As the nation thaws from a long winter, more motorcyclists are heading out onto the road. Public interest organizations and motorcycle advocates are hopeful motorcyclists will continue to take safety recommendations to heart. The two groups may have different messages, but they have the same goal: keeping motorists safe.
Public interest organizations agree there is simply no way to get around the fact that motorcycle helmets save lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control, skull protection results in about 39 percent fewer motorcycle crash-related deaths than there would be without helmet use.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reports that from 2005 to 2009, motorcycle helmet use increased—from 48 percent to 67 percent. The National Highway Safety Administration estimated that helmets saved the lives of more than 1,800 motorcyclists in 2008. If helmets had been worn by all motorcycle riders that year, more than 800 additional lives could have been saved.
Wearing a Helmet Save Lives
“We’re not about helmets,” said Deborah Butitta of the Yavapai (County) chapter in Prescott, Ariz. of the American Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education (ABATE). The Prescott group recently held a membership drive to boost awareness of the organization’s mission: educating riders and the general public about motorcycle safety. ABATE’s chapters nationwide work for motorcycle rights through legislative efforts. “We’re about safety and education … to prevent accidents from happening,” Butitta said.
The National Highway Safety Administration and the Governors Highway Safety Association continue to urge all states to adopt a universal motorcycle helmet law. GHSA reports that motorcyclists in 47 states are required to wear helmets.
States have passed these laws partly in response to continually changing signals from the federal government. In 1967, the feds began urging states to create and pass legislation by tying state highway construction funds to enactment of those laws. Although 47 states then passed statutes regulating helmet use, some balked at the federal government dictating policy. The federal government may not penalize states that have declined to pass helmet laws. In 1991, Congress created incentives for states to pass helmet laws. Then, in 1995, the sanctions were lifted.
Responsibility falls to individual states to mandate or encourage motorcycle safety and many advocacy organizations are on board. For example, the Massachusetts Motorcycle Association focuses on all motorists’ responsibility to be aware of each other. MMA has begun its annual Motorcycle Safety Awareness Period, which urges drivers to come out of their “cocoons” and be alert for “smaller roadway users,” such as joggers, bicyclists, and motorcycles. But the MMA doesn’t let motorcyclists off the hook. “Riders are … focusing on their stale riding skills …” the MMA says in a recent statement, “(instead of) watching for … other vehicles (not) used to seeing them.”
The MMA, established in 2002, has helped lower motorcycle fatalities in Massachusetts by 30 percent in the past 11 years. The organization says its yearly safety awareness campaign is a significant contributor to this decline, because it reminds all motorists to share the road responsibly.
Many motorcycle advocates are as eager as public interest organizations to underscore the importance of safe ridership, protecting all vehicle operators who share the road.