Our Opinion: Data supports retaining helmet laws

A perennial waste of time for Missouri legislators are proposals to relax helmet requirements for motorcyclists.

Don’t be surprised, however, if some variation on the theme isn’t filed when lawmakers convene in January.

We encourage any legislator inclined to sponsor such a bill to read a report released recently by the federal Government Accountability Office.

Among the findings regarding injuries and costs:

• Motorcyclists are 30 times more likely to die in a traffic crash than passenger car occupants. Nationwide, In 2010, 4,502 motorcyclists died in crashes and 82,000 were injured.

• Studies indicate helmets reduce the fatality risk by as much as 39 percent. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates helmets saved the lives of 1,550 motorcyclists in 2010.

• Direct costs from motorcycle deaths and injuries were $16 billion in 2010, although the full cost likely is greater because long-term medical expenses are difficult to measure.

• The average cost was estimated at $1.2 million for a fatal crash, and between $2,500 and $1.4 million for an injury accident, depending on severity.

Some motorcycle groups and riders support Missouri’s helmet law.

Opponents largely argue helmet laws infringe on personal freedoms and their right to assume the risk.

The fallacy of that argument is the damage inflicted in a motorcycle accident rarely is confined exclusively to the rider.

With regard to physical injury or death, loved ones also suffer loss.

Admittedly, injury and death may be consequences of any accident, but the statistics above show the greater odds for motorcycle riders without helmets.

Concerning costs, riders rarely assume all the financial risks associated with injuries; society as a whole almost always shares some of the burden.

Those financial risks range from emergency room visits immediately after an accident, to long-term care for head injuries and other debilitating conditions.

Lawmakers make consequential decisions.

Any decision on this issue must be based on the overall consequences of relaxing helmet laws for Missouri’s motorcycle riders.

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