Helmet Safety Info


Can you trust what the Government tells you?
The NHTSA plays it fast and loose with the numbers

Here's some motorcycle safety information that the U.S. Government provided in it's 1996 NHTSA State Legislative Fact Sheet. Why the DOT is still issuing these "fact sheets" is a mystery since the U.S. Congress instructed DOT in 1994 to get out of this business.

Fact #1: In 1996, 2300 motorcyclists died and approximately 58,000 were injured in highway crashes in the US.

That's less than a 4% fatality rate as compared to injuries! Since some accidents result in no injuries at all, aren't we talking about a pretty small "problem" here?

Note that motorcycle fatalities are 0.46% of the annual death count (500,000, according to the CDC) resulting from cigarette smoking. And, as we all know, the Republican controlled U.S. Congress has decided that the dangers of cigarette smoking are not significant enough to warrant any additional action.

I would think that a motorcycle accident survival rate of 96% would be good news! What do you think the accident survival rate for white water rafting is? Probably less than 96%, huh? And as we all know, Governor Kitzhaber enjoys white water rafting without wearing a safety helmet and without wearing a flotation device (see State of Oregon phone book cover for proof).

Why is the U.S. Government spending all this time and money on such an insignificant issue?

Fact #2: Per mile travelled, a Motorcyclist is approximately 20 times more likely to die in a crash than is an automobile operator.

Where did this 20 X number come from? I asked the U.S. DOT about this and am still waiting for their answer.

The NHTSA loves to use percentages as "statistics". Why? Because they don't have to disclose the raw data behind those numbers. Otherwise, the NHTSA would have to determine how many miles each motorcycle in America travelled in 1995 (strange, I don't remembering anyone coming by to read my odometer) and then determine how many miles each automobile in America travelled. Next, they would need to..... seriously, folks; how much confidence do you have in this little tidbit of information?

An intelligent person might theorize that motorcycle accidents would be in relationship to a Riders skill and experience, but certainly not a function of number of miles travelled. I put about 20,000 miles per year on my motorcycle(s) and my last accident was in the 1970's. Just what is the significance of this "fact" anyway?

Fact #3: Head injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle accidents.

Again, what's the point to this fact? Few people die from broken fingernails, no matter what kind of an accident they are in. About half of motorcycle fatalities are caused by head injuries. The other half are due to chest and internal injuries. If you hit (or are hit by) something hard enough, you are going to get hurt. The object of the game, folks, is to avoid hitting anything.

Fact #4: An unhelmeted motorcyclists is 40% more likely to incur a fatal head injury and 15% more likely to incur a non-fatal head injury than a helmeted motorcyclist when involved in a crash.

Here begins NHTSA's major departure from fact. The actual data simply does not support that statement. In fact, the NHTSA has ignored repeated requests to provide the supporting data for their conclusions.

The fact is (per FARS data) that States that have mandatory helmet laws experience approximately the same fatality to accident rate (approximately 3 per 100 accidents) as States that do not have that law. In my State of Oregon, motorcyclist fatalities actually went up (4 per 100 accidents before, 7 per 100 accidents after) after the mandatory helmet law was instituted.

Let's create an example: suppose that I average one traffic ticket per year and my neighbor averages 10 tickets per year. Let's further assume that in 1995, I got 2 tickets and my neighbor got 9. My tickets for 1995 went up by 100% while my neighbors' went down by 10%. Who do you think is the better driver? See how the Government can "adjust" numbers to prove any point that they want to? This is why they don't want to disclose the data that they used to obtain these percentages. If they did, it would prove points that the Government doesn't want proven.

Fact #5: NHTSA estimates that motorcycle helmets reduce the liklihood of a fatality by 29% in a crash.

Really? In which crash? Where in the World did this "statistic" come from? One might be able to make the prediction that out of every 100 eggs hatched, 53% would be female and 47% would be male, but this NHTSA statement is completely beyond anything known to science. But because it is a Government agency spewing out this malarkey, we're supposed to accept it on faith?

Listen folks...every crash is different. If I fall off my motorcyle onto a pile of pillows, there is a 0% liklihood that I will be fatally injured. If a dump truck pulls in front of me when I am travelling at 60 MPH and I hit it, there is a 100% liklihood that I will be fatally injured.

