By Christopher Hart
On 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.