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States Without Motorcycle Helmet Laws May Be Contributing to Unnecessary Deaths

Last year traffic deaths reached their highest level since 1990 due to an increase in motorcycle and pedestrian fatalities. Motorcycle deaths rose for the eighth consecutive year in a row. This according to a new study titled “Characteristics of Motorcycle-Related Hospitalizations: Comparing States with Different Helmet Laws” conducted by researchers at West Virginia University and funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

In fact, the research shows that almost nine percent of all U.S. traffic deaths are attributed to motorcycle riding. In 2004 more than 4,000 people were killed in motorcycle accidents, which represents an 89 percent increase since 1997. Another 76,000 people were injured.

The researchers also discovered that states without universal helmet laws had more crash victims hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of brain injuries. These states reported 16.5 percent of accident victims suffering brain injury as opposed to 11.5 percent in states where helmet use is mandatory. The in-hospital death rate among states without mandatory helmet laws was 11.3 percent versus 8.8 percent for those requiring helmets.

Conducting a state-by-state analysis of injuries, the researchers found that patients from states with no universal helmet laws had a 41 percent increase in risk of a Type 1 traumatic brain injury. Type 1 brain injuries are more likely to result in permanent disability, including paralysis, persistent vegetative state, and severe cognitive deficits.

The research also showed that a large proportion of patients with severe brain injuries would require long-term care. Hospitalized patients in states without universal helmet laws are more likely not to have private health insurance. This means that the public will carry the financial burden for the care these patients require. The findings went on to suggest that partial use laws are of modest use because there is only a slight difference in the age distribution of hospitalized cases if you compare states that require those under a certain age to wear helmets to states with no helmet laws.

Universal helmet laws require all motorcycle riders to wear helmets while riding. States with partial helmet laws only require motorcycle riders who are under age 18 or 21 to wear a helmet while riding. The study is based on data from 33 states. It is the largest study and most current one available on the hospital care of motorcycle accident victims. Of the 33 states studied, 17 had universal helmet laws, 13 had partial use laws, and 3 had no helmet laws.