New Year’s Resolution Series – Wear a Helmet
Every year millions of Americans start off the New Year with resolutions for self-improvement or to help them to achieve goals. However, the vast majority of that resolve doesn’t last more than a few weeks. We at Ron Bell Law hope that our readers will take up the resolutions suggested in this series and stick with them throughout the year.
Over the next month, each of our blogs will target a suggested resolution for a safer, healthier and personal-injury-free 2018.
Resolve to Wear a Helmet
Helmet law is one of the most controversial issues faced by lawmakers when it comes to road safety. Regardless of how a person feels about motorcycle safety, however, the role that helmet wearing plays in decreasing the fatality of motorcycle accidents cannot be ignored.
In New Mexico, only teens 17 years and younger are required to wear a Department of Transportation-approved motorcycle helmet. Adults may choose to wear one or not.
The issue came up even as recently as 2015 when the Senate Public Affairs Committee discussed a mandatory helmet law that included a $692 registration fee to each motorcyclist who rides without a helmet. The politicians who voted against it cited freedom of choice as one reason for their stance.
One expert witness, Albuquerque physician Kurt Note, said New Mexico riders without helmets amassed costs of medical and emergency services and lost work productivity totaling up to $40 million a year.
Multiple studies back up this claim, though lawmakers couldn’t get behind the proposed law.
“I just get back to freedom of choice,” said Democratic Senator Bill O’Neil.
The law was voted down.
Helmet Safety and Personal Injury Law
Since no law exists requiring adults to wear a helmet, there are few legal implications. However, injury law is complex, and most people go to court to pursue compensation for injuries caused by someone else. If a motorcyclist becomes involved in an accident with a negligent driver, and a claim goes forward, it’s possible that the driver could argue that the fact that the motorcyclist was not wearing a helmet constituted “contributory negligence.” Not wearing a helmet then could reduce the amount of compensation the innocent motorcyclist might receive for his injuries.
But, of course, every case is different and as we said, can be complex.
A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a federal agency, found that helmets helped prevent 37-percent of fatalities.
“An effectiveness of 37 percent for motorcycle helmets suggests that an estimated 1,158 additional motorcyclists would have died were it not for the fact that they were wearing helmets,” the study said. “Had all motorcyclists consistently worn proper helmets, an additional 640 motorcyclists could have survived otherwise fatal crashes in 2003. Unfortunately, the potential lifesaving benefits of helmets are not being realized, as fatalities continue to rise in response to declining helmet usage rates.”
However, they also noted that not all fatalities from motorcyclists came from head-injuries.
“For example, if a helmet were absolutely certain to prevent a severe head injury, the rider could still die from other traumatic injuries suffered in a crash. Clearly, motorcycle helmets cannot prevent all fatal injuries,” they said.
Increased Health Costs When Not Wearing a Helmet
A 2013 report prepared by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) focused on over 40 years of mandatory motorcycle helmet laws in Michigan. In 2012, the state lowered the requirements to include only riders younger than 21. All others could ride without a helmet if they had their license for more than two years, had passed a motorcycle safety course, and carried a mandatory $20,000 medical coverage.
“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that helmets cut the risk of a motorcycle fatality by 37 percent, and IIHS and other safety groups predicted that deaths would increase in Michigan as a result of the change,” the IIHS report said.
A year later, researchers estimated 21-percent of motorcycle-related deaths would have been prevented had the law stayed in effect. They also found an increase in the severity of the injuries that were reported.
“Weakening the helmet law seems to have made it somewhat more likely that riders will sustain injuries, but the big impact has been on the seriousness of the injuries,” said David Zuby, chief research officer IIHS. “Helmets can’t protect against all injuries, but they do help prevent debilitating and often fatal head trauma.”
One of the reasons the New Mexico law failed to change in 2015 was that those opposed said wearing a helmet decreased visibility, hearing and overall safety for riders while riding.
“By that logic, the crash rate should drop when a helmet law is repealed. However, HLDI found that claim frequency under collision insurance, which covers crash damage to a motorcycle and is the coverage most likely to come into play after any crash, rose 12 percent.,” said the report. “Collision claim severity remained unchanged. The fact that the claim rate didn’t fall once helmets were no longer mandatory undercuts this particular argument.”
After Florida lawmakers modified a helmet law to require only those 21 years of age and younger to wear a helmet, one study found that the motorcyclist death rate rose 25-percent and the incidence of motorcyclists with head injuries who were admitted to hospitals rose 82-percent.
Wherever a person stands on the personal choice of wearing a helmet while riding, here at Ron Bell we urge everyone to consider the implications on their health, and on that of their family, friends, and other motorists when deciding whether to wear a helmet in 2018.