Pocket Guide to Helmet Facts – a compendium of miscellaneous facts

The following information has been reproduced with permission from “Pocket Guide to Helmet Facts” courtesy of Russ Brown.

In 1966, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation threatened to withhold millions of dollars in highway funds from states failing to enact mandatory helmet laws. Every state except California complied.

In 1976, Congress revoked DOT authority to impose fiscal sanctions against states that refuse to enforce helmet laws. Nearly half the states soon repealed their laws or amended them to exclude most adults. Currently, only 24 states require all riders to wear helmets.

“In the ten years 1978 to 1988, motorcycle fatalities per 10,000 motorcycles declined 15%. Based on vehicle miles traveled, the fatality rate declined an astonishing 37% from 1980 through 1986. Motorcycling now has a rate declining more rapidly than any other group.”
Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), 1990

Relative to the number of registered motorcycles, states with mandatory helmet laws had 12.5% more accidents and 2.3% more fatalities than free-choice states for the 14 year period 1977-90. Accident and Fatality Statistics, analyzed by A.R. Mackenzie, M.D.

From a 1988 American Motorcyclists Association report: The national average of motorcycle fatalities per 100 accidents is 2.95. However, states with rider education and no helmet law show the lowest average of only 2.56 deaths, while states with helmet laws but no training have a significantly higher rate of 3.09.

DOT tests helmets by a 6-foot vertical drop, impacting at 13.43 mph. Even at these low impacts, 52% of the helmets tested by DOT since 1974 failed… and only ONE helmet passed since 1984.

DOT Helmet Test Reports, 1974-90

“WARNING: No protective headgear can protect the wearer against all foreseeable impacts. This helmet is not designed to provide neck or lower head protection. This helmet exceeds Federal Standard FMVSS218: Even so death or severe injury may result from speeds as low as 15 mph while wearing a helmet.” Label inside a new helmet, 1992

According to Bell Helmet Dealers Guide (1986) “… an incorrectly fitted helmet can do more damage than no helmet at all.”… and that people will usually buy a helmet that fits too loose as it is more comfortable.

The American College of Surgeons declared in 1980 that improper helmet removal from injured persons may cause paralysis.
“It is concluded that: 1) motorcycle helmets have no significant effect on probability of fatality; and 2) past a critical impact speed, helmets increase the severity of neck injuries.”Dr. Jonathan Goldstein, Bowdoin College

When applying the law of inertia, the weight of an object becomes awesome. A 4-pound helmet at 50 mph becomes 200 pounds upon impact.

With the weight factor considered, after a matter of time the helmet can cause discomfort or fatigue… and fatigue is a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents.

Wearing a helmet can induce a false sense of security, leading to excess risk-taking and dangerous riding habits.

Only 2.5% of registered motorcycles are involved annually in accidents, representing just 1.1% of overall vehicle accidents.
MSF and National Safety Council, 1990

NHTSA admits that motorcycle accidents make up only 1/10 of 1% of all medical expenses.

72% of U.S. motorcyclists already wear a helmet, either by choice or by existing state laws, while auto rivers use seat belts only 47% of the time. …more than half of all auto fatalities involve a head injury… yet no one would suggest that auto drivers should wear helmets.
Automobile accidents account for 45.5% of all head injured patients and are responsible for 37.1% of all fatalities involving head injury.
The Journal of Trauma, 1989

The rate of head injuries to non-helmeted riders (24.9% of total fatal & non-fatal injuries by body location) is less than the rate of head injuries for unrestrained auto drivers (39.6%). Moreover, in terms of shear numbers, there are nearly 10 times more auto fatalities attributed to head injuries than for motorcyclists.

“The automobile driver is at fault in more than 70% of all car/motorcycle conflicts.”
Second International Congress on Automobile safety

45.5% of motorcyclists involved in accidents had no motorcycle license; 92% had no formal training and more than half had less than 6 months experience. 62% of the accidents and 50% of the fatalities involve riders between the ages of 17-26.
Hurt Report, Traffic Safety Center of USC

A helmet cannot prevent an accident.

A series of scientific studies by engineer D.R. Fisher concluded: Helmets increase the temperature of the wearers head more than 3 times as much as a wool cap and trap two-thirds of the heads heat without allowing it to dissipate; helmets reduce side vision an average of 41 degrees, representing a 16% impairment to the normal field of vision; sound attenuation represents an impairment in the ability of the rider to perceive or discriminate warning or other useful sounds that will decrease the risk of being involved in an accident.

Reflecting the economic impact of helmet laws, new motorcycle sales dropped 41% in Nebraska and 36% in Oregon in 1989, and fell 20% in Texas in 1990, the first full years following enactment of their helmet laws.
R.L. Polk & Co., 1991

Helmet Laws vs. Motorcycle Ownership: Regarding market penetration (percentage of population that owns motorcycles), states with helmet laws have 1.3 motorcycles per 100 persons, while states with no helmet laws have double the per capita rate with 2.6. States with partial helmet laws have 2.0 riders per capita, or 54% higher ownership rate than helmet law states.
Motorcycle Registrations & 1990 Census

In 1987, when the California Legislature considered a helmet law, they received in excess of 20,000 letters, petitions and phone calls opposing the bill, and only 75 letters/calls supporting it.