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Helmet Laws

January 21, 2013

In November 2012, word hit the TV news that I was planning to sponsor a mandatory helmet law for motorcyclist on public roads in Utah. My primary concern is that after helmet-less crash, the dependents of the motorcycle driver — whether they live or die — are very likely to end up on Medicaid and other forms of government assistance. When you remove a bread-winner from a family, most families will qualify under the new, expanded income standard. Once that happens, the state is forced to pay its portion—which right now is 30 percent.

No Helmet = Medicaid Expansion

A lot of people have asked me why I don’t try to change ObamaCare, or make it so that people who crash without a helmet cannot qualify for government assistance. Utah law is trumped by federal law. Federal law requires emergency rooms to treat anyone who life threatening injuries. In addition, federal law qualifies anyone for Medicaid that meets the federal poverty guidelines.

Once that occurs, the taxpayers of Utah are on the hook for 30% of the medical bills. The spouse and children of the rider may also eventually end up on government assistance due to the loss of the rider’s income. We can’t turn those innocent people away from food stamps, school lunches, CHIP, etc. based on someone else’s negligence.

Every dollar we spend as a state on Medicaid, food stamps, school lunches, etc. for a family member of a crash victim is money that can’t be spent on education and transportation. The state has imposed a seat-belt safety standard on motorists, but exempted motorcyclists—which makes little sense. I am all for personal liberty, but at the same time don’t want to pay higher taxes to help raise crash victim’s families. Unfortunately, that is the new Washington D.C. normal.

Requiring motorcyclist to wear helmets might cramp their style, but it’s a small price to pay for saving lives and preventing injuries. The statistics speak for themselves. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

  • Motorcyclist are 32 times more likely to die in a crash than someone riding in an automobile.
  • Helmets reduce the likelihood of a fatality by 37%. Bikers without helmets are three times more likely to suffer brain injuries than are those with helmets.
  • Since Florida weakened its helmet law in 2000, the motorcycle death rate there has increased by 25%. Meanwhile, states with helmet laws have seen significant reductions in fatalities.
  • From 1984 through 2003, helmets are estimated to have saved the lives of almost 15,000 motorcyclists.
  • Helmet use saved $19.5 billion in economic costs from 1984 through 2002; an additional $14.8 billion would have been saved had all motorcyclists had worn helmets.


And the following information is taken from the Insurance institute for Highway Safety:

-NHTSA estimates that per mile traveled, the number of deaths on motorcycles in 2009 was about 25 times the number in cars.

-NHTSA estimates that helmets reduce the likelihood of death by 37 percent. Another study found a 39 percent reduction in the risk of death after adjusting for age, gender and seat position.

Helmets prevent brain injuries, which often require extensive treatment and may result in lifelong disability. In the event of a crash, unhelmeted motorcyclists are 3 times more likely than helmeted riders to suffer traumatic brain injuries. A recent literature review estimated that helmets reduce the risk of head injuries by 69 percent. A review of 25 studies of the costs of injuries from motorcycle crashes reported that helmet use reduced the cost of medical treatment, length of hospital stay and probability of long-term disability for riders injured in a crash. Who pays for injured riders’ medical care? About half of injured riders have private health insurance. For the rest, most of the medical costs are paid by the government (i.e. you the taxpayer).

Some have asked me if mandatory helmet laws are Constitutional. Well, at least 19 other states have them and courts have repeatedly upheld motorcycle helmet use laws under the U.S. Constitution. In 1972, a federal court told a motorcyclist who objected to the law: “The public has an interest in minimizing the resources directly involved. From the moment of injury, society picks the person up off the highway; delivers him to a municipal hospital and municipal doctors; provides him with unemployment compensation if, after recovery, he cannot replace his lost job; and, if the injury causes permanent disability, may assume responsibility for his and his family’s subsistence. We do not understand a state of mind that permits plaintiff to think that only he himself is concerned.” The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this decision without even hearing arguments in the case.

After California introduced a helmet use law in 1992, studies showed a decline in health care costs associated with head-injured motorcyclists. The rate of motorcyclists hospitalized for head injuries decreased by 48 percent in 1993 compared with 1991, and total costs for patients with head injuries decreased by $20.5 million. The CDC reports that studies show that medical treatment for 25-50% of such motorcycle injuries are paid for with public monies. For example, in 1991, before enacting its helmet law, California’s state medical insurance program paid $40 million for the treatment of motorcycle-related head injuries. That figure dropped to $24 million after enactment of a universal helmet law. That’s a lot of money, and that’s just one state.

