CDC report puts scary-big numbers behind the reasons why motorcyclists should wear helmets

Consumer Reports News: June 14, 2012 02:08 PM

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Common-sense advice is often best supported by evidence. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new analysis into motorcycle helmet use and its relation to fatality rates, costs, and the effectiveness of helmet use laws. The CDC found: helmet use saves lives, riders are more likely to wear helmets when there are universal laws, and the cost of wind in the hair to society tallies $725 per registered motorcycle.

The clear takeaway is:
Motorcycle riding is inherently more dangerous than driving a car. If you plan to ride, your odds of survival are better if you wear a helmet. But you knew that. We'll dig into the numbers to convince any doubters.

The risk level is conveyed in simple figures: In 2010, 4,502 motorcyclists died in crashes, comprising 14 percent of all road traffic deaths that year. (For this study, a motorcyclist is defined as a rider or passenger.) However, motorcycles accounted for less than one percent of all vehicle miles traveled.

Showing that strong laws do make a difference, the CDC found that in states with universal (meaning, they apply to all riders) laws, 12 percent of fatally injured motorcyclists were not wearing a helmet. In contrast, states with partial helmet laws saw 64 percent of the fatally injured motorcyclists were not wearing a helmet. In states without a helmet law, that rate climbs to 79 percent.

Looked another way, from 2008 to 2010, 14,283 motorcyclists were killed in crashes, and 6,057 (42 percent) of them were not wearing a helmet.

An interesting insight, the CDC estimates that the cost is $1,212,800 per fatality, $171,753 per serious injury, and $7,523 per minor injury. This calculation includes the expenses associated with emergency and medical services, work productivity losses, and household-related costs, but it does not factor property damage.

In 2010, about $3 billion in costs were saved due to helmet use in the United States. However, the CDC estimates that another $1.4 billion could have been saved if all motorcyclists wore helmets.

When shopping for a helmet, look beyond the minimal legal requirement, or perception of compliance. So-called novelty helmets may look cool, but a serious rider should wear a DOT-approved full-faced helmet. In addition, motorcyclists should wear a leather or otherwise-reinforced jacket, non-slip boots, and gloves. And remember, visibility is key. Bright colors can further aid safety.

All the numbers support the common-sense point that if you ride, wear a helmet. It can save your life, family heartache, and a side-car load of money.

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Jeff Bartlett

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