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Trauma Foundation
SF General Hospital
Bldg 1 Room 300
San Francisco, CA 94110

Fax: 415/821-8202
email: tf@traumaf.org

Board of Directors
Andrew McGuire
Executive Director

Maggie Escobedo-Steele
David Grubb
Deirdre H. Henderson
Gary Mason
Cher McIntyre
Paul O'Rourke, MD
William Schecter, MD

Donald D. Trunkery,MD











July 28, 2004



Motorcycle Helmets--They Save Lives

For many years the Trauma Foundation has strongly urged Californians to continue to save lives and NOT repeal the state's motorcycle helmet law. Every year, however, the law comes up for repeal despite the fact that numerous studies illustrate the growing value and efficacy of helmet laws.  Two recent studies underscore the importance of California maintaining its current helmet law.

Increased Helmet Effectiveness
A recent U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) study finds that helmet design has improved over the past 15 years. The effectiveness of helmets in preventing fatalities has increased from 19% in 1982 through 1987 to 37% over the years 1993 through 2002. The increased effectiveness of motorcycle helmets means that over the ten year period from 1993 through 2002, helmets have saved 7,808 lives.  A rider can reduce his or her risk of suffering a fatal injury in a crash by over one third, merely by wearing a helmet. Ironically, this same study finds that while helmet safety is increasing, the number of fatal motorcycle crashes in the United States has been increasing in recent years as the percentage of riders who use helmets has fallen from 71%  to 58% annually. (DOT. Motorcycle Helmet Effectiveness Revisited. March 2004 http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/Rpts/2004/809715.pdf)

What Happens When a State Does Repeal Its Helmet Law
Another recent DOT report highlights just how bad it can be when a motorcycle helmet law is repealed. Both Kentucky (1998) and Louisiana (1999) repealed their helmet laws. Helmet use fell from nearly full compliance under the laws to 50% without the laws. While the number of motorcycles registered increased by 20% and the vehicle miles traveled increased by 6% and probably account for some increase in fatalities, motorcyclist deaths in both states increased in sizeable amounts after the repeal of the laws. In Kentucky, deaths increased by 50% and in Louisiana by 100%. Injuries also increased in both states.

Motorcyclist Fatal Crashes and Fatalities in Kentucky 1996-2000

Year Fatal Crashes Motorcyclists Killed
1996* 22 24
1997* 24 24
1998 26 27
1999 38 40
2000 35 36

*Years prior to helmet law change.  "This table shows that in the two years immediately prior to the law change (1996 & 1997), there were 22 and 24 fatal crashes respectively, involving motorcyclist victims and there were 24 fatalities each year. In the two years immediately after the law change (1999 & 2000), there were 38 and 35 fatal crashes involving 40 and 36 motorcyclist fatalities. That is, annual motorcyclist fatal crashes and fatalities increased by more than 50% following the law change." Evaluation of the Repeal of Motorcycle Helmet Laws in Kentucky and Louisiana.

Motorcyclist Fatal Crashes and Fatalities in Louisiana 1997-2001

Year Fatal Crashes Motorcyclists Killed
1997* 19 19
1998* 33 34
1999 40 40
2000 54 57
2001 54 54

*Years prior to helmet law change. "In the two years prior to the universal helmet law's repeal in Louisiana (1997 & 1998), an average of 27 motorcyclists were killed in 26 crashes. In the two years after the law's repeal (2000-2001), an average of 56 motorcyclists were killed in 54 crashes. That is, fatal crashes and fatalities have doubled, on average, since the law's repeal." Evaluation of the Repeal of Motorcycle Helmet Laws in Kentucky and Louisiana.

Clearly, motorcycle helmet laws make sense. California and other states with successful helmet laws need to prevent future increases in motorcycle fatalities by keeping helmet laws on the books. It's a no brainer!

Trauma Foundation Motorcycle Helmet Stories