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Motorcycle Accidents Increase Following Helmet Law Repeal

22 September 2000


WASHINGTON, D.C.--Motorcycle deaths and injuries increased following the repeal of mandatory helmet laws in Texas and Arkansas, according to a new study by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

"Helmets help protect motorcycle riders from head injury in a crash, and this data demonstrates once again the effectiveness of motorcycle helmets," U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater said. "Helmet laws increase use of motorcycle helmets and thus improve safety, which is President Clinton and Vice President Gore's highest transportation priority."

The mandatory helmet law was repealed in Arkansas on Aug. 1, 1997, and Texas' law was rescinded on Sept. 1, 1997. Both states had helmet use rates of 97 percent before the laws were repealed. By May 1998, helmet use dropped to 52 percent in Arkansas, 66 percent in Texas.

"If you ride a motorcycle, here's some simple life-saving advice: Always wear protective gear, including a helmet," said NHTSA Administrator Sue Bailey, M.D.

In Arkansas, motorcycle fatalities rose 21 percent in the first full year following repeal, while deaths rose by 31 percent in Texas during the same time period.

In Arkansas, medical data show that the percentage of head injuries among injured motorcyclists rose from 18.5 percent from January to July 1996 (prior to helmet law repeal) to 31.6 percent for the same time period in 1998. In Texas, police data show that the total number of injured motorcycle riders increased slightly in 1998 compared to period from 1994 to 1996 while serious injuries declined during the same time period.

A 1991 U.S. General Accounting Office study concluded that "helmet use reduced fatality rates and reduced injury severity among survivors of motorcycle accidents."

Twenty states and the District of Columbia require helmets for all motorcycle riders; another 27 states require helmets under a specific age, usually 18.

A summary of the NHTSA helmet study is available on the agency's web site: