To wear a motorcycle helmet or not, that is the question. Currently, twenty states and the District of Columbia require the use of DOT approved helmets by motorcycle operators and their passengers while an additional 27 states have laws that regulate their use for portions of the motorcycle community such as operators under the age of 18. This leaves three states that leave the decision entirely up to each rider as to whether or not to wear a helmet while riding: Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire.
And while study after study has shown that wearing a helmet while operating a motor-driven cycle reduces the chance of suffering a serious brain injury or death during an accident, more and more riders are lobbying to have existing helmet laws repealed. It seems that states are listening. Saferoads.org reports that as helmet laws are being repealed, fewer riders are choosing to use them, reducing helmet use from 71% to 63% alone in 2008.
Many motorcyclists cite several reasons why helmet use should be a personal decision: from helmets causing broken necks to reduced visibility. The truth is that helmets save lives. The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety reports that while motorcycles only comprise 3% of all registered vehicles in the United States and a mere 0.4% of all miles traveled, they account for over 9% of traffic-related fatalities recorded each year. Of these, 63% of the fatalities occurred in states where helmet use was not mandated. And these statistics are rising every year. In fact, the NHTSA has reported that fatalities among motorcycle riders have gone up 127% since 1997.
If these statistics were enough to get your attention, you should also know that by wearing a motorcycle helmet each and every time you ride, you reduce your overall risk of dying in an accident by 37%. Additionally, the risk of suffering a debilitating brain injury is reduced by up to 67%. Not to mention, helmets make riding motorcycles more comfortable. How? By reducing eye irritation from wind, sun and by deflecting bugs and other debris as well as reducing the roar of the wind against your ears.
But the question remains, should the decision to wear a helmet by regulated by the state or left in the hands of riders? Ultimately, the responsibility to put a helmet on rests with each and every rider, regardless of the laws in place. Laws are intended to protect citizens from unnecessary injury or death. The NHTSA estimates that 1829 lives were saved in 2008 through the use of helmets, though an additional 823 lives could have been added to that list if helmets had been worn. While NHTSA does not differentiate between those who chose to not wear helmets in states where they are required and the fatalities that occurred in states where helmet use is not regulated, surveys have shown that in states where all-rider helmet laws are in place, there is a significant increase in the number of people who wear them due to the high rate of enforcement.