Wear a Motorcycle Helmet — It’s Safer and It Saves Money

By Christopher Hart

Motorcycle RidersOn Monday, I traveled to Pennsylvania’s state capital, Harrisburg, to attend a press conference to voice the NTSB’s strong support for the legislation that State Representative Dan Frankel is introducing to make it mandatory for all motorcycle riders in Pennsylvania to wear safety helmets.

I pointed out that the NTSB’s primary focus is improving safety, and improving safety is the most important reason for wearing a safety helmet.

In Pennsylvania, in the two years after the 2003 repeal of its helmet law, the state saw a 30 percent decline in helmet use. At the same time, the state saw a 66 percent increase in head-injury deaths and a 78 percent jump in head-injury-related hospitalizations.

Since the 2003 repeal, more than 1,400 motorcyclists have died on Pennsylvania roadways.

In addition to lives lost, there is a significant fiscal impact when unhelmeted riders are involved in crashes, such as extra costs for emergency services, medical care, rehabilitative services, and lost household and work productivity. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2009 Pennsylvania realized almost $97 million in costs saved because some motorcyclists chose to use a helmet.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, states with a universal helmet law see nearly three times as many lives, and dollars, saved than states with a partial helmet law. That is why Pennsylvania’s neighbors, New York and New Jersey, with universal laws, are saving substantially more lives and dollars than Pennsylvania. Had every rider and passenger used a helmet, Pennsylvania could have saved nearly an additional $65 million. To the extent that riders are either not insured or under-insured, taxpayers end up covering these costs.

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. I hope Pennsylvania chooses to observe the occasion in the Keystone State by re-enacting universal wear of motorcycle safety helmets — it is so key to saving lives and dollars.


Christopher A. Hart was sworn in as a Member of the NTSB on August 12, 2009 and designated by the President for a two-year term as Vice Chairman of the Board on August 18. Member Hart joined the Board after a long career in transportation safety, including a previous term as a Member of the NTSB.

4 thoughts on “Wear a Motorcycle Helmet — It’s Safer and It Saves Money”

  1. At what speed or point is a helmet not able to offer protection? I see a lot of news reports saying the person was NOT wearing a helmet & died. Most of these are referred to as high speed collisions. Many are direct impacts with another vehicle resulting in “high”speed when both are added together. Seldom is it noted they were wearing a helmut & died, when i know they did. Should they wear a small covering helmet or a $300.00-600.00 full coverage helmet & why? Do any of them cause a fracture at the base of the skull or separation of the spine? I hear all kinds of for and against reasons, but I’m looking for a real statement with specific information, should I ever ride.
    Thanks.

  2. Instead of trying to legislate safer crashing, wouldn’t safer auto drivers be a more productive goal? I’m sure you have all the data to show that by and large auto drivers are the ones at fault in a motorcycle / car crash. And, I’m also sure you have the data and studies showing that a motorcycle helmet is not very effective over around 13 mph. I also find it odd that when quoting data, many seem to report an increase in deaths when mandatory helmet laws are either not in place or are repealed. Don’t you feel that to be accurate, motorcycle registrations with and without mandatory helmet laws also needs to be accounted for? Really, not calculating that particular makes the rest of the data suspect in my opinion.

    1. The National Transportation Safety Board is concerned with all aspects of a transportation accident – what caused it, what will prevent it from happening again, and what will minimize injuries in the event of a similar accident. We take a holistic approach in issuing safety recommendations that will not only lead to crash prevention, but also injury mitigation. Education, safe riding & driving practices, and situational awareness will help prevent accidents from happening, but when an accident does occur, proper safety gear – including a helmet – provides important protection against injury.

      Check out our motorcycle safety questions and answers, which answers questions commonly posed about motorcycle helmets and their part in safe riding.

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