Universal Helmet Laws
          Reduce Injuries and Save Lives


Motorcycle helmets clearly work to reduce injuries and fatalities among motorcyclists. That’s why all motorcyclists should wear helmets and why all states need a helmet law that covers all riders. Helmet laws are the way to achieve high helmet use.

A physician dreams about having the opportunity to save as many lives as legislators save with the single act of passing a universal motorcycle helmet law.
—Dr. Tilman Jolly, M.D. Associate Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine
The George Washington University Medical Center.


Helmet laws translate into increased helmet usage.


Helmet laws translate into lives saved. Helmet laws increase helmet usage which in turn saves lives and reduces head trauma. This has been proven numerous times through state fatality data (including Illinois,14 California,15 Washington,16 and Louisiana17) that allowed comparison of deaths and injuries before and after helmet laws were enacted. The most accurate reflection of a state’s helmet use law is through the comparison of that state’s motorcycle crash-related fatalities before and after enactment or repeal a helmet law for all riders.


Each state’s data showed approximately the same trend:

  • When universal helmet laws are enacted, helmet use increases, and fatalities and serious injuries decrease.

  • When these laws are repealed, helmet use decreases, and injuries and associated costs increase, far exceeding the number of new motorcycles registered.

  • Motorcyclist fatalities increase when a helmet law is repealed.

These results are consistent in every state where studies on the effectiveness of motorcycle helmet laws have been conducted. Additionally, data show that age-specific laws do not protect that group of riders that are historically victims in a fatal crash: those over the age of 21 years.


The data continue to prove that motorcycle helmet laws save lives. Government and privately conducted studies support the effectiveness of helmets and the impact of helmet laws in reducing the number of serious injuries and fatalities. The results of some of these studies are cited below.

NHTSA estimates that in 1996 helmets saved 490 motorcyclists’ lives. If all motorcyclists in all 50 states and the District of Columbia had worn a helmet, that number would have been 769.18

NHTSA estimates that from 1984 to 1996 helmets saved the lives of 7,940 motorcyclists. If all motorcyclists in all 50 states and the District of Columbia had worn a helmet during this time period, the number of lives saved would have been 14,505.19

Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data indicated that helmets are 29 percent effective in reducing fatalities in motorcycle crashes.20

A study completed at the University California - Los Angeles (UCLA) determined that statewide motorcycle fatalities declined 40.3 percent from 1991, before the California motorcycle helmet law for all riders was in effect, to 1993, the second full year that California’s law was in effect. 239 lives were saved over the same period as a result of the helmet law.21

In the same UCLA study, the number of injured riders decreased over 30 percent in 1992 and 1993, the first two years of the California law, when compared to 1991 (pre-law). The number of riders admitted to the hospital decreased about 35 percent both in 1992 and 1993, which is proportionally more than riders treated in the emergency department and released. The number of riders brought to emergency departments decreased about 25 percent for both 1992 and 1993.22

A study revealed that 24 out of 26 states that repealed their universal helmet laws experienced an average 25 percent increase in motorcycle fatalities.23

The death rate for motorcyclists rose 61 percent the year following Kansas’ repeal of its universal helmet law.24

A privately-conducted study reported a 40 percent increase in fatally injured motorcyclists in states repealing their universal helmet laws.25


Data Prove: Helmet use reduces fatalities.


Table of Contents / Comprehensive Approach to Safety / Anatomy of a Crash /
Preventing Brain Injuries / Reducing Injuries & Saving Lives / Helemet Laws Work /
Reducing Costs / Not a Stand Alone Issue / Common Myths /
Tax Payer vs. Personal Freedom / More Info. / End Notes