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Universal motorcycle helmet laws

Health Factors: Community Safety
Decision Makers: State Government
Evidence Rating: Scientifically Supported
Population Reach: <1% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: No impact on disparities likely

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Description

Universal motorcycle helmet laws require all motorcycle operators and passengers to wear a helmet. Such laws are established statewide, and may also include mopeds and scooters (CG-Motor vehicle injury).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Reduced fatal and non-fatal injuries
Increased helmet use
Reduced head injury
Reduced health care costs

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that universal motorcycle helmet laws substantially increase helmet use and reduce fatalities and injuries (CG-Motor vehicle injury, Byrnes 2012) across all age groups and genders (CG-Motor vehicle injury). Such laws are more effective than laws that apply only to young or novice riders, often referred to as partial laws (CG-Motor vehicle injury, Byrnes 2012).

States with universal motorcycle helmet laws have lower rates of motorcycle-related fatalities (CG-Motor vehicle injury, Hassan 2017, Testerman 2018, Lee 2018) and appear to have lower rates of traumatic brain injury (TBI) than states with partial laws (Hassan 2017, Testerman 2018, Lee 2018). When states repeal universal laws or replace them with partial laws, helmet use decreases and fatalities and injuries increase (CG-Motor vehicle injury, Lee 2017c, Carter 2017, Saunders 2018, Adams 2017). A Louisiana-based study suggests that reinstating a universal law that has been repealed can reverse this trend, decreasing the number of fatal motorcycle crashes (Lee 2017c).

Universal laws are easier to enforce than partial laws as police officers can more easily identify offenders (CG-Motor vehicle injury). In 2017, nearly all motorcyclists wore helmets in states with universal laws, while about half wore them in states without universal laws (NHTSA-Li 2018). Universal laws that include mopeds are associated with increased helmet use among adult moped riders (Boone 2018).

Economic benefits of universal laws substantially outweigh costs. Following implementation, studies have demonstrated savings of $29 to $96 million per 100,000 registered motorcycles in averted productivity losses and health care expenses per year (CG-Motor vehicle injury). Health care costs are greater for injured motorcyclists who were not wearing helmets at the time of injury than those who were (Kim 2015b, Dua 2015).

Implementation

United States

As of September 2018, 19 states and Washington DC have universal motorcycle helmet laws, 28 have partial laws, and three (Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire) have no motorcycle helmet law. In 12 states, universal laws also include all mopeds and scooters (IIHS-Motorcycle helmets 2018). Many states have repealed universal helmet laws or replaced them with partial laws in the last few decades (CG-Motor vehicle injury). 

Some states require helmets that meet federal performance standards (CG-Motor vehicle injury). In 2017, 87% of motorcyclists in states with universal laws wore helmets that meet the federal standards (NHTSA-Li 2018). Laboratory testing has demonstrated that “novelty” helmets, which do not meet federal standards, do not adequately protect motorcyclists (IIHS-Motorcycle helmets). 

Wisconsin

Wisconsin repealed universal helmet laws in 1978 and currently requires helmets for persons under 18 or those operating with an instructional permit (GHSA-WI). In 2016, only 38% of motorcycle riders involved in crashes wore a helmet (CODES-Bigelow 2017). 

Implementation Resources

IIHS-Motorcycle helmets - Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Motorcycle helmets. Accessed on September 18, 2018
NCSL-Motorcycle safety - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Motorcycle safety overview. Accessed on September 20, 2018

Citations - Description

CG-Motor vehicle injury - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Motor vehicle injury prevention. Accessed on December 7, 2018

