April 7th, 2015
A recent bill in Delaware has sparked new debate on motorcycle helmet laws. According to the Insurance Journal, the state's House Public Safety Committee could not decide on whether the bill should be sent to the House. Passionate arguments stem from both sides of the debate, and both have their own reasoning.
Currently, only three states have no laws whatsoever regarding motorcycle helmet use, according to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. However, 19 states plus the District of Columbia host universal helmet laws, requiring all riders to wear a helmet. The remaining 28 states have partial laws, meaning only some motorcyclists must legally wear a helmet. That distinction is usually determined by the age of the rider.
Arguments for helmet laws
Motorcycle insurance companies are typically on board with helmet laws for the increased safety element. Riders are more exposed than the typical car driver, as motorcycles don't provide an enclosed space. Plus, basic safety features like airbags and seat belts are essentially useless on a motorcycle. According to the Highway Loss Data Institute, when Michigan eased its helmet laws, the state saw a 51 percent increase in motorcycle insurers' losses. The insurance companies compensated for those losses by raising insurance rates. Essentially, living in a state with helmet laws can actually save a rider money.
The driving conditions are also harsher for motorcycles. Not only are they less visible than cars, making them more vulnerable in a motorist's blind spot, but motorcycles are also less stable, meaning uneven roads and potholes can pose a serious threat.
Helmets help to combat these increased dangers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, helmets are approximately 37 percent effective at preventing deaths from motorcycle accidents and 67 percent effective at preventing brain injury. These preventative measures that protect the rider also by extension shield the family from the pain of losing a loved one.
Arguments against helmet laws
So, why have Illinois, New Hampshire and Iowa not taken up any helmet laws? One argument against helmet laws is that the head safety gear may inhibit the rider's ability to see and hear. However, a study conducted by the NHTSA found though helmets interfere slightly with lateral vision, most riders can compensate for it by turning their heads a little farther when changing lanes. Additionally, the study determined the speed of the bike had more effect on a rider's hearing than the helmet did.
A major part of the allure to the motorcycle lifestyle is having the freedom to ride under the shining sun while feeling the waves of the wind. Wearing a helmet can be hot and uncomfortable, taking away from that original attraction to riding. Chicago Tribune contributor Steve Chapman said it doesn't make sense for the government to monitor the health of motorcyclists. People make poor health choices all the time that leave others paying the medical expenses, such as drinkers with liver damage or smokers with lung cancer. A helmet law would single out motorcyclists.
Though both sides of the debate present valid arguments, the ultimate judgment is up to the rider. It's important to be informed when making any decision and to think about everyone on the road.
CoverHound offers an easy-to-use website to compare motorcycle insurance quotes.