Feds Say They Will Pressure States to Require Motorcycle Helmet Use

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal safety officials called on states Thursday to require all motorcycle riders to wear helmets, citing a surge in fatalities since the late 1990s.

Motorcycle deaths have increased over the last decade even as other traffic fatalities have declined, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

From the website jalopnik.com

There were 4,400 motorcycle deaths in the U.S. last year, more than in all aviation, rail, marine and pipeline accidents combined. That's nearly twice the fatalities a decade ago. Head injuries are the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes.

Board members said at a news conference they were elevating the helmet recommendation to their annual list of "most wanted" safety improvements to spotlight the issue and pressure governors and state legislatures to act.

"People have to get outraged about this safety issue that is causing so many deaths needlessly," NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart said.

Twenty states make all motorcycle riders wear helmets, the board said. Most states have limited helmet requirements, and three states — Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire — have no requirement.

Nearly all states had universal helmet laws when they were necessary for full federal highway funding. But in the mid-1990s Congress repealed the requirement, leaving the issue up to states to decide. As states began repealing or weakening helmet laws, fatalities rose.

The safety board can't force states to enact tougher helmet laws or offer money as an incentive. Its primary power is its bully pulpit.

Deborah Hersman, the safety board's chair, promised to keep pressure on states and, if that doesn't work, to seek help from Congress or the administration.

The call or tougher helmet laws comes after a new report showing the United States lagging behind nearly every other wealthy country in reducing traffic fatalities, despite bringing them down 9.7 percent last year to 33,808, the lowest number since 1950. In 2008, an estimated 37,423 people died on the highways, representing a yearly decline of 9.3 percent.

The dramatic declines were likely due to a sour economy as people drove less, rather than changing their behavior, the report by the Transportation Research Board said. Fatalities are likely to increase as the economy improves, researchers said.

Other countries are doing better. The U.S. had the lowest fatality rate in the world in the 1970s, but Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Norway, France and the United Kingdom have surpassed the United States.

While fatalities dropped 19 percent in the U.S. from 1995 to 2009, they dropped 52 percent in France and 38 percent in the United Kingdom. Rates fell 50 percent in 15 high-income countries with available traffic data.

"The United States can no longer claim to rank highly in road safety by world standards," the report said.

Fatalities have fallen in other nations partly through programs that sometimes generate opposition in the U.S such as speed cameras and speed measuring devices, sobriety checkpoints and mandatory motorcycle helmets. Thousands of lives could be saved if such programs were widely adopted in the U.S., the report said.

More frequent checkpoints nationwide to detect drunk drivers could save 1,500 to 3,000 lives annually, researchers estimated. Systematic speed control programs could save 1,000 to 2,000 lives, and mandatory helmet rules for motorcyclists could mean 450 less deaths a year. Another 1,200 deaths would be avoided if seat belt use rose to 90 percent from 85 percent.

"Where is the public outcry against these preventable deaths?" Hersman asked.

"Americans should strive for zero fatalities on the road. We should be leading, rather than following the international community when it comes to roadway design and safety measures," he said. "But it is a sad fact that the U.S. is in their rear view mirror and falling further behind the rest of the world when it comes to highway safety."

Clinton Oster, an environment and public policy professor at the Indiana University-Bloomington and chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said there was no "silver bullet" program that stood out.

"I think we need to be much more systematic in developing clear goals, measuring results and making that information public," Oster said. Other countries "work very hard to demonstrate these techniques actually do save lives."

Web Staff


  1. It appears to me that the increase in fatalities are due to the increase in high powered Japanese motorcycles that have been purchased. Plus their are a lot more riders in general, and many of them new to riding. Gas is quite costly, and this compels people to find a cheaper mode of transportation, and some learn to ride the hard way!
    Maybe the Federal Government shroud crack down on the sale of150 to 200 mph racing motorcycles that are imported into our nation. Maybe NAFTA isn't good for us after all, that's really not much of a question as far as I am concerned. Do the foreigners pay for the expense of injuries in our country? Probably not..The blame is pointed to the inexperienced operator, but a 150+ mph bikes have no place on our residential streets, and highways.
    The Government should worry about our borders, and the economy, and leave personal risk up to the individual…!!!!
    Wolfeman181/ never wears a helmet
    And surely will not buy a foreign Bike
    It's a Harley or nothing at all

  2. The subject of motorcycle helmet use is such a strange conundrum. Why some riders choose to ride without a helmet produces a wide variety of emotional responses and positions. In my mind, I can only think a rider who does not wear a helmet does not place much value on their head and its contents! The death of Indian Larry comes to mind… I wonder if he had the second chance to choose wearing a helmet over not wearing one, what his choice would be? Not too many riders ride standing on their seats, but if you do… I would suggest a helmet. Good thing they don’t have a right to choose helmet or no helmet in the NFL… head injuries are taking a toll on the players and they run much slower than a motorcycle. As far as educating motorists to be alert for motorcycles goes… that is needed, no doubt, but since the largest percentage of motorcycle crashes involve loss of control of the motorcycle as the cause… who really needs the most education? I understand that almost anything can happen at any time, but I also understand that I am responsible for the control of my motorcycle and that includes riding aware, within my limits for the conditions and using the proper safety equipment on my bike and myself.

