Statement of Advocates, SMARTER, & MD ENA on MD Motorcycle Helmet Repeal Bill

  • February 7, 2018
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

Statement of Allison Kennedy, Assistant Director of Government Affairs

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and

Dan Petterson, President

Skilled Motorcyclist Association – Responsible, Trained and Educated Riders

Gail Schoolden, DNP, APRN-CNS, CPEN, President

Maryland State Council Emergency Nurses Association

In Opposition to Senate Bill 439

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee

Maryland General Assembly

February 6, 2018

Good afternoon, my name is Allison Kennedy and I am the Assistant Director of Government Affairs for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates). Advocates is a coalition of consumer, safety, public health and medical groups, and insurance companies and organizations working together to pass safety laws that reduce unnecessary motor vehicle crashes, deaths and injuries and contain associated costs. I am submitting this statement jointly with Dan Petterson, President, Skilled Motorcyclist Association – Responsible, Trained and Educated Riders, Inc. (SMARTER), and Gail Schoolden, President of the Maryland State Council, Emergency Nurses Association (ENA). SMARTER is a non-profit coalition of riders who support all-rider helmet laws. The Emergency Nurses Association is the premier professional nursing association dedicated to defining the future of emergency nursing through advocacy, education, research, innovation, and leadership. Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony from Advocates, SMARTER and ENA. Our organizations oppose Senate Bill (SB) 439, legislation that would repeal Maryland’s all-rider motorcycle helmet law. This critical safety law has been preventing deaths and injuries and saving taxpayer dollars in Maryland for over 24 years. To repeal the all-rider motorcycle helmet law would be a deadly and costly mistake.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcycles are the most hazardous form of motor vehicle transportation, and motorcycle helmet use is the most effective countermeasure to preventing motorcycle crash fatalities and injuries. After Maryland enacted its all-rider motorcycle helmet law in 1992, the death rate from motorcycle crashes dropped 56 percent (per 10,000 registered motorcycles) over a five-year period.[i] The NHTSA estimates that Maryland’s helmet law prevented 41 fatalities and saved over $538 million in comprehensive costs associated with motorcycle crashes in 2015 alone (NHTSA).

In states without all-rider helmet laws, 58 percent of motorcyclists killed in 2016 were not wearing helmets, as compared to 8 percent in states with universal helmet laws. According to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets are the only strategy proven to be effective in reducing motorcyclist fatalities.[ii] In 2016, there were 12 times as many unhelmeted fatalities (1,923) in states without an all-rider helmet law compared to states with a universal helmet law (166) (NHTSA). The NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,859 motorcyclists in 2016 and that 802 more people in all states could have been saved if all motorcycle riders had worn helmets.

States that have repealed their all-rider motorcycle helmet law always experience an increase in rider deaths, serious and disabling brain injuries, and medical costs usually borne by taxpayers and the state. The University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) reviewed data after Michigan repealed their all-rider helmet law. The study determined that there would have been 26 fewer deaths and 49 fewer injuries involving motorcycle crashes in the state if the law had not been repealed. UMTRI also found that not wearing a helmet doubles the risk of fatality and increases the chance of serious injury by 60 percent. Additionally, a recent study in the American Journal of Surgery reported that after Michigan repealed its all-rider helmet law, the percentage of non-helmeted crash scene fatalities quadrupled, and the number of trauma patients who were hospitalized with a head injury rose 14 percent.[iii]

The repeal of all-rider helmet laws is also associated with substantial economic costs to society. An analysis performed by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) revealed that during the 2012 riding season, medical payments coverage claim frequency in Michigan was 10 percent higher, claim severity was 36 percent higher and overall insurance loses were 51 percent higher. In states with an all-rider helmet law, economic cost savings to society were $725 per registered motorcycle, compared with $198 per registered motorcycle in states without such a law (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)). In 2010, the economic cost of motorcycle crashes was $12.9 billion and the total amount of societal harm was $66 billion (NHTSA). Helmets are currently saving $2.7 billion in economic costs and preventing $17 billion in societal harm annually (NHTSA).

“Minors only” helmet laws, such as SB 439, are ineffective, unenforceable and unpopular. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in states with weak youth-specific helmet laws, use has decreased and youth mortality has increased. Serious traumatic brain injury among youth was 38 percent higher in states with age-specific laws compared to states with all-rider helmet laws.[iv] When Florida repealed its all-rider helmet law in 2000, fatalities jumped 21 percent after the law change (per 10,000 registered motorcycles). Deaths of riders under the age of 21 who were not helmeted increased 188 percent, even though the law still applied to them.[v] Enforcing laws for only young riders is problematic and often ignored completely since it is difficult for law enforcement to estimate a rider’s age.

Traumatic brain injury is a serious, potentially life-long injury that can result from a motorcycle crash, especially when the rider is not wearing a helmet. Lifetime care for a traumatic brain injury can easily amount to millions of dollars. Helmet use reduces the cost of medical treatment, length of hospital stay and probability of long-term disability for those riders injured in crashes. The provisions in the bill to ostensibly improve safety, two years riding experience and passing a safety course before being permitted to ride unhelmeted, will not mitigate the severe and serious damages that will be caused by repealing the state’s all-rider motorcycle helmet law. If SB 439 is passed, it will result in an increased financial burden on Maryland’s emergency services, hospitals, Medicaid and ultimately, every Maryland taxpayer.

The American public understands the need for all-rider helmet laws and overwhelmingly supports them. The enduring and consistent support for mandatory helmet laws most recently included the 2015 American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation Traffic Safety Culture Index which found more than 4 in 5 Americans (80%) support a law requiring all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet.

Moreover, permitting a repeal of Maryland’s all-rider motorcycle helmet law would contradict state Vision Zero efforts. Maryland’s all-rider motorcycle helmet law is saving lives, preventing life-long and costly brain injuries, and containing health care, medical and state costs. It should not be repealed. Advocates, SMARTER and ENA urge you to oppose SB 439.

Thank you.

[i] Auman et al., Autopsy Study of Motorcyclist Fatalities: The Effect of the 1992 Maryland Motorcycle Helmet Use Law, American Journal of Public Health 1352-1355, 92:8, August 2002.

[ii] U.S. Government Accountability Office, Motorcycle Safety: Motorcycle Safety: Increasing Federal Funding Flexibility and Identifying Research Priorities Would Help Support States’ Safety Efforts. p. 16. Washington, November 2012.

[iii] American Journal of Surgery, Repeal of the Michigan helmet law: the evolving clinical impact, 2015.

[iv] Weiss, H, Agimi Y, Steiner C, Youth Motorcycle-Related Brain Injury by State Helmet Law Type: United States 2005-2007, Pediatrics, Vol. 126, No. 6 (2010).

[v] NHTSA, 2008.