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CDC TASK FORCE REPORT

Universal motorcycle helmet laws?

By Matt Danielson, McGrath & Danielson -The Motorcycle Law Group
4/2/2014


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Before we get to the subject matter at hand, let me address two important preliminary matters. The first is explaining what the Community
Preventative Services Task Force (CPSTF) is. The second is to explain the purpose of this article. 
 
The CPSTF is a task force whose members are appointed by the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the purpose of providing studies which recommend programs and policies to improve health. Their latest report focuses on motorcycle fatalities and injuries. 
 
The study recommends universal motorcycle helmet laws as the sole method to reduce fatalities and injuries. The report fails to address ways to prevent or reduce motorcycle crashes. There is no mention of motorcycle training and education. The recommendation instead focuses on surviving the inevitable crash. 
 
Now for the purpose of this article. First and foremost let me explain what the purpose is not. I am neither attacking nor defending universal motorcycle helmet laws. As of this writing, 19 states have made the decision to keep them in place while 31 states have elected to allow motorcycle riders to make their own decision about wearing helmets. It is a topic which sparks much debate and disagreement within the riding community as a whole. 
 
The purpose of this article is to suggest that we motorcyclists should not simply accept what we are told by official sounding entities. Before we accept restrictions being placed upon us, perhaps we should ask some hard questions rather than accept the opinions of those who want to convince us that motorcycling is inherently dangerous, and that we are all destined for a terrible crash. 
 
 
 
Trust me; it is not just governmental entities that want to convince us of this. Each one of us have been at a social gathering where someone, upon finding out that we ride a motorcycle, has felt the need to tell us about their family member or friend who died in a horrific motorcycle accident. I have never had that happen when someone found out that I purchased a car. I guess people don't die in car crashes.
 
But I digress. Let's get back to the CPSTF.
 
The CPSTF's latest recommendation comes on the heels of the CDC study that came to the same conclusion, which is that all states should have universal motorcycle helmet laws. The CPSTF points to several factors in making its recommendation. They point to increased motorcycle fatalities.
 
They claim that states with universal motorcycle helmet laws experience less motorcycle related fatalities while states that allow adults to choose whether or not to wear a helmet experience more motorcycle related fatalities. The CPSTF claims that wearing a motorcycle helmet reduces the risk of a fatal injury by 42%. Finally the CPSTF claims that states which implement universal motorcycle helmet laws experience an economic benefit, while states that repeal universal helmet laws experience increased costs.
 
Let's take each of these assertions and ask some questions based upon data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Federal Highway Administration (FDHA). Both websites are below should you wish to look this up for yourself. 
 
http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/departments/nrd-30/ncsa/STSI/USA%20WEB%20REPORT
.HTM
 
 
First let's look at rising motorcycle fatalities. One thing that NHTSA looks at with overall motor vehicle fatalities is motor vehicles fatalities per 100,000 registered motor vehicles. That gives the raw number some context. What happens when we do the same with motorcycle related fatalities? The most recent numbers provided by the federal government give us motorcycle related fatalities and motorcycle registrations for the years 2008 to 2011. 
 
photo - by Emily Chow for FairWarning, source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
photo - by Emily Chow for FairWarning, source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

 
In 2008 there were 5,312 motorcycle related fatalities nationwide. In 2011 there were 4,612. In 2008, the number of motorcycle related fatalities per 100,000 registered motorcycles was 68.93. By 2011 that number had steadily declined to 56.44. It would appear that motorcyclists are moving the numbers in the right direction. Being that there was no change in the number of states that had universal motorcycle helmet laws during that time period, it is hard to conclude that universal helmet laws are responsible for the decrease in motorcycle related fatalities. Could it be that increased focus on training and education is having a positive effect? It is impossible to tell with any certainty.
 
However, learning how to avoid a crash is a more appealing strategy in my book that merely trying to survive one. 
 
Next let's look at the claim that that states with universal motorcycle helmet laws experience less motorcycle related fatalities than states which allow adults to choose whether or not to wear a helmet. If we were to look at motorcycle related fatalities in all of the states which have universal helmet laws and compare them to motorcycle related fatalities in states which allow choice, shouldn't we see a disparity between the two
groups of states? 
 
If wearing a motorcycle helmet reduces the risk of a fatal injury by 42%, shouldn't we see a rather large disparity between the two groups of states? Interestingly, that is not the case. Between 2008 and 2011, jurisdictions with mandatory motorcycle helmet laws averaged 60.26 motorcycle related fatalities per 100,000 registered motorcycles. 
 
States with laws allowing adults to choose whether or not to wear a helmet averaged 57.90 motorcycle related fatalities per 100,000 registered motorcycles during that same period. Given those numbers, I am left with no choice but to seriously question the claims made by the CPSTF.
 
Finally let's look at the CPSTF's conclusion with regard to the economic impact of universal helmet laws. The CPSTF claims that 12 studies looked at the economic benefit after implementation of universal helmet laws, and that four directly comparable studies reported benefits ranging from $29.3 million dollars to $96.1 million dollars per 100,000 registered motorcycles per year. They further assert that five studies looked at the economic impact of repealing universal helmet laws and that three directly comparable studies reported increased costs ranging from $1.8 million dollars to $27.2 million dollars per 100,000 registered motorcycles per year. At face value, that would cause one to conclude that universal helmet laws save money, while laws allowing choice cost money. 
 
However, let's ask a few important questions. First, how did these studies come to these conclusions? The first claim is that the implementation of universal helmet laws resulted in benefits ranging from 29.3 million dollars to 96.1 million dollars per 100,000 registered motorcycles. 
 
 
 
Why is there a gap of 67 million dollars between these estimates? That seems rather large. How were these estimates calculated? How old are these studies? Other than Louisiana, no state has implemented a universal helmet law in over twenty years. Additionally, why is it that the costs suffered from repealing a universal helmet law is anywhere between 1.8 million dollars and 27.2 million dollars, but the benefit of implementing one is anywhere between 29.3 million dollars to 96.1 million dollars? Shouldn't the numbers be the same? Shouldn't the cost of repealing a universal helmet law be comparable to the benefit of implementing one? 
 
Finally, if the CPSTF's claims are true, why don't we see higher health and motor vehicle insurance premiums in states which allow choice while seeing lower premiums in states with universal helmet laws? I highly doubt that the insurance industry would simply absorb such costs without passing them on to the consumer. Yet there is no evidence that states which allow adults to choose whether or not to wear a motorcycle helmet experience higher premiums than states which have universal helmet
laws.
 
 
 
In the end, every rider must decide for themselves whether they believe that universal motorcycle helmet laws are a reasonable restriction on riders, or an unwarranted intrusion upon personal choice. I would merely suggest that in making that decision we not simply accept as true recommendations and conclusions merely because they come from official sounding entities. Groups can have agendas, and a study can be a tool for advocacy rather than an objective analysis of accurate data. 
 
Speaking for myself, I find the latest recommendation of the CPSTF to be the former and not the latter. 
 
--Matt Danielson
McGrath & Danielson
The Motorcycle Law Group
1-800-321-8968
 
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Reader Comments


If you are reading this and aren't a member of ABATE, you would be wise to help us fight such legislation.

Zen
WA
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Editor Response Every rider should join the motorcycle rights group of their choice.
--Bandit

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