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19-06-2012 | Article

Helmetless motorcyclists need their heads examined

Abstract

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MedWire News: Helmet laws save lives and healthcare costs, suggests a study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of the 14,283 motorcycle riders killed in US crashes from 2008-2010, 42% were not wearing helmets. State helmet laws appeared to make a significant difference , however: in 20 states with universal helmet laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets whenever they ride, only 12% of those killed were not wearing helmets.

In contrast, in states with partial helmet laws (eg, requiring helmets only for certain age groups, such as children), riders without helmets accounted for 64% of fatalities, and in the three states with no helmet laws - Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire - nonhelmeted riders were involved in 79% of all deadly accidents.

The authors calculated that helmet use in the USA saved about $3 billion dollars in 2010, and if all motorcyclists had used helmets the savings could have been as high as $ 1.4 billion.

"Nearly all (23 of the 25) states with costs saved per registered motorcycle below the median had either a partial helmet law or no helmet law. Costs saved in states with a universal helmet law were, on average, nearly four times greater per registered motorcycle than in states without such a law ($ 725 versus $ 198)," the researchers write in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

They based their findings on a review of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). The FARS database includes information on motor vehicle accidents in which the operator or one or more passengers sustain an injury causing death within 30 days of a crash. They calculated the percentages of fatally injured, nonhelmeted riders as a proportion of all motorcycle fatalities by state for the 3-year study period. In two states, Vermont and Nebraska, there were fewer than 10 fatalities involving motorcyclists who were not wearing helmets, and they were not included in the analysis.

Data on cost savings from medical care, productivity loss, and other direct and indirect expenditures were obtained from NHTSA.

"Research has shown that when a state repeals its helmet law or opts for less restrictive requirements, helmet use decreases and motorcycle-related deaths, injuries, and costs increase," write the MMWR staff in an editorial note.

"In 2000, for example, Florida changed its universal helmet law to a partial helmet law that covered only riders aged <21 years and those with <$10,000 in medical insurance coverage. During the 2 years after the law was changed, the motorcyclist death rate per 10,000 registered motorcycles in Florida increased by 21%, deaths among motorcycle riders aged <21 years nearly tripled, and hospital admissions of motorcyclists with injuries to the head, brain, and skull increased by 82%," the editorialists write.

By Neil Osterweil