Citations - Evidence

Adams 2017* - Adams NS, Newbury PA, Eichhorn MG, et al. The effects of motorcycle helmet legislation on craniomaxillofacial injuries. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. 2017;139(6):1453-1457. Accessed on September 20, 2018
Boone 2018* - Boone EM, Rossheim ME, Krall JR, Weiler RM. State helmet laws and helmet use among fatally injured moped riders in the United States, 2011-2015. Traffic Injury Prevention. 2018;19(3):270-273. Accessed on September 20, 2018
Byrnes 2012* - Byrnes M, Gerberich S. Motorcycle helmet use and legislation: A systematic review of the literature. Minnesota Medicine. 2012;95(1):60-65. Accessed on September 20, 2018
Carter 2017 - Carter PM, Buckley L, Flannagan CAC, et al. The impact of Michigan's partial repeal of the universal motorcycle helmet law on helmet use, fatalities, and head injuries. American Journal of Public Health. 2017;107(1):166-172. Accessed on September 20, 2018
CG-Motor vehicle injury - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Motor vehicle injury prevention. Accessed on December 7, 2018
Dua 2015* - Dua A, Wei S, Safarik J, Furlough C, Desai SS. National mandatory motorcycle helmet laws may save 2.2 billion annually: An inpatient and value of statistical life analysis. Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. 2015;78(6):1182-1186. Accessed on September 20, 2018
Hassan 2017* - Hassan A, Jokar TO, Rhee P, et al. More helmets fewer deaths: Motorcycle helmet legislation impacts traumatic brain injury-related mortality in young adults. American Surgeon. 2017;83(6):541-546. Accessed on September 20, 2018
Kim 2015b* - Kim C-Y, Wiznia DH, Averbukh L, Dai F, Leslie MP. The economic impact of helmet use on motorcycle accidents: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature from the past 20 years. Traffic Injury Prevention. 2015;16(7):732-738. Accessed on September 20, 2018
Lee 2017c* - Lee J, Abdel-Aty M, Wang J-H, Lee C. Long-term effect of universal helmet law changes on motorcyclist fatal crashes: Comparison group and empirical bayes approaches. Transportation Research Record: Journal of Transportation Research Board. 2017;2637:27-37. Accessed on September 20, 2018
Lee 2018* - Lee JM. Mandatory helmet legislation as a policy tool for reducing motorcycle fatalities: Pinpointing the efficacy of universal helmet laws. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 2018;111(October 2017):173-183. Accessed on September 20, 2018
NHTSA-Li 2018 - Li R, Pickrell TM. Motorcycle helmet use in 2017-Overall results. Report No. DOT HS 812 512. Washington DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), US Department of Transportation (US DOT); 2018. Accessed on September 20, 2018
Saunders 2018* - Saunders RN, Adams NS, Chapman AJ, et al. The impact of the repeal of Michigan's universal helmet law on traumatic brain injury: A statewide analysis. American Journal of Surgery. 2018;215(3):424-427. Accessed on September 20, 2018
Testerman 2018* - Testerman GM, Prior DC, Wells TD, et al. Helmets matter: Kentucky motorcycle crash victims seen at a Tennessee trauma center. Southern Medical Journal. 2018;111(1):8-11. Accessed on September 20, 2018

Citations - Implementation

CG-Motor vehicle injury - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Motor vehicle injury prevention. Accessed on December 7, 2018
CODES-Bigelow 2017 - Bigelow W. Health and cost outcomes resulting from traumatic brain injury caused by not wearing a helmet, for motorcycle crashes in Wisconsin, 2016. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Crash Outcome Data Evaluation System (CODES), Wisconsin Department of Transportation; 2017. Accessed on September 20, 2018
GHSA-WI - Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). Safety laws in Wisconsin. Accessed on September 18, 2018
IIHS-Motorcycle helmets - Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Motorcycle helmets. Accessed on September 18, 2018
IIHS-Motorcycle helmets 2018 - Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Motorcycle helmet use: September 2018. Accessed on September 20, 2018
NHTSA-Li 2018 - Li R, Pickrell TM. Motorcycle helmet use in 2017-Overall results. Report No. DOT HS 812 512. Washington DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), US Department of Transportation (US DOT); 2018. Accessed on September 20, 2018

Page Last Updated

September 18, 2018

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