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Helmet Law Repeal Stats

31263 Views 185 Replies 73 Participants Last post by  Hades
just wear a helmet.
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While I agree that helmets do save lives, the number of lives saved is usually overstated, sometimes vastly. This report on Texas and Arkansas repeal is one of the whoppers.

Indeed, the numbers show a 21% increase in AR between 1996 (last full year before repeal) and 1998 (first full year after repeal) and a 31% increase in TX over the same period. Anyone in tune with sport, though, would be aware of burgeoning sales over the past few years and ask for a comparison of deaths per registered motorcycle rather than just a body count. And that's where Data Dan comes in to help y'all out.

In Arkansas, fatalities per registered motorcycle increased by 9% in 1997 over 1996. But in 1998, the first full year after repeal, they dropped 13% and fell below the rate for 1996, the last full year before repeal.

In Texas, the fatality rate per registered motorcycle increased by 23% in 1997, but was still no worse than 1995, two years before repeal. In 1998, the first full year after appeal, the rate inreased only 3% over 1997.

I obtained these figures from the NHTSA on which the Reuters story is based. Download a copy yourself from Page 23, Table 9 includes the figures I cite above.
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tubamotorcycle asked:

Question: How many more motorcycles were on the road in 1998 vs. 1999?

3,879,450 in 1998 vs. 4,152,433 in 1999, a 7.0% increase compared to a 7.8% increase in fatalities (which Reuters rounded to 8%). The rate of fatalities per 100,000 registered motorcycles increased 0.7% from 59.13 to 59.53.

[from "Traffic Safety Facts 1999", available from]
I don't know of a good measure of traffic density. Miles traveled is available nationally but not by state. Registrations was the only measure of exposure provided in the NHTSA evaluation.

I argue, however, that for the present purpose--comparing changes year-to-year within a state--registrations is a satisfactory measure of exposure.
You're right. Annual cage (car and light truck) deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled dropped from 1.32 in 1998 to 1.30 in 1999, a continuation of a long-term declining trend. But motorcycle deaths per 100MVMT increased from 22.31 in '98 to 23.36 in '99, a reversal, begun in '98, of a long-term declining trend.

I don't find the increase acceptable in any sense. My answer to Tuba's question points out that the NHTSA evaluation dramatically overstates reality, presumably to heat their pitch for helmet laws and against repeal. They seem to be singing along with Professor Harold Hill: "We got trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for rePeal!"

With little data to back it up, my feeling is that motorcycling is experiencing growing pains. Registrations nationwide increased 7% in 1999 compared to 2% for cages. That means a higher percentage of new riders and more newbie risk than in the early- and mid-'90s when registrations were actually declining.
Re: Dan, take a swing at this potential situation

The question I addressed isn't whether I would prefer to crash with or without a helmet. I've dented a few helmets in my life and would rather not risk denting my skull. The question is whether NHTSA, abetted by the media (including this one), willfully exaggerated the efficacy of helmet laws in an attempt to prevent further defections from the ranks of helmet-law states. I believe I succeeded in casting doubt on their claims about the effect of repeal on fatalities in Arkansas and Texas.

When risk is small, such as the chance of crashing and dying in a way that a helmet could prevent, an individual might sensibly take the appropriate precaution. Yet when the benefit of the precaution is extrapolated to a population, it can be barely noticeable. The inconvenient fact NHTSA is trying to overcome is that helmet laws don't have much overall effect. The fatality rate per registration is no lower in the 22 helmet-law states than in other 28 (most of which require helmets only of riders under 18).
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