is paid by privately purchased health insurance. What
remains, spread across the taxpayer base (which includes millions of
taxpaying motorcyclists), is insignificant.

People who don’t ride, and especially the media reporters
among them, persist in portraying un-helmeted motorcyclists as, at
best, freedom-loving souls who ‘like the wind in their hair’.
While we would hope freedom is important to all, having ‘the
wind in our hair’ is not what’s it all about.

No one knows our safety better than we do. Some feel safer in a
helmet; others do not. Helmets can help in some situations and maim
and kill in others. This is why riders lobby for freedom of choice,
and why our slogan is “Let Those Who Ride Decide”.

It took the deaths of several high-profile racecar drivers
culminating with Dale Earnhardt in 2001 for NASCAR and Formula 1 to
realize what motorcycle riders have been saying for years: Helmets
snap necks and cause basal skull fracture which almost always results
in instantaneous death. NASCAR and Formula 1 now require helmet
restraining devices for drivers, an impossibility on motorcycles.

Due to the laws of physics, a 4 pound helmet, at 50 mph, weighs
200 pounds at impact. Motorcycle racers generally do not “impact”,
having a closed course with little or nothing to run into if they
fall. Street riders on the other hand have all kinds of objects to
collide with if they come off. The body can stop abruptly then, but
the head, because of the added weight of the helmet, can keep going
causing neck breakage and basal skull fracture.

Unfortunately, most government studies do not look for this
occurrence and so it has gone unnoticed among policy makers. As I
mentioned, NASCAR and Formula 1 were very slow to realize the danger
and did not call for helmet restraints until recently. There is one
study from New York State however, which although old, tells the

The New York Department of Motor Vehicles did a study in 1969
comparing accident data from the years 1966 and 1967 in order to
detect the effects of that state’s mandatory helmet law, which
became effective Jan. 1, 1967. They found that while head injuries
decreased after the helmet law, neck injuries increased.

Injuries Sustained by Motorcycle Occupants Killed
Injury 1966 Fatalities 1967 Fatalities
Head – fracture, bleeding wound, concussion 75.4{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} 45.9{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5}
Neck – fracture, broken 5.8{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} 37.8{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5}

Another interesting finding of that study is revealed in the
following table. Note that the Death to Accident Rate (DAR) is
exactly the same before and after the
helmet law. Again, if helmets “save lives”, shouldn’t
there have been a marked decrease in the DAR?

Frequency Of Motorcycle Accidents
1966 1967
Severity Number {019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} of Total Number {019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} of Total
Fatal 85 1.6 51 1.6
Personal Injury 4,792 92.4 2,983 94.4
Property Damage 307 5.9 127 4.0
Total 5,184 100.0 3,161 100.0

To summarize, helmet laws succeed in preventing deaths only by
decreasing riders. Helmet laws may decrease head injuries in some
instances but increase neck injuries in others. Riders know the risks
inherent in riding and must be free to choose whether or not to wear
a helmet.

Postscript: The best safety solution is accident avoidance.
This can be accomplished through increased driver awareness of
motorcyclists and through motorcycle rider safety training.

A study of motorcycle accidents (the Hurt Report) found that in
multiple vehicle accidents involving motorcycles, the driver of the
other vehicle violated the motorcycle right-of-way and caused the
accident in two-thirds of these accidents. Drivers must be
taught to look for motorcycles. Right-of-way violations, especially
those resulting in injury and death, must have consequences greater
than a slap on the wrist.

States with the best overall safety record for motorcyclists also
have comprehensive rider education courses in place. Evidence to the
value of safety programs comes from the fact that in California,
their award winning safety program accounted for a 43{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} decrease in
fatalities and a 40{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} decrease in injuries from 1986 through 1991,
before the helmet law was in effect. The decrease in injuries alone
amounted to 12,258.

Addendum 1: Testimony of Shannon Laughy – Reproduced below
is an official transcript of testimony given by Shannon Laughy, a
rider paralyzed by a helmet, before the California Senate
Transportation Committee on May 7, 1996, when repeal of that state’s
mandatory helmet law was being discussed. I was there to witness her
deliver her testimony from the wheelchair to which she is permanently
confined. Read her testimony and see if you could look her in the eye
and tell her she should have to wear a helmet.

Shannon Laughy: My name is Shannon Laughy
and I’m one of your statistics.

I am an orthopedic technician. I was trained by the U. S. military
during the Viet Nam War. I served in Plei Ku in 1969.

Senator Kelley: Could you speak a little
closer to the microphone?

Shannon Laughy: I served in Ku Che for an
additional year in 1970. By the time I got out of the military, I was
discharged in Washington State. I practiced medicine as a general
surgery technician up there working on cardiac and orthopedic cases.

I came to the bay area in 1973. I started working with the San
Francisco Orthopedic Residency program in San Francisco and
ultimately ended up at Kaiser Hospital in San Rafael.

On September 30th, I joined your statistics, because as a
motorcyclist I had been riding since the age of three. My father was
compulsive about safety and so I have always worn a helmet. I was so
compulsive that in Los Angeles, because the ozone depletion of my
helmet and sun damage, every two years I backed over my helmet and
destroyed it myself and replaced it with another DOT or Snell
approved helmet.

At the time of my accident, it was 5:29 in the afternoon. We were
traveling in a direction that has no sun glare involved. I was in a
school zone so I knew I was doing 24 miles an hour. And a woman made
a left turn in front of me. I slammed on both front and rear brakes
and tried to swing my bike to the left in the hopes that the wheels
would hit first. Unfortunately the wheels didn’t hit first, I did.

