Motorcycle Helmet Laws in America

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Motorcycle are not the safest means of transportation but millions of people all across America choose them over automobile for the trill, speed and high performance capabilities they offer in fraction of the price of a automobile. Motorcycle do not provide the protection like automobiles do with their outer body and safety features like air bags and seat belts, therefore in case of an accident the injury sustained by the rider is often very serious. When dealing with motorcycle accidents, majority of the fatalities are due to head injuries which could have been prevented had the rider been wearing a helmet. Helmets are the only method to reduce the head injuries during crashes which is the leading cause of death involving motorcycle accidents.

Helmet use law has created a lot of controversies over the years, while some supporting the law and other opposing it. One side who support the law believe that the helmet law protects the motorcyclist from danger in case of an accident and save the nation a good deal of money. While, the other side believes that the law is unconstitutional and it violets their right to freedom. Although helmet cannot prevent motorcycle accidents but greatly reduces the number of deaths caused by head injuries during these crashes as well as helps in lowering taxes, insurance cost and health care cost.

According to the federal government estimates, the number of deaths on motorcycle per mile in 2006 was 35 times higher than in automobile. In last couple of years motorcycle deaths have seen considerable increase- more than doubling in 2007 from the record low in 1997. In contrast the passenger occupant death reached a record low in 2007.

This paper examines the history of motorcycle helmet use law and also the current state of the law. It also tries to highlight the burden that accident involving riders not wearing helmet impose on the society and also the effect of helmet law on helmet use.



The motorcycle helmets laws in United States has gone through several changes throughout the years. In 1967, in order to increase the helmet use, the federal government required the state government to enact helmet use laws to qualify for certain federal safety program and highway construction fund. The federal incentives was a success and by early 1970s almost all the states had universal helmet laws which covered all the riders of all ages and experience.1968, Michigan became the first state to repel its laws. This lead to a series of repeal, re-enactment, and amendment of motorcycle helmet laws.

In 1976, US Department of transportation (DOT) moved in to assess the financial penalties on states without helmet laws but the congress corresponded to state pressure and stopped DOT from assessing financial penalties on states without helmet laws. By 1980, several states had repealed their helmet laws and some weakened their laws to cover riders under the age of 18 but not older riders.

In the 1980s and early 1990, several states reinstated helmet laws applying for all riders. In the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, several incentives were created by the congress for the states to enact helmet use and safety belt use laws. The eligibility criteria for receiving special safety grants was that the state must enact both the laws. Up to 3 percent of federal highway allotment was redirected to highway safety program for all the states that did not enact the laws by October 1993.

But again after four years of establishing the incentive program ,congress revised itself. In the fall of 1995, federal sanction against the states without helmet use laws was lifted which paved the way for state to repeal helmet use laws. This lead to many states weakening its helmet use laws. Now 20 states and District of Columbia have helmet laws covering all riders and 27 states have partial helmet use law covering some riders...
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