The Missouri Legislature is once again considering a repeal of the state’s all-rider motorcycle helmet law. Proponents of this imprudent action have been known to use the justification, “Let those who ride decide,” and seem willing to accept that crash casualties and massive financial costs will be incurred. Yet, the impact of this decision will be felt well beyond the riders themselves. Families, communities, first responders, hospitals, other road users, and all taxpayers will be forced to deal with the emotional and financial consequences for years to come. Our response to the all-rider motorcycle helmet repeal effort and the provision in SB 686 to do so is, “Let all those who pay have a say.”
Traffic safety on Missouri roads needs to improve, not worsen. According to the most recent information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), traffic crashes killed 921 people on state roads in 2018, marking the third consecutive year that fatalities were above 900. Twelve percent of fatalities were motorcyclists, totaling 113 riders in 2018. Clearly, motorcyclist safety is a problem that would worsen if the legislature dismantles a law that has been saving lives, mitigating injuries, and saving taxpayers money for over 52 years.
Motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69 percent and lower the risk of death by 42 percent. In 2018, there were nine times as many unhelmeted fatalities in states without a universal helmet law compared to states with a universal helmet law (1,670 vs. 177) (NHTSA). According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets are the only strategy proved to be effective in reducing motorcyclist fatalities.” After Michigan weakened its all-rider helmet law in 2012, the percentage of non-helmeted crash scene fatalities quadrupled, and motorcyclist trauma patients who were hospitalized with a head injury rose 14 percent.
NHTSA also finds that motorcycle riders are 27 times more likely to die in a crash than people riding in passenger cars, making these vehicles the most hazardous form of motor vehicle transportation. Nearly 5,000 riders were killed in 2018 alone. Conversely, the agency estimates that helmets saved nearly 2,000 lives in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, and predicts an additional 749 lives could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets nationwide.
Similarly, the economic costs of motorcycle crashes total a staggering $12.9 billion while helmet use saves $2.7 billion annually (NHTSA). In states with an all-rider helmet law, use of a helmet resulted in economic savings to society of $725 per registered motorcycle, compared with $198 per registered motorcycle in states without such a law. In Missouri, helmets protected the lives of 60 riders in 2017 alone, saving more than $625 million in comprehensive costs resulting from motorcycle crashes (NHTSA).
Vocal opposition to requiring helmet use by a small minority should not overshadow broad public support for all-rider helmet laws which has been enduring and consistent. The American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation Traffic Safety Culture Index found that more than 4 in 5 Americans (82 percent) support a law requiring all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet.
We urge the Missouri Legislature to listen to the will of the public and reject this latest attempt at repealing the lifesaving all-rider helmet law. This misguided effort defies commonsense and will doubtlessly increase the price that we all have to pay.
Douglas J. E Schuerer, MD FACS, State Chair
American College of Surgeons Missouri Committee on Trauma
Andrew Warlen, President
Missouri Public Health Association
Missouri Emergency Nurses Association
Catherine Chase, President
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
Dan Petterson, Ed. D., President
Skilled Motorcyclist Association – Responsible, Trained and Educated Riders, Inc. (SMARTER),
Kelly Nantel, Vice President, Roadway Practice
National Safety Council