NTSB: Helmets Save Lives

As motorcyclists throughout the country observe May as Motorcycle Safety Awareness month, National Transportation Safety Board chair Mark V. Rosenker stresses the need for motorcycle safety, reminding motorcyclists that DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218-compliant helmets reduce injuries and save lives. "The facts are very clear--head injuries are a leading cause of deaths in motorcycle crashes," said Rosenker. "The most important step riders can take in terms of protecting themselves and staying alive is to wear a DOT-compliant helmet every time they ride."

DOT-compliant helmets are designed with a hard outer shell, an impact-attenuating liner, and a retention system to protect the head, especially the brain, in a variety of impact scenarios. Since 1997, motorcycle fatalities have increased 127 percent. Annually, the number of motorcycle deaths is more than double the number of people killed in all aviation, rail, marine, and pipeline accidents combined. In 2006, 4,810 motorcyclists died in crashes. Approximately 41 percent (1,957) of those killed were not wearing a helmet.

Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have universal helmet laws. Twenty-seven states have partial laws, and three states (Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire) do not have any helmet law. "Fatalities in all other modes of transportation have decreased. It is imperative that we reduce the number of motorcycle fatalities and injuries immediately," urged Rosenker.

NTSB held a public forum in 2006 and gathered information on ongoing motorcycle research and initiatives, as well as countermeasures that may reduce the likelihood of motorcycle accidents and fatalities. In September 2007, NTSB held a board meeting on motorcycle safety and issued several recommendations regarding motorcycle helmets:

  • To the three states with no motorcycle helmet laws--Require that all persons shall wear a DOT FMVSS 218-compliant motorcycle helmet while riding (operating) or as a passenger on any motorcycle.
  • To the 27 states and 1 territory with partial motorcycle helmet laws--Amend current laws to require that all persons shall wear a DOT FMVSS 218-compliant motorcycle helmet while riding (operating) or as a passenger on any motorcycle.
  • To the eight states, the District of Columbia, and the four territories with universal motorcycle helmet laws/regulations not specifically requiring FMVSS 218-compliant helmets--Amend current laws to specify that all persons shall wear a DOT FMVSS 218-compliant motorcycle helmet while riding (operating) or as a passenger on any motorcycle.

"Just like seat belts for passenger vehicle occupants, helmets are the number one defense against injury and death in the event of a motorcycle crash. I urge all riders to use a DOT-compliant helmet whenever traveling on their motorcycles," Rosenker said.

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