It’s not just the money, either. After Pennsylvania repealed its motorcycle helmet law in 2003, helmet use among riders in crashes decreased from 82% to 58%. Head injury deaths increased 66%; nonhead injury deaths increased 25%. Motorcycle-related head injury hospitalizations increased 78% compared with 28% for nonhead injury hospitalizations. (From the American Journal of Public Health, the National Highway Travel Safety Administration and the CDC (federal Center for Disease Control)).

Here are some comments I have received from people in Utah:

We are co-member of the United States Motorcycle Manufacturers Association with Harley-Davidson. If you do a Google search you will see I’m an accomplished Racer (winning national off-road championships) You could say I’m somewhat qualified to talk about helmet use. I started my carrier in 1966 with Yamaha. Over the years I have had many accidents in which I believe the Helmet has saved my life or kept me somewhat sane…. The Motorcycle Industry for the most part is for mandatory Helmet Laws. My European friends in the Motorcycle Industry are amused on how dumb we are in the USA by not imposing helmet laws. I hate to have wives bring in the bikes that their husband died on wanting us to help sell the bikes. And then there the one call does all lawyers…… (the scum of their profession) Were tired of being sued for someone’s stupidity.

This is all about saving the tax payers 3 billion annually. As Honda says Stupid Hurts, so why do we continue to be stupid. Being in the industry for all these years and then listening to these anti helmet people groups drives me crazy…. Their claims are a joke for the most part are nonsensical. I’m for personal freedom too, however, I don’t want to pay for some idiot.


The fact of the matter is that any mature experienced motorcyclist knows that you cannot ride a motorcycle above 30 mph without being a hazard to yourself, other pedestrians and vehicle owners. Put simply – once you get to over 30 mph you eyes stream up, your visibility diminishes and it makes your head and face vulnerable to debris meaning bees, stones, chips and whatever else is thrown up from the road. Medically, your reaction to debris to the face is involuntary and thus chaotic and unpredictable is its consequences and consequently you are a hazard to fellow motorists.


My daughter was injured in an ATV accident in 2008. She was not wearing a helmet. I am a huge helmet supporter. I truly believe if there was a helmet law in place she would of had one on.

I watched the news story tonight on the helmet law you are trying to get passed. When the opposition says “it is my head and my right to not wear a helmet” is wrong. If we decided that seat belts save life’s then why can’t the government say that a helmet law will save life’s

I can tell you firsthand how expensive a traumatic brain injury can be. I can also tell you that if a motorcycle rider receives a brain injury, even with medical insurance, if their injuries are bad enough, they will go on Medicare and SSDI. That will affect all tax payers. If anyone says “oh, it’s my choice to not wear a helmet and if I get hurt I won’t ask for any government assistance is an out and out liar. What people don’t understand is that it isn’t just their choice. My daughter didn’t call me before getting on the four-wheeler and say “mom, if I get hurt will you give up everything to take care of me”. Do the people in their life’s get any choice about how their life’s will change because of their injury?

Just wanted to give you the view of someone that has had to watch the most amazing persons life completely change because of the decision not to wear a helmet. If I can help in any way, please let me know. I fully support you!


I find it odd that people who want to ride recklessly claim a “freedom” argument, never acknowledging that their freedoms are limited by what can harm others. This is basic civics, so obvious that it is stunning that anyone ever needs to point this out to anyone. It is weird that no one makes the case for crashes completely avoided (thus not counted in statistics) because of the protection of a full face visor. We don’t allow car drivers to drive without windshields.

As a former taxi driver, tow truck driver, and officer responsible for the safety of a mobile communications squadron, I say kudos to you for this one sensible thing. Most folks are terrible at assessing risk in daily life, and even those who actively manage risk can have a hard time doing it well.

I hope your colleagues are sensible enough to proceed, as it is clearly a positive, good change for our state. Though I have no statistics to prove it, but logic would suggest that those against safety aren’t the kind of people responsible enough to vote in elections, so the senators should have no fear of ballot box reprisals.

I urge you to make sure the bill requires full face helmets, and forbids the less safe open face helmets. Reckless riders claim they get in the way of hearing, and thus supposedly reduce safety. But hearing is not a reliable way to maintain safety, only vision is, and only full face helmets provide vision protection. This is why deaf drivers who can see just fine are allowed to drive.


From → 2012 Interim

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