Motorcycle Safety Awareness–Helmet Laws
Posted on May 9th, 2019 by Zane Cagle
Helmet Laws in Missouri and Illinois
While there are motorcyclists who argue that helmets ought to be optional, we too often see the serious injuries sustained by rather small motorcycle crashes, if there is such a thing as a small; if there is such as thing as a small motorcycle crash. Missouri and Illinois are two states that sit side-by-side on the map, riders may cross into both states multiple times a day, yet both states have very different helmet laws. Riders have had to adjust for years and will continue to do so until Illinois passes helmet laws. States currently implementing universal helmet laws are unlikely to do away with them anytime soon.
In 2019, helmet laws vary by state. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring all riders to wear a helmet or universal helmet laws. Missouri is one of those states as well as neighboring Tennessee. Laws requiring partial law requires some riders to wear a helmet depending on age or other additional criteria. There are only three states that do not have any helmet laws. Two of those states adjoin Missouri including Illinois and Iowa and the other is New Hampshire.
When we are getting our statistics from FARS, US Department of Transportation Fatality Analysis Reporting System, we are talking about deaths. In 2017, a total of 5,172 motorcyclists died in crashes. While motorcycle deaths had been declining since the early 1990’s, they have been increasing since 1998. Motorcycle deaths account for 14 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths in 2017 and were more than double the number of crash deaths in 1997. Yet, motorcyclists do not make up 14 percent of the total motor vehicle traffic, thus there is a disproportionate number of motorcycle crash fatalities compared to other motor vehicle crash deaths.
Fatalities: When, Where and Type of Roadway
Fifty-eight percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2017 occurred during May-September and fatalities peaked in July and were the lowest in January. This statistic seem particularly relevant to Midwest states including Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, etc. As well, 48 percent of motorcycle deaths in 2017 occurred on weekends and those deaths were more likely to occur after 6 p.m. compared with weekdays. Fifty-three percent of motorcyclist deaths occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways. Deaths were more likely to occur in urban than rural areas comparatively 58% vs. 38%
Helmets Save Lives
We advocate for helmet use as an effective safety measure. Statistically, we know that motorcycles are the most hazardous form of transportation. That fact does not mean motorcyclists have any less right to ride, but taking safety precautions just seems smart. The National Highway Safety Administration estimates that 1,870 motorcyclists lives were saved in 2017 due to helmet use. Additionally, they estimate that at least 750 more lives could have been saved if all states had helmet laws. The fatalities of motorcycle crashes have more than doubled since 1997.
The helmet helps protect the head in the event of a crash. No, a helmet will not protect motorcyclists from catastrophic crashes just as a seat belt cannot guarantee a passenger vehicle occupant will not be hurt, but they both reduce injuries and save lives. Because helmets cannot prevent all injuries, there are advocates who claim they should not have to be worn at all, however, that logic is very similar to the use of car seat belts. Helmets and seat belts cannot prevent serious injury and death in all scenarios. While they cannot protect in every scenario is not an excuse or reason to simply disregard usage.
According to a 2012 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, “laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets are the only strategy proved to be effective in reducing motorcycle fatalities”. There are 10 times as many unhelmeted fataliteis in states without helmet laws as in states with universal helmet laws in 2017. Additionally, per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclists are nearly 28 times more frequently killed in a crah than occupants of passenger cars in traffic crashes. When crashes do occur, motorcyclists need adquate head protection to prevent or reduce head injuries which is the leading cause of disability and death in the United States.
Something Else to Consider
If you are really anti-helmet, you do have to consider something other than the obvious injury. Clearly, the injury to your head in a potential crash is sobering, but the other thing you may not want to consider is the difficulty of receiving compensation after a motorcycle crash. If you are in a crash that is caused by someone else and you are making a damages claim, then you do have to consider what the general public think about you failing to wear a helmet. Again, as an Illinois attorney, I understand that motorcyclists do not legally have to wear a helmet. But, if your case goes to trial, you will very much have to consider what the social norm are in the community. According to studies over the years, 82 percent of Americans favor state laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets. I have experienced this sentiment first hand in motorcycle crash litigation and engagement with jurors (voire dire). So, yes, I understand that you may not be required in Illinois to wear a helmet; but a potential jury may take your failure to wear a helmet as a lack of concern for your own safety. Remembering that jurors come to the trial with the wealth of their own experiences. While they follow the law, they make judgments as a jury about damages and plaintiff and defendant’s actions and safety.
Motorcyclists have every right to ride safely and demand that other drivers pay equal attention to them like any other vehicle. Clearly understand that motorcyclists are not inherently unsafe just because they ride a motorcycle or are in a crash. Not everyone rides a motorcycle but almost everyone is an occupant of a passenger car daily. Further, some people will not consider riding a motorcycle as they feel they are dangerous. As an injured motorcyclist, we understand that up-hill battle.
We also understand how frustrating it is for motorcyclists who ride safely for years, but then are hit due to another driver failing to follow the rules of the road.
When someone is involved in a motorcycle crash, they are generally seriously injured. Thus, trying to enter into complicated negotiations with an insurance company is overwhelming. Unfortunately, I speak to so many injured people that didn’t’ realize how complicated and overwhelming it was until months into the process. Most individuals regardless of their education level, intellect, or business savvy are unprepared for the complexity of negotiating with an insurance company after an injury.
Thus, if you are injured in a motorcycle crash that is caused by another driver, you should at minimum consult an expert attorney. If you are injured, you will need an attorney who will tenaciously fight for your right to compensation.
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