According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the statistics are clear. If you're a motorcyclist, the single most effective way to avoid getting seriously injured or killed in an accident is to wear a helmet. Indeed, making sure every rider wears a helmet on every ride is the CDC's top priority for motorcycle safety, and one way that has been accomplished is through the passage of helmet laws.
Here in New Jersey, motorcyclists of all ages are required to wear helmets. Our helmet law was passed in 1968 -- isn't that enough?
Perhaps not. Laws and law enforcement can only go so far in changing behavior. Riders still go without helmets, and the rate varies by state. Using statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration, the CDC ranks states in terms of how many lives and economic costs are saved each year by helmet use. New Jersey ranks No. 30 -- below average.
Still, having a universal (all ages) helmet law has been demonstrated through clear, substantial evidence to be the most effective way to cut down on the number of bikers who end up injured or killed. Surprisingly, the same cannot be said of having "partial helmet laws" -- those applying only to younger riders. The CDC has observed two important trends when it comes to universal helmet laws:
- When they're enacted, the percentage of people wearing helmets increases dramatically, and this demonstrably results in fewer fatal motorcycle wrecks.
- When a state repeals its universal helmet law, the number of fatalities goes up.
Is wearing a helmet really that effective in reducing catastrophic injuries or death?
Yes. According to the CDC, motorcycle helmets:
- Decrease riders' risk of death by 37 percent
- Decrease riders' risk of a head injury by 69 percent
- Saved around $3 billion in economic damages in just one year (2010)
- Don't impair the rider's visibility or hearing
The agency also notes that, while helmet use has been statistically proven to be effective at reducing injuries and deaths, the same cannot be said of motorcycle safety education. The benefits of those classes are unclear.
If there's one thing New Jersey could do to limit the damage from motorcycle wrecks, it's to pull together. If you're a rider, wear your helmet and encourage others to do so. You could save a life.