More than 12 motorcycle riders die in crashes every day, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent federal agency that exists to determine the likely cause of transportation accidents and promote transportation safety.
NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart said that head injuries are the leading cause of death in motorcycle accidents. However, less than half of the states require motorcyclists to wear helmets while riding. In response, the NTSB is urging all states to enact mandatory helmet laws for all motorcyclists.
The District of Columbia and 47 states have motorcycle helmet laws, but only 20 states require helmets for all riders. The 27 other states require helmets for only some riders, usually people under 18 years old, reported the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire have no helmet laws whatsoever.
Statistics reflect the increased danger faced by motorcyclists. Hart said that while motorcycles comprise just 3 percent of the vehicles on the nation's roads, motorcyclists account for 13 percent of the fatalities.
Hart also stressed the importance of wearing proper helmets. He stated that novelty helmets worn by some riders come off more easily in motorcycle crashes, and they have less padding and protection against impact and penetration. Hart said that, in contrast, helmets that meet federal U.S. Department of Transportation regulations are 37 percent effective in preventing motorcycle fatalities.
USA Today reported that the number of annual motorcycle deaths increased steadily from 2000 to 2008, even as almost every other category of traffic fatality decreased. However, in 2009, the number of motorcycle fatalities suddenly dropped.
The GHSA Chairman, Vernon Betkey, attributes the reversing of the trend to the weakened economy. He said that less disposable income translates to fewer leisure rides for motorcyclists and, therefore, less exposure. Betkey also suspects that the fad of inexperienced baby boomers buying motorcycles may have subsided in the economic downturn, resulting in fewer accidents involving novice riders.