Increase in Morbidity and Mortality Rates Among Motorcycle Riders After Repeal of Universal Helmet Laws in Florida—Should Universal Helmet Laws be Reinstated?

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In July 2000 Florida modified its universal helmet laws maintaining them for those younger than 21 years old.  Beyond this age helmet use is not required as long as the individual has medical insurance of $10,000. This change in state law was seen as a victory for individual rights by biker organizations who had lobbied the Florida legislature for a repeal of laws mandating helmet use. Within the first year there was a 21.3% increase in the number of motorcycle deaths and a 67% increase between 2000 and 2004.

Am J Public Health. 2004 April; 94(4): 556–558.

The non-helmeted fatality rate per 100,000 registered motorcyclists rocketed from 0.7 in 1998 to 6.1 in 2002.  Between 1999 and 2002 there was a 42.5% increase in the hospitalization costs per motorcycle injury.  The cost for hospital care grew from $21 million to $44 million in the first thirty months after repeal.  Helmet use declined from virtually 100% in 1999 to almost 50% after repeal of helmet laws. Head injury costs to treat injured motorcyclists increased by more than 100% by 2002.  What is striking is that fewer than 25% of the hospitalizations for traumatic brain injury resulting from unhelmeted motorcycle accidents cost less than $10,000 and 20% of the motorcyclists had to have their bills covered by charitable organizations and Medicaid.  The public policy issue in this case is whether the fact that helmet use saves lives (and money) carries more weight for our society and legislature than the concept of individual rights.  In view of the data compiled in the myriad of studies done thus far it is clear that the state legislature of Florida should require helmet use for all motorcyclists and reinstitute a universal helmet law.


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4 Responses to “Increase in Morbidity and Mortality Rates Among Motorcycle Riders After Repeal of Universal Helmet Laws in Florida—Should Universal Helmet Laws be Reinstated?”

  1. bhavmod Says:

    This is interesting case between ‘Individual Rights’ Vs ‘Public Policy’ and I fully agree with the author that the state legislature of Florida should require helmet use for all motorcyclists and reinstitute universal helmet law. Statistical data findings of each state studied showed an extraordinary decrease in the use of helmets when riding a motorcycle after the law was repealed and an increase in motorcycle fatality rates (http://www.smarter-usa.org/PDF%20DOCUMENTS/Data_Trends_after_Helmet_Law_Repeal.pdf). A study provides evidence of the life-saving benefits of universal helmet laws. The results also suggest that age-specific helmet laws are not effective in protecting the youngest drivers (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16484034). This is not surprising, as these laws are largely unenforceable. Right and Responsibility are two sides of a coin. Individual’s freedom for not wearing helmet while riding motorcyel can not be granted at the expence of other tax payer’s money to pay for his injury due to same.

  2. hayleyshin Says:

    Individual rights and protecting health of public is always a sensitive issue requiring significant amount of advocacy for both proponents to implement a new policy change. Although I do fully agree with the proposed policy change that a universal helmet law should be required to not only save lives, but also save money, I’m curious as to what evidence/advocacy propelled law makers in Florida to modify its helmet law to those under 21 years old. I would think that requiring a universal helmet would be relatively less controversial given that seat belt use is so widely accepted and implemented. More than evidences/data, it may be that the political agendas/climate may have been more influential in this modified helmet law, and if so, more strategic ways of advocating for the universal helmet law may be needed in addition to a myriad of studies.

  3. ylicoyote10 Says:

    I completely agree with the position of the author in that the state should re-implement its universal law mandating helmet use. I am curious whether there is a law in Florida that mandates helmets be used for any other comparable activities, such as the use of bicycles or all-terrain vehicles. In some areas these are mandated. If Florida had universal helmet laws for these activities where maximum speeds reached are far less than that of a motorcycle, it would make a similar universal requirement for helmets seem even more logical. From an advocacy perspective, proponents of a universal helmet law also need to take a more advanced approach than a simple presentation of raw data (e.g. dollars spent on medical care or number of people killed). Instead, they need to take this raw data and re-frame their message into their own rights or societal fundamental belief issue. For instance, we can turn the argument into “everyone should have a right to freedom and freedom from head injury caused by motorcycle accidents”. Another example is our society’s common interest in “protecting the young from injury”, which can of course include motorcycle helmet use. In this manner, the controversy will no longer be merely individual rights vs. # people killed, but instead, an individual right versus a fundamental societal belief that very few can argue against.

  4. mjberley Says:

    I also agree that helmet laws should be put back into place. Arkansas and Texas do not require helmet use either and a suffering many of the same consequences as Florida. I understand that as Americans we hold our personal freedoms very near and dear but in situations like this where it is very clear that using a helmet can save lives and money I think the choice is clear.

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