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Helmet laws and motorcycle accident costs

California motorcycle operators and passengers have been required to wear helmets since 1992. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of people killed in motorcycle accidents statewide fell 37 percent after the law's passage. Medical treatments for bike-related head injuries paid through state programs dropped from $40 million to $24 million.

With such positive and dramatic results, why don't all states adopt universal helmet laws?

Many motorcyclists associate bikes and bike riding with traveling freedom. In line with those thoughts, some bikers feel wearing a helmet should be up to the rider, not the government. In deference to those sentiments, some states still do not have universal helmet laws or have partial restrictions, making helmets mandatory only for the newest and least experienced riders.

Studies have linked helmet use with marked declines in rider fatalities and financial losses associated with survivors' injuries. Injuries suffered by unhelmeted motorcyclists are often more serious than their helmeted counterparts and, therefore, take longer and more money to treat. For instance, brain injuries – more common among motorcyclists without helmets – are twice as expensive to treat as other accident-related injuries.

The economic impact of a single motorcycle accident affects public expenditures for medical care, insurance and taxes. Researchers found average hospital costs for unhelmeted motorcyclists were one-third higher than medical bills for riders with helmets.

California researchers also discovered a large number of injured motorcyclists without helmets were dependent on government funds or other tax-based resources for medical coverage. State taxpayers picked up 72 percent of the tab for uninsured, unhelmeted riders. Costs rise significantly when you add wage losses, administrative expenses and work productivity losses.

Helmets can prevent losses of life and catastrophic injuries, but they cannot protect motorcyclists from the actions of negligent drivers. Personal losses suffered by injured riders may be recovered through liability claims filed in California civil courts.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Universal Motorcycle Helmet Laws Reduce Costs to Society" accessed Mar. 26, 201

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