The Impact of Motorcycle Safety Laws

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Should motorcyclists be compelled to wear helmets? That question has been debated for decades. In 1967, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation told states to mandate helmets. It took a while, but 47 states had measures in place by 1975.

These universal helmet regulations were not universally loved. For instance, Illinois implemented its law in 1967. The state’s Supreme Court found the act unconstitutional two years later. Between 1967 and 1976, Oklahoma modified its helmet statute four times.

Here’s a overview about the changes in numbers of deaths from 1967 until now:


photo: KBG

Some states changed their rules because Congress flip-flopped over whether or not they’d sanction states that didn’t require helmets. In 1995, Congress dropped the issue.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety looked for connections between motorcyclist deaths and state helmet laws between 2005 and 2013.

Overall results were promising. In 60 percent of states, the motorcyclist death rate dropped.

However, some individual state results were counterintuitive. Thirty states had loosened helmet restrictions. Just over half of these experienced a decrease in the number of motorcyclist deaths. Only about one-quarter of the states saw their fatalities increase.

California alone instituted tougher helmet regulations. Its death rate fell, as well.

It seems that relaxed helmet laws are not automatically linked to an increase in motorcyclist deaths. Unfortunately, research has not yet uncovered the reason for this surprising result.