Again, NHTSA just doesn't get it.. motorcycle helmets have a negligable effect during a collision. It's the circumstances of the crash and how the Rider handles his bike during this critical time that determines whether there is a fatality or not.

In some cases, it just doesn't make any difference. The seasoned Motorcyclist (decades of experience, AMA Member, not speeding, not drinking, ahd the right of way) who was killed by Tennessee Senator Koella during a DUI hit and run this year would have been just as dead if he was wearing a suit of armor. How do real life case examples like this factor into NHTSA's pulled out of the wind 29% "liklihood" figures?

Fact 6 & 7 intentionally skipped due to the requirement for more research.

Fact #8: A study conducted at the University of Southern California, which analyzed 3,600 traffic crash reports covering motorcycle crashes, concluded that helmet use was the single most important factor governing survival in motorcycle crashes.

This is the well known 1970's USC Hurt report. The complete report is available elsewhere on this site, and the study didn't exactly state what NHTSA claims.

The Hurt report found that motorcycle accidents fell into two major categories. First, accidents that were caused when a Motorist invaded the Motorcyclist's right of way. Second were single vehicle accidents where the Riders inexperience was the cause...generally due to improper steering in curves or improper use of brakes.

At 3,600 accidents studied (1/16th of all of the accidents in the U.S. for one year) this sample is too small to be meaningful as far as crash data is concerned. Moreover, since the 1970's, motorcycles have become better and safer, Rider training and licensing has improved and Motorcyclists have become more sophisticated. With all of the time and money NHTSA spends on trying to force Motorcyclists to wear helmets, you think they'd at least spring for a new study once in a while!

Fact #9: From 1984 through 1994, it is estimated that helmets saved the lives of more than 6,995 Motorcyclists. If all motorcycle operators and passengers had worn helmets during those years, it is estimated that approximately 6,010 additional lives would have been saved.

WHO estimated these figures and based on WHAT? Sorry...NHTSA won't tell you. I wonder what their estimate is for the number of Motorcyclists who were killed or paralyzed as a result of wearing a helmet! Where's those numbers, Bunky?

Once more with feeling: Each motorcycle accident has to be examined individally to make that kind of a determination. By NHTSA's own admission, no such examination has ever been done (or at least released) by them. The FARS statistics, the raw data that NHTSA and others use to come up with these "percentages" shows a much different picture from the one NHTSA portrays. Training, experience, skill and sober riding saves lives in motorcycle accidents...not helmets.

Fact #10: A recent study conducted by the National Public Services Research Institute concluded that wearing motorcycle helmets does not restrict a rider's ability to hear auditory signals or see a vehicle in an adjacent lane.

I love this one! The best phoney-baloney "facts" you can buy with a $10 Million grant! Anyone who's worn a helmet for more than 5 seconds knows that this "study finding" is pure crappola! See our challange to Law Makers elsewhere on this site for the real story!

Fact #11: All motorcycle helmets sold in the U.S. are required to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218, the performance standard which establishes the minimum level of protection helmets must afford each user.

Odd.... I wonder why Oregon State and Local Police Officers have been stopping and ticketing Motorcycle Riders who have DOT approved helmets for helmet violations? This situation has gotten so bad that ABATE of Oregon has had to take legal action to have this civil rights violation abated. See link elsewhere on this site for particulars.

As recently as March 26, 1997, Corvallis Police Officer Claxton stopped and ticketed a Rider with a DOT approved helmet for wearing a helmet that "did not meet federal standards". How the Officer was given the insight to know more than the DOT in this matter was unclear. However, the Officer would not let the Motorcyclist procede without first obtaining a "legal" helmet. OSP has gone so far as to impound DOT approved helmets for the same reason, effectively leaving the Motorcyclist stranded. This behavior strikes me as a bit beyond the protect and serve charter that most PDs [are supposed to] operate under. Naturally, the Police Officers were just having a good laugh for themselves at our expense.. but this kind of harrassment would be impossible if there were no mandatory helmet law.

