Helmets

Helmet Image

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Anybody who has seen fatal motorcycle crash victims can easily see from inspection of the victims’ head morbidity which victims were wearing helmets and which victims weren’t. So, what is really going on with the helmet issue?

Of the 4,311 motorcycle drivers killed in 2014:
UnHelmeted Killed = 1,561
Helmeted Killed = 2,610
Helmet use unknown or unreported Killed = 140

Therefore, in 2014, 61% of the motorcycle drivers killed were wearing a helmet. However, 71% of motorcycle drivers observed driving were wearing a helmet. Clearly, helmets are correlated to a reduction in fatalities in motorcycle crashes. If helmets had no effect in reducing fatalities, we would expect the percentage of those killed would be the same as those wearing helmets observed riding on public roads, 71%. But the fact is that only 61% of the motorcycle drivers killed were wearing helmets. Scientifically, this evidence supports helmet use for reducing the fatality rate of motorcycle drivers. However, we did hope/wish that the helmeted fatalities would have been less than 61% given that 71% were wearing helmets at the time of the crash.

Helmeted Motorcycle Drivers are killed 32 times more often than car drivers, mile for mile.

Using Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) is another way to better understand the danger of driving a motorcycle while wearing a helmet. We will estimate the relative driver danger for helmeted motorcycle drivers compared to driving a car (passenger vehicle). For 2014 there were 0.0057 passenger vehicle driver fatalities per million miles.

Of the 19,970 million miles motorcycle drivers traveled (VMT) in 2014:
UnHelmeted Miles = 5,791 Million Miles Traveled (29%)
Helmeted Miles = 14,179 Million Miles Traveled (71%)

For motorcycle drivers:
UnHelmeted Killed = 1,561
UnHelmeted Miles = 5,791 Million
UnHelmeted Killed per Million Miles = 0.27 motorcycle drivers killed per million miles
Ratio of UnHelmeted Motorcycle Drivers/Passenger Vehicle Drivers = 0.27/0.0057 = 47

Helmeted Killed = 2,610
Helmeted Miles = 14,179 Million
Helmeted Killed per Million Miles = 0.184 motorcycle drivers killed per million miles
Ratio of Helmeted Motorcycle Drivers/Passenger Vehicle Drivers = 0.184/0.0057 = 32

Helmeted Motorcycle Drivers are killed 32 times more often than car drivers, mile for mile.

Above we had already established, scientifically, that helmets reduce fatality rates: 71% of the motorcycle drivers using public roads are helmeted, yet only 61% of the motorcycle drivers killed are helmeted. In the alternative analysis using VMT, more supporting evidence is found. Unhelmeted motorcycle drivers are killed 47 times more often than car drivers, compared to helmeted motorcycle drivers being killed 32 times more often than car drivers.

However, in the VMT analysis provides support for the concern about motorcycle driving and helmets. It is the relative danger of 32 times that of driving the car. For example, drunk drivers in cars are killed about 7 times more often than sober car drivers, which is an unacceptably high danger for most people. Driving a motorcycle, while wearing a helmet, is an amazing 32 times more dangerous than driving a car. Most people find this danger incomprehensibly high.

It is a fact that helmets reduce head injuries and morbidity for motorcycle drivers who crash. Simply inspect those killed while wearing helmets and compare the morbidity to those killed while not wearing helmets. The important new fact on this page is that the danger experienced while driving a motorcycle and wearing a helmet is unacceptably high for most people.

We separate the discussions regarding helmet efficacy from discussions on helmet laws. We recommend the scientific method and scientific solutions for determining the efficacy of, and improvement to, the helmet. We recommend political method and a political solution for evaluation of, and improvement to, helmet laws. National Motorcycle Institute supports universal helmet laws for all persons riding motorcycles on public roadways since helmets reduce injuries and fatalities should a crash occur.

Back to helmets reference page – information about helmet testing and the physics of collisions.

Back to DATA page.