Differences in Fatality Rates Make a Statement
During National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, a lot of attention is rightly focused on motorcycle crashes. This spring, the Missouri legislature considered repealing some of Missouri’s motorcycle helmet laws as they have in years prior. A Springfield House member (Republican) has sponsored the proposal every year since 2013, and last year was the first time he included language requiring increased health coverage for riding without a helmet.
On May 8, the possible repeal bill stalled in committee after passing the House last month, thus Missouri motorcyclists must continue to wear helmets according to Missouri law.
Statistics say that states with laws allowing riders to travel without protective gear have vastly higher fatality rates compared to states with helmet requirements. According to the NTHSA (National Transportation and Highway Safety Administration), in 2011, the fatality rate for motorcyclists involved in accidents in Missouri was 13 percent, Nebraska had 10 percent and Tennessee, 15 percent. However, in Illinois and Iowa, states that do not have helmet laws, the fatality rates are 74 percent and 94 percent respectively.
Nationally, there was an increase of 8 percent in motorcycle fatalities in 2015.
Two Very Different Viewpoints
Many people feel that wearing a helmet should be a motorcycle rider’s option. The primary point of disagreement is whether or not a helmet law infringes on an individual’s personal freedom or if it is indeed an issue of public safety. I am pretty protective of my individual freedoms, but it is difficult to ignore the statistics in support of wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle. As well, I see the serious injuries and deaths due to motorcycle crashes frequently in my law firm.
Missouri is currently one of 19 states that have universal helmet laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear protective gear. Twenty-eight states require some motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Only three states have no helmet use law. Oddly enough, Illinois and Iowa, both neighboring states to Missourii are two of the three that do not require helmets. Some argue that Missouri tourism dollars are lost because motorcycle riders avoid the state. However, many other experts say that is unfounded as motorcyclists planning a ride through the Midwest would also have to dodge Nebraska and Tennessee which have helmet laws.
Many States Adopted Helmet Laws to Meet Federal Safety Funding
In 1967, many states adopted helmet laws after the federal government required the statutes as a condition for states to qualify for certain safety programs and highway construction money. In 1976, states persuaded Congress to stop the DOT from assessing financial penalties on states without such laws. Proponents of the proposals contend that wearing a helmet is a personal choice issue and shouldn’t involve government interference.
Recommended Motorcycle Safety Gear
Safety programs advocate for head-to-toe safety gear beginning with a DOT (Department of Transportation) helmet with eye protection. There are a couple types of helmets, but the most highly recommended is the full helmet that covers the head, face and jaw. Plus, let’s be honest, they look very cool.
In addition, riders should wear abrasion-resistant jackets with built-in shoulder and elbow protection, motorcycle gloves, and leather pants with built in knee pads and motorcycle boots. Road rash is a common type of motorcycle injury as well as traumatic brain injuries. Protective gear can assist in reducing the severity of these injuries in a collision.
Legal Consideration if You are Hurt Regardless of the State Helmet Law
If you are involved in a motorcycle crash with another vehicle (which is a large percent of total motorcycle crashes), and you are seeking compensation from an at-fault driver for injuries including medical bills, a jury WILL care whether or not you were wearing a helmet.
A juror will care if you had on a helmet regardless of the helmet law. From a common juror’s perspective (remember, a jurors are community members), motorcycle riding may be considered risky by some as it is not something that everyone does daily. Some jurors who cannot or don’t ride motorcycles may perceive motorcyclists as bigger risk takers with their personal safety. However, many people (jurors included) truly believe that if you are riding without a helmet, then you are not a safe rider. This “perception” can impact their jury trial decision.
Is this fair? Of course not. By and large, most motorcyclists are extremely safe. The mere fact that a motorcyclist successfully rides for many years is generally a living testament to their safety. Riders of motorcycles have very little room for driving error or road defects. Individuals who have ridden motorcycles for years have avoided crashes by being defensive and assuming other drivers do not see them. The most common reason for a motorcycle accident is failure of other drivers to see motorcyclists on the road.
I rarely talk to a motorcycle crash client who failed to wear a helmet simply because it has become more of an accepted safety consideration in the last few decades as well as a law in Missouri. Granted, there are those folks who ride in Illinois for the sheer fact that they do not have to wear a helmet.
Because of the work that I do while representing those seriously injured in motorcycle crashes, I have become a huge advocate for safety. Whether it is improved technology to make our cars safer or improving motorcycle safety. Our attorneys know that a motorcycle crash is often a very serious injury incident and legal help is almost always required.
We offer Free Consultations for those injured in motor vehicle crashes of any kind, toll free 1.800.685.3302 or locally 314.276.1781.