The debates in various states regarding helmet laws may be affected by a recent federal study. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) recently released a report that found fewer motorcyclists died in states with helmet laws and that $1.4 billion could have been saved if all motorcyclists wore a helmet. 

Due to the significant medical costs associated with injuries sustained by riders without helmets, some advocate that motorcyclists be given a choice: Either wear a helmet, or carry $250,000 or more in additional insurance. The research shows that the states pay costly medical bills for some motorcyclists who suffer serious injuries because they didn’t wear a helmet and did not carry enough medical insurance to cover the medical bills. 

These proposals would allow freedom of choice but would protect the states and their taxpayers from having to foot the bill.  

One state where this proposal is being debated is Minnesota. The proposed legislation faces fierce opposition from several motorcycle groups, including American Bikers for Awareness, Training and Education of Minnesota. ABATE’s representative said only one in five motorcycle fatalities involves a head injury. He said requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets will only provide people with a false sense of security and the best way to prevent fatalities is to invest in education programs that give motorcycle riders the skills they need to be safe on the road. 

In the U.S., 19 states have universal helmet laws, and 28 states have partial helmet laws that generally apply to younger riders. Three states — Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire — have no helmet laws. Michigan lawmakers repealed the state’s universal helmet law in April, replacing it with one that allows people 21 and older to ride without a helmet if they meet certain requirements, including carrying an additional $20,000 in medical insurance. 

The CDC report looked at fatal crash data between 2008 and 2010. Of the 14,283 motorcyclist deaths, 12 percent occurred in states that require riders to wear helmets. Researchers also estimate that $1.4 billion could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets.

Legislators argue that this type of law is aimed at making motorcyclists take responsibility for their choice to not wear helmets. Under this law, riders would still retain the freedom to make that choice, but they would not expose the taxpayers and/or their own family’s life savings. 

However, it seems that under this logic, the state could require anyone who does something potentially dangerous, like using a chainsaw, to start carrying additional insurance.

Christopher M. Pyne is a Shareholder and member of Stark & Stark’s Lawrenceville, New Jersey office, specializing in Accident & Personal Injury Law.  For more information, please contact Mr. Pyne.