September 19, 2006

From Professional Insurance Agents of Florida, Tallahassee

States like Florida that do not require motorcycle riders and passengers to wear helmets may be contributing to unnecessary deaths, hospitalizations, and long-term disabilities. That's the conclusion of a study comparing motorcycle injuries in states with helmet laws with those in states with little or no helmet regulation conducted by the Center for Rural Emergency Medicine at West Virginia University.

Researchers found that states without universal helmet laws reported a higher number of motorcycle crash victims hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of brain injuries: 16.5 percent versus 11.5 percent in states with mandatory use laws. The in-hospital death rate among states without mandatory helmet laws was also higher -- 11.3 percent versus 8.8 percent.

"Helmets are estimated to be 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries," said Dr. Jeffrey Coben, M.D., director of the center and a practicing emergency room physician. "Analyzing injuries by state, we found that patients from states that do not have universal helmet laws had a 41 percent increase in risk of a Type 1 traumatic brain injury." Type 1 brain injuries include head injures likely to result in permanent disability including paralysis, persistent vegetative state, and severe cognitive deficits.

Traffic deaths last year reached the highest level since 1990, due to an increase in motorcycle and pedestrian fatalities. Motorcycle deaths rose for an eighth straight year. A total of 30 state legislatures have rolled back mandatory helmet laws in recent years due to lobbying by motorcycle-advocacy groups.