Scholarship: Sarah F. On Motorcycle Helmets

Another well-written essay submitted in this year’s Carpey Law scholarship essay contest was by Sarah Ford. Her essay appears below. Sarah attends Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.

1967 is when the federal government started to persuade states to pass laws to require those who drive and ride on motorcycles to wear helmets at all times, for all ages. During the span of eight years, forty-seven states passed laws that were called the universal motorcycle helmet law. This required anyone, at all times on a motorcycle, to wear a helmet. Then in 1976, Congress decided to take the control of the helmet requirement out of the hands of the federal government and gave the control of regulations to the states themselves.

After the states had the control of regulating the laws for motorcycle helmet laws, a portion of the states decided to loosen the restrictions. Some states made age requirements and those under that age restriction most wear a helmet when on a motorcycle and those over have the choice to wear one or not. Around 1995, Congress removed the sanctions, given by the federal government, on the three states that never had a helmet laws for motorcycles.

As of June 2015, there are nineteen states that require all motorcycle riders most be wearing a helmet at all times on the motorcycle and for all ages, no exceptions (e.g. Alabama, New York, Missouri, Tennessee, etc.). There are twenty-eight states have age restrictions, such as eighteen and under, nineteen and under, and twenty-one and under (e.g. Idaho, Montana, Kentucky, etc.). Three states do not have any helmet laws at all (Illinois, New Hampshire, and Iowa).

Being that I live in Illinois, there are not any helmet laws in the state that I live in. The motorcycle helmet law in Illinois was removed in 1969. I have friends and family who ride motorcycles, and there are some on both sides of the argument of helmets. I know some that wear helmets only on the interstate or when they go to states that require helmets, and others that think that it should be our right to choose to wear a helmet or not, but still will wear a helmet themselves. A few even say that it is the government trying to take more control over the people in the United States lives.

With the laws, and the lack of the laws for some, have sparked debates about the necessity of helmet laws for motorcyclists. Some of the main arguments for those who feel law is needed are that it saves lives, taxpayers’ money and will help prevent motorcycle theft. The main argument for those who do not want the laws to be in effect is that the riders should have the choice to wear the helmet or not.

According to the article The Helmet Law Debate (from “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that helmets reduce the likelihood of an accident fatality by 29%. The Hurt Study corroborates this statistic, finding that riders wearing helmets showed significantly lower risk for all types of neck and head injury.” When wearing a helmet, this group feels that the riders of the motorcycle will have a 69% reduction in chance of obtaining a head or neck injury. The Institute for Highway Safety said that when Florida loosened the restriction on those twenty-one and older, the death in motorcycle accidents has increased around 25%.

NHTSA stated that fewer than 40% of the fatal injuries that happened to minors were minors that had a helmet on at the time of the accident. This makes the organization feel that the requirement for minors to wear a helmet on a motorcycle is highly needed. Those who are against the law say that helmets will not change the fact that accidents are happening and that helmets are not necessarily what are going to help the loss of lives.

A majority of the crowd that is against the law think that all drivers, especially motorcyclists, should become more educated in road safety rules and how to become more aware of how to avoid accidents all together. Helmets themselves will not stop accidents from happening, but education on how to have good driving practices. The main problem that this poses is that most people would not bother to getting this education or care at all. Big motorcycle organization American Motorcyclist Association felt that it should be the riders’ choice and feel that education of riders is the key, but they think that minors should be required to wear helmets. Even though, this organization feels, they do still encourage people to wear safety gear such as helmets, pants, thicker shoes/boots, full shirts or jackets, etc.

After the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention gave out statistics saying that almost five and a half thousand people were killed while riding a motorcycle and that caused around twelve billion dollars of medical costs. Those for the laws feel that this is a drain on tax payers when the rider is uninsured. But those who are against the law say that most of the riders that were uninsured were also those who did not even have a license to drive a motorcycle. They feel that the source of the problem is people not having a motorcycle license, since they are most likely not able to even pass the test and should not be driving the motorcycles unless they can pass the test to even have a license.

Another reason, for those who are for the helmet laws, thinks that if helmets were in order then thieves would have a harder time stealing motorcycles. Texas Department of Public Safety give the statistics that there was a 44% drop in theft in a portion of Texas cities when there was a motorcycle helmet law was in effect. The main idea behind this is that when someone would be trying to steal a motorcycle, they will more likely not be wearing a helmet if they are successful in stealing the motorcycle. If the thief is not wearing a helmet then police officers will know that the motorcycle was stolen and know that they would need to apprehend the thief.

Both sides of the debate do have good points. Those for helmet laws are worried about the safety of those who ride motorcycles and think that motorcycle helmet laws will help fix the major issues surrounding motorcycles. Those who are against motorcycle helmet laws do worry about the safety for those on the roads, they feel that educating people, as a whole, about road safety is what is needed for. This group feels that it is the riders’ choice, but still encourage safety gear.

Works Cited

Mandating the use of motorcycle helmets: What are the issues?