Fact #12: Helmet use laws governing all motorcycle occupants significantly increase helmet use and are easily enforced because of the occupant's high visibility. In NHTSA's latest survey, helmet use was reported to be essentially 100% at sites with helmet use laws as compared to 34 to 54% at sites with no helmet use laws or laws limited to minors.

Yes, there is certainly no denying that Government Thugs are indeed able to obtain "voluntary" compliance in these cases. As Citizens, we are pleased that all of the violent crime has been erradicated from our Counry and that all the Police have to do these days is make sure that none of us poor, defensless Motorcyclists fall on our heads and go boom!

Fact #13: Data on crashes in States where only minors are required to wear helmets show that fewer than 40% of the fatally injured minors are wearing helmets even though the law requires them to do so. Helmet laws that govern only minors are extremely difficult to enforce.

Without meaning to do so, the NHTSA is making our point for us - motorcycle helmets do not save lives! 40% of fatally injured Motorcyclists were wearing helmets and the helmets did not save their lives! Who knows whether the other 60% would have survived had they been wearing a helmet. Since NHTSA deals in percentages and estimates (rather than raw numbers and facts) there is no way to know.

The U.S. Government has certainly been selective about it's concern for children over the years. For example, the Government thought nothing of drafting Teenagers to be killed in Vietnam but then spends Millions to make sure that they don't get a bump on the head while riding their motorcycle! Interesting priorities..

Fact #14: In 1976, The Highway Safety Act was amended to remove sanctions against states without motorcycle helmet laws. Between 1976 and 1980, State laws requiring helmet use were weakened or repealed in 27 States. Comparing 1980 to 1975, the year before the repeals began, motorcycle fatalities increased 61% while motorcycle registrations increased only 15%.

Here's a graphic example of NHTSA manufactured "facts". Which States weakened or repealed their helmet laws between 1976 and 1980? In which States did the fatality rate increase and by how many riders per accident? The NHTSA refuses to say (probably because they don't know themselves)!

Once more with gusto ---- each motorcycle accident must be looked at individually to determine the causes and to determine what, if anything could be done to minimize injuries.

Motorcycle fatalities across the U.S. have remained fairly constant at 2,000 to 2,500 for many decades. Because of this, I have serious doubts with regard to the validity of NHTSA's 61% fatality increase statement. Once again, NHTSA refuses to site actual States, years and numbers of cyclists data to support their claims. Would you buy a used car from a Salesman who was this vague?

Fact #15: Caution must be employed when comparing States to each other with crash statistics. States differ in their propensities for motorcycle fatalities. The most accurate method of evaluating the impact of safety measures is to compare the State's crash experience against itself.

Yes, NHTSA loves it when you do this because then their filtered and biased "estimates" and "percentages" seem to take on the mantle of validity. I find it odd that NHTSA didn't follow thie own recommendation when publishing Fact #14!

Does this mean that I am less likely to be involved in a fatal accident in some States as compared to others? If this is true, why hasn't NHTSA published a list of the more dangerous States to travel in so that I will be sure to stay away from them? In fact, this whole NHTSA fact sheet and the numbers they site is nothing more than smoke and mirrors! Each accident must be looked at individually to determine what, if anything, might have been done to reduce the severity of the injuries sustained.

Fact #16: Reported helmet use rates for fatally injured motorcyclists in 1995 were 55% and 42% for passengers, compared with 54% and 49%, respectively in 1994.

So.... over 50% of fatally injured motorcyclists were wearing helmets and still died! That doesn't sound like a very laudable statistic to me. And once again, what were the circumstances of the remaining < 50% motorcylist fatalities? What makes NHTSA think that wearing a helmet would have saved even one of those lives? Additionally, NHTSA does not say how many helmeted riders wound up in wheelchairs after their accident because of a broken neck that the helmet caused.

Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones, the Policeman called! I have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is that your Son Joey was run over by a steamroller and crushed to death. The good news is that he had his safety helmet on. Yeah..... the whole thing sounds stupid to us too. Do you know that some moronic jurusdictions are trying to institute mandatory seatbelt use for motorcyclists? I'm sure the NHTSA will be able to pony up plenty more "29% of motorcycle fatalities could have been prevented if" when this push goes into second gear...

Now do you understand why we say "let those who ride, decide"?

-- Eayrider (tm)


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Last modified May 8,1997
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