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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.

Visit our motorcycle and scooter buying guide.

Related:
Honda CBR250R ABS motorcycle proves fun, well-suited to new riders
New study shows motorcycle deaths are not declining
Tips to make the roads safer for cars and motorcycles
Guide to the 2012 motorcycles and scooters with ABS
The most-valuable motorcycle feature: antilock brakes

Jeff Bartlett

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