When Federal regulations are good: Requiring motorcycle helmets would save lives and conserve healthcare resources.

Some vocal critics of government regulations contend that regulations are a disincentive to business profitability and that the fewer regulations the better. There are multiple fallacies to that argument that are beyond the scope of this posting. Instead, this posting focuses on one controversial regulation that has recently been receiving attention – the financial impact of motorcycle helmet laws.

Multiple studies consistently demonstrate that helmets have been shown to reduce death and injury. A recent CDC publication, “Helmet Use Among Motorcyclists Who Died in Crashes and Economic Cost Savings Associated With State Motorcycle Helmet Laws — United States, 2008–2010”[1][2] provides not only injury rates but addresses how helmet laws in individual states influence the injuries and the costs associated with those injuries.

Motorcycle accidents are expensive on many planes: direct hospital costs, rehabilitation, funerals, and lost work. As a basis for determining  accident costs, data from the most recently published in the report Economic Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes 2000, determined a cost to society of $5,941 per minor (MAIS[3] 1) injury, $135,634 per serious (MAIS 2-5) injury, and $957,787 per fatality. Converting 2000 dollars to 2012 dollars the number would be:

Injury Level Cost of injury  (2000 Dollars) Cost of injury (2012 Dollars[4])
Minor Injury









That’s an amazing figure – in 2012 every motorcycle fatality cost $1,292,623. Some states require riders to carry additional insurance but typically that is in the tens of thousands of dollars.. Guess who pays for the differential? Yes, the rest of us who don’t ride. Wouldn’t a Federal regulation requiring helmets and requiring that cyclists carrying at least $1,000,000 in additional health insurance make sense for society. Or would that be government interfering in private lives?

In the aggregate, not regulating helmets usage is expensive. The CDC report concluded, “In 2010, approximately $3 billion in costs were saved as a result of helmet use in the United States; however, another $1.4 billion could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets (NHTSA, unpublished data, 2012). Total costs saved from helmet use ranged from $394 million in California to $2.6 million in New Mexico.”

Only the uninformed would suggest that wearing motorcycle helmets doesn’t save lives and reduce head injuries. There is a solution – a Federal regulation requiring all motorcycle riders to wear helmets. That seems obvious but the bigger point is that it is the just and appropriate role of the Federal government to make and enforce regulations that benefit all the people.


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