  3. I wear a helmet when I ride, but I feel its the riders choice. Their reasoning Is a political agenda, not a safety issue. If they REALLY want to make the roads safer, ban all cell phone/handheld device in/on a motor vehicle. That way, when im wearing my helmet on my motorcycle in dont get took out by “Im way more important than you soccer mom in my minivan “. Besides…more government is the last thing we need. Im a grown man and I have a mother, I dont need a bunch of out-of-touch liberal @ssholes telling me how to live my life. my $.02

  4. We need to fight for the right to choose. I wear a helmet if i am riding on my bike, but when i am the passenger on my husband’s i do not. That is my choice. I like having a choice. We need to make sure that our legislation does what we elected them to do, protect our rights. Hopefully Arkansas voters elected biker friendly officials, it could make a difference.

  5. I always wear a helmet.They can save your life it did mine,I had a reck and if I would not have had my helmet on my brains would have been scattered all over the road.It coul be your choice to wear 1 or not but if set belts are mandatory in a car why shouldn’t helmets be mandatory on a motorcycle.

  6. Join ABATE. Write your state representatives and tell them to back off. Tell them that there are other ways of preventing motorcycle deaths like education for cagers. Tell them there are twice as many riders now than there were 10 years ago. They don’t even keep statistics as to whether a helmet would have made a difference in a fatality. Don’t just give up. We stopped it before and we can stop it again.

  7. Interesting that they don’t say how many of those deaths were a result of the motorcyclist’s error, or the fault lay with the actions of motorist in a car or truck. I find it hard to buy into any of these pushes for regulation changes when they never give you all of the facts except the ones supporting thier agenda. If only all the politicians would die from head injury. Perhaps we’d all be safer.

  8. “no silver bullet”??? did i read the same article? better detection of drunk and impaired drivers could save up to 3,000 lives. sounds like a pretty good bullet to me.

  9. Hmmmm…. In their infinite wisdom they realized motorcycle fatalities rose. Brilliant.
    Have they cross-checked the number of valid motorcycle licenses issued in the country compared to 10 years ago? No sh*t the number of fatalities rose. I don’t wear a helmet, but that is my choice. I believe it should be a responsible individuals right to choose whether or not to wear a lid, i don’t feel it necessary for them to force the issue. I’m a card carrying member of ABATE and will remain one my entire life… they are my voice in the legislative offices. Anybody who opposes this and isn’t a member should cough up the dues for a membership. $25 per year to count your voice when they fight attempts to pass laws like the one they are trying to impose.

  10. I wonder if in all their studies, did they state what kind of motorcycles the death rate rose? I wonder if they done studies on how many riders were speeding, and how the accident came about ? But I also wonder how many of other accidents were caused by CARS not looking or not caring about motorcycles? Yes I ride and YES I wear a helmet, but mainly because I live in a state/ common wealth that requires that I do. But that is not saying I would ride without one either. But I also think that, the FEDS should also STOP singling out motocycles for road checks! ! !

  11. Tired of the Gov. making rules for me to live by. Also tired of them stealing money from citizens. But what can you do, beside call em what they are,, criminals.. Now as far as the helmet law, I think that should be left up to the rider, not some suit in Washington. Or any other so called law maker.

  12. The feds and every other state government agencies that are pushing for helmet laws should actually be looking into EDUCATING MOTORISTS about Motorcycles on the roadways.Most motorists have no understanding or respect for a motorcycle.Motorists seem to think that us on bikes can stop on a dime,they seem to have lack of judgment when a motorcycle is approaching them etc.. Much more I could list on this but the main factor is lack of EDUCATING the motorists.Where or when have you seen in a drivers education coarse anything about wacthing for motorcycles? Seems it is always the biker from start to finish that gets the worst of it !!! Start Educating motorists on motorcycle saftey I am sure that would help reduce fatalities more than pushing helmut laws. For our Feds and our goverment your supposed to be so intelligent but have overlooked this known fact about motorists not knowing enough or anything about bikes on the roadways!!!

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