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What are universal motorcycle helmet laws?

Universal motorcycle helmet laws require that all motorcycle riders, both operators and passengers, wear helmets on public roads. The purpose of these state laws is to increase the use of helmets by motorcycle riders. Evidence shows that these laws are associated with higher rates of helmet use and lower rates of motorcycle-related deaths and injuries.[1-6] In May 2018, universal motorcycle laws are in place in 19 states and the District of Columbia. There are also partial laws (e.g., helmet requirements only for riders under specific ages and/or cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc) in 28 states, and no motorcycle helmet laws in three states.[7]

What’s the public health issue?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tracks fatal injuries suffered in motor vehicle traffic crashes.

In the United States, motorcycles account for three percent of registered vehicles and only 0.6 percent of vehicle miles traveled.[8] Yet, according to NHTSA, motorcyclists accounted for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2016 and 17 percent of all occupant (both driver and passenger) fatalities.[8]

NHTSA also found that traffic crashes in 2016 resulted in motorcyclist fatalities 28 times more frequently than passenger car occupant fatalities per vehicle mile traveled.[8] Unfortunately, the number of deaths continues to increase. Data from NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System show that motorcycle related deaths increased by 82 percent from 2000 to 2016.[9]

NHTSA estimates that $9.2 billion in comprehensive costs could have been saved in 2016 alone if all motorcycle riders wore helmets.[10] When helmet laws are repealed, motorcycle fatalities and head injuries rise.[1,11] Debilitating injuries and deaths from motorcycle crashes are costly, but preventable.[12]

What is the evidence of health impact and cost effectiveness?

When motorcyclists and their passengers wear helmets, the risk of death is reduced by 37 percent [10] and the risk of head injury by 69 percent. [2,13] Helmets are the most effective motorcycle safety measure shown to save lives in crashes, and the universal helmet law (one that covers all motorcycle operators and passengers has been shown to be the best way to ensure helmet use.[13, 14] Helmet laws work to save lives. Following implementation of the law, helmet use typically climbs immediately to more than 90 percent from 50 percent or less.[13] In 2004, Louisiana reinstated a universal helmet law. After the law passed:

  • Motorcycle crash victims were 11.7 times more likely to wear a helmet.
  • Fatalities were 30 percent less likely.
  • Severe and moderate injuries also decreased.[6]

According to a NHTSA report, helmets saved an estimated 1,859 lives and more than $3 billion in economic costs and $21 billion in comprehensive costs in 2016. [10] Economic costs were defined as tangible losses resulting from crashes, including medical care, lost productivity, legal and court costs, insurance costs, work place costs, and property damage. Comprehensive costs included economic costs as well as the estimated costs associated with lost quality of life.[15] NHTSA first published these findings in a report, “The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2010[11] and later provided updated methods for calculating the estimates in a research note in 2015.[15]

Current map of motorcycle helmet laws by state: [7]

Current map of motorcycle helmet laws by state

For questions or additional information, email healthpolicynews@cdc.gov.

  1. Peng Y, Vaidya N, Finnie R, et al. Universal motorcycle helmet laws to reduce injuries: A community guide systematic review. American journal of preventive medicine. 2017;52(6):820-832.
  2. Derrick, A.J. and L.D. Faucher, Motorcycle helmets and rider safety: a legislative crisis. J Public Health Policy, 2009. 30(2): p. 226-42. doi: 10.1057/jphp.2009.11
  3. Muelleman, R.L., E.J. Mlinek, and P.E. Collicott, Motorcycle crash injuries and costs: effect of a reenacted comprehensive helmet use law. Ann Emerg Med, 1992. 21(3): p. 266-72.
  4. Auman, K.M., et al., Autopsy study of motorcyclist fatalities: the effect of the 1992 Maryland motorcycle helmet use law. Am J Public Health, 2002. 92(8): p. 1352-5.
  5. Rowland, J., et al., Motorcycle helmet use and injury outcome and hospitalization costs from crashes in Washington State. Am J Public Health, 1996. 86(1): p. 41-5.
  6. Gilbert, H., et al., Evaluation of the Reinstatement of the Universal Motorcycle Helmet Law in Louisiana, U. S. Department of Transportation, Editor. 2008. Available from: Evaluation of the Reinstatement of the Universal Motorcycle Helmet Law in LouisianaCdc-pdfExternal
  7. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Highway Loss Data Institute. Motorcycle helmet use. 2018; Available at: Motorcycle Helmet UseExternal. Accessed June 13 2018.
  8. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration National Center for Statistics and Analysis. Traffic safety facts 2016: Motorcycles. In: U.S. Department of Transportation, ed. nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov2018.
  9. Administration NHTS. Fatality analysis reporting system (fars) encyclopedia. 2018;  Available at: Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) EncyclopediaExternal Accessed June 13 2018.
  10. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration National Center for Statistics and Analysis. Traffic safety facts: Lives and costs saved by motorcycle helmets, 2016. In: U.S. Department of Transportation TSA, ed. nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov2018.
  11. Blincoe, L.J., et al., The economic and societal impact of motor vehicle crashes, 2010. (Revised), Editor. 2015, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Washington D.C.
  12. Eastridge, B.J., et al., Economic impact of motorcycle helmets: from impact to discharge. Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, 2006. 60(5): p. 978-984.
  13. Goodwin, A., Thomas, L., Kirley, B., Hall, W., O’Brien, N., & Hill, K., Countermeasures that work: A highway safety countermeasures guide for State Highway Safety Offices, Eighth Edition, Editor. 2015, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Washington, DC. Available from: Countermeasures that work: A highway safety countermeasures guide for State Highway Safety Offices, Eighth EditionCdc-pdfExternal
  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Motorcycle Safety: How to Save Lives and Money, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, Editor. 2012. Available from: Motorcycle Safety: How to Save Lives and MoneyCdc-pdf
  15. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts: Estimating Lives and Costs Saved by Motorcycle Helmets With Updated Economic Cost Information, U.S. Department of Transportation, Editor. 2015. Available from: Traffic Safety Facts: Estimating Lives and Costs Saved by Motorcycle Helmets With Updated Economic Cost InformationCdc-pdfExternal
  16. Liu, B.C., et al., Helmets for preventing injury in motorcycle riders. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2008(1): p. CD004333. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004333.pub3