From the shoulder down I impacted at the passenger’s side door. My
body ended up laid across this lady’s back trunk. My helmet, which
weighs a little over four pounds since it was a Shoei complete
full-face helmet, it continued moving at 24 miles an hour when my
body stopped against that car, and the right side leading edge of
that helmet impacted my cervical spine at the transference processes
of C-3, took out the C-3, 4, 5 and 6 and three and a half inches of
my collar bone and shredded three cervical nerves that exit through
that area, and those three nerves completely inervated my dominate
side and my whole upper right quadrant. As a result, at the age of
forty-four, I became a permanently disabled person because of my
honest belief that a safety helmet was to my advantage.

I am not with any organization at this particular point. I am
speaking from my own standpoint when I say that as a medical
professional, using something that improves the quantity of my life
without assuring me a quality to my life is not something I want to
support. I won’t tell you that I wish I had died in that accident. I
will tell you that if I had known then what I know now, I never would
have put that helmet on, and as a result I would have been back to
work for Kaiser Hospital providing services that Kaiser has had to
stop providing. I was the only technician in the county that made
neck braces. That made fittings for artificial legs for amputees.
That dealt with quadriplegic and paraplegic motorcycle riders as a
specialist. They don’t have me any more so that means those people
don’t have me any more either.

I would really really appreciate your considering my own personal
story when you consider the vote that you cast on this helmet law.

Senator Kelley: Thank you very much.

Senator Russell: If you’d not had a helmet,
would your head have struck the car?

Shannon Laughy: No. My helmet was sent down
to the USC primate helmet lab to be studied to see what kind of
damage it incurred in the accident. My helmet sustained no damage at
the time of the accident. The damage to my helmet was sustained when
the paramedics tore my face shield off and they broke two plastic
screws on the right side of my helmet. My helmet is completely
unmarred and undamaged, and if I ever ride again, I can guarantee you
that that is one helmet that will not be on my head.

Senator Russell: Your head did not strike
the automobile?

Shannon Laughy: No, I had not impact with
the car at all in any place but the shoulder, down on the right side,
and I had a grade 3 open semi-traumatic amputation of the right leg.
That would have been my only injury if I had not been wearing that
helmet. And I honestly believe that it is a design in a helmet, that
by increasing the weight and mass of my head and by putting an
artificial fulcrum, it caused the accident to my neck. It caused the
fracture to my neck. My doctor that I worked for at Kaiser, John
Tote, felt that that was the only thing that could have caused it
because I never hit anything with my head or my neck.

Senator Kelley: Thank you very much; I
appreciate your comments. Alright, I’d like to have the opponents
come forward. Assemblyman Morrow, the proponents went over a little
bit so I’m going to authorize a little bit of extra time for the
opposition also.

Assemblyman Morrow: By all means, thank you.

Addendum 2: Vehicle Miles Traveled – The National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) bases much of its analysis of
traffic accidents and fatalities on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). It
sounds very scientific and is unquestioningly repeated both by
government officials and by the media in general.

Our investigation into VMT, however, has uncovered the sort of
legendary sloppiness one can only expect from a federal bureaucracy.

VMT is derived by NHTSA from information supplied by the states.
But many states do not even provide VMT for motorcycles. Or some
years they might and others not.

For example, South Dakota, the home of the world’s largest
motorcycle rally with half a million participants yearly, reported
the deaths of 26 motorcyclists in 2006 yet also reported no VMT for
that or any other year. How can there be a rally, how can riders die,
if no one is riding, not even one mile?

Any statistician knows that discrepancies such as these render
conclusions invalid; yet NHTSA persists in perpetuating their VMT

Information supplied by states that do report VMT is highly
inaccurate. Have you ever seen the black hoses stretched across the
road? Those are counting the number of wheels going across, and there
is a magic formula to determine how many are from cars, buses,
trucks, and motorcycles, and how far they are traveling. Equally
magical is that from a few hoses, VMT can be determined for an entire

If you believe the hoses then you will believe the telephone
surveys that are also used to derive VMT. Never been called and asked
about your yearly mileage? That is because only two or three hundred
people in any given state are called.

The Motorcycle Riders Foundation has questioned NHTSA about their
sloppy work. Amazingly, NHTSA replied that because the data is
gathered wrong consistently then it is still valid and conclusions
can still be drawn from it!

NTHSA has lost credibility. Their numbers are a fiction, their
conclusions fraud. We do not accept NHTSA propaganda like, “Per
vehicle mile traveled in 2005, motorcyclists were 37 times more
likely than passenger car occupants to die in traffic accidents.”
Nor do we accept NHTSA’s concomitant mandatory helmet message.
How can we? How can anyone?

Addendum 3: Transportation-related traumatic brain injuries –
According to the Brain Injury Association of America,
motorcyclists comprise 6{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} of all transportation-related traumatic
brain injuries. In the Association’s chart below notice that,
at 6{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5}, the motorcyclists’ total is smaller than all other
groups of road users. If helmets are required for that 6{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5} in order to
save lives and money, think how much more lives and money would be
saved by requiring helmets for the other 94{019db79bed566fe49107903e76219f41f3222d6e60d921839a9d0c01f42470d5}. We welcome a campaign
to make helmets mandatory for all road users. The campaign would not
last one minute.