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Universal Motorcycle Helmet Laws Save Lives, Money
Universal helmet laws—laws that require all riders to wear helmets—save lives and reduce injuries. A systematic review of evidence from 69 studies found universal helmet laws were substantially more effective in saving lives and reducing injuries than no law or partial helmet laws, which only apply to riders who are young, novice, or have medical insurance coverage below certain thresholds. Universal helmet laws also help avert millions of dollars each year in healthcare costs alone, according to a separate systematic economic review of evidence from 22 studies.
The Community Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force)—an independent, nonfederal, unpaid panel of public health and prevention experts—recommends universal helmet laws to increase helmet use and reduce motorcycle-related deaths and injuries based on strong evidence of effectiveness.
Researchers examined evidence from the United States and other high-income countries and found that implementation of universal laws in place of partial helmet laws or no law led to substantial increases in helmet use and decreases in motorcycle-related deaths and injuries. When universal helmet laws were repealed and replaced with partial laws or no law, the opposite effects were seen; helmet use decreased substantially and motorcycle-related deaths and injuries increased.
All partial helmet laws in the United States include young riders, so helmet use among youth might be expected to be the same in states with partial and universal helmet laws. The evidence showed, however, that universal helmet laws were much more effective than partial laws in increasing helmet use and reducing deaths and head injuries among these younger riders.
Economic evidence showed that universal motorcycle helmet laws produce substantial economic benefits that greatly exceed costs. Most of the benefits came from averted healthcare costs and productivity losses.
These effectiveness and economic reviews were conducted—with oversight from the Task Force—by scientists and subject matter experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in collaboration with a wide range of government, academic, policy, and practice-based partners.
Peer-reviewed articles of the systematic reviews are not yet published; however, a summary of the findings and supporting materials are available on The Community Guide website.
Why is the Task Force recommendation important?
In the United States, motorcycles account for about 3% of registered vehicles, 0.6% of vehicle miles traveled, and a disproportionate 14% of all road traffic fatalities (DOT, 2013). While rates of motor vehicle-related deaths and injuries have been declining, rates of motorcycle-related deaths and injuries have been going up.
What are the Task Force and The Community Guide?
- The Community Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force) is an independent, nonfederal, unpaid panel of public health and prevention experts. The Task Force works to improve the health of all Americans by providing evidence-based recommendations about community preventive programs, services, and policies to improve health. Its members represent a broad range of research, practice, and policy expertise in community prevention services, public health, health promotion, and disease prevention.
- The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide) is a collection of all the evidence-based findings and recommendations of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and is available online at www.thecommunityguide.org.
For More Information
The Community Guide
- Motor Vehicle-Related Injury Prevention: Use of Motorcycle Helmets
- What Works Fact Sheet: Motor Vehicle-Related Injury Prevention [PDF - 921 kB]
- CDC, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Motor Vehicle Safety
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
DOT. Traffic Safety Facts 2011 Data: Motorcycles. (Report No. DOT HS 811 765). 2013 Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Available at URL: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811765.pdf [PDF - 1.7 MB].