Universal Motorcycle Helmet
Reduce Costs to Society

Helmet Laws Reduce Public Payout Helmet laws significantly reduce the strain on public resources. Unhelmeted riders cost more to treat at the hospital, spend a longer time in rehabilitation, and are more likely to require some form of public assistance to for pay medical bills and rehabilitation. In 1991, prior to enacting its helmet law, California's state medical insurance program paid $40 million for the treatment of motorcycle-related head injuries. That figure dropped to $24 million after enactment of a universal helmet law.

“It costs nothing to ride without a helmet – as long as there is no crash.” It is true that wearing a motorcycle helmet will not prevent a crash. But when a crash happens, the freedom to ride unhelmeted is paid for in different ways, by different sources. The motorcyclist pays and the public pays through taxes, insurance rates, and health care costs.

What is the price? Hospitalization and related medical expenses are higher for unhelmeted riders because of brain injuries. Here's what the data tell us:

  • The average charge for inpatient care for motorcyclists who sustain a brain injury is more than twice the charge for motorcyclists receiving inpatient care for other injuries. 32

  • The average savings for prevented brain injuries in Hawaii, Maine, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Wisconsin was $15,000 in inpatient costs for each incident in the first year. 33

  • The average hospitalization costs for unhelmeted riders were one-third greater than those of helmeted riders ($7,208 to $5,852) in a study of Illinois-injured motorcyclists. 34

So who does pay the price? A large number of studies have focused on this issue and, although the percentages vary, one central point remains clear: whether as taxpayers or insurance customers or medical consumers, we all pay. For example,

  • A privately conducted California study put the average cost of hospital admissions for a non-helmeted rider at $17,704. Of this initial amount, 72 percent of the costs for hospitalization were paid by the State of California, with another 10 percent being paid by other tax-based sources.35

  • Another study found that 57 percent of the patients listed a government program as the principal payer of in-patient hospital costs resulting from motorcycle crashes.36

We may not be able to eliminate all the risk from motorcycling, but helmet laws greatly reduce the most expensive injuries—head injuries. Reducing these costs is good for the consumer and it is good for business, too.
—Tim Hoyt, Vice President, Safety
Nationwide Insurance Enterprises.

What about insurance? Motorcyclists pay very high insurance premiums, but these premiums don't cover the complete costs of long-term rehabilitation. Increased payouts by an insurance company eventually translate into increased insurance rates for the public, so everyone winds up paying. The most recent statistics show that private insurance pays for approximately 66 percent of the costs of inpatient care for motorcycle crash victims. Another 22 percent is paid by public funds and 12 percent is categorized as another source (usually self-payment).37

An unhelmeted rider is more likely to be an uninsured rider. Private insurance cannot help if the rider is not insured. A study of motorcycle crash victims at one hospital found that 46 percent were uninsured.38 Taxpayers could be picking up a large portion of the medical costs for unhelmeted victims.

Insurance companies have the actuarial tables that tell them the high cost of protecting motorcyclists. That's why the insurance industry has taken a strong position in favor of motorcycle helmet laws. The industry recognizes that helmet laws reduce the most expensive injuries related to motorcycling -- head injuries.

On behalf of the taxpayers I represent, I must ask: Is it worth spending these millions of dollars to pay for the wind in the hair of motorcyclists? My answer is No.
—Sen. John Cullerton
Illinois State Senate

Life and Economic savings potential. Injuries resulting from motorcycle crashes have a huge economic impact. Medical costs, lost productivity, vocational rehabilitation, insurance administration, law enforcement and emergency services, legal services, and workplace distribution (retraining someone to assume duties at work) are among the factors that are impacted by these injuries. Since states with universal helmet laws have obtained nearly 100 percent helmet use rates, a significant increase in helmet use is attainable when these laws are passed. If the states above were to enact helmet laws covering all riders, these laws could prevent hundreds of injuries and deaths and could achieve a significant savings in economic costs.

Potential Savings With 100 Percent
Helmet Use For States Without
Motorcycle Helmet Laws:

A 13 Year Total (1984-1996)39

State Additional
Lives Saved
With 100 Percent
Helmet Usage
Cost Saved
With 100 Percent
Helmet Usage
Alaska 15 $21,852,156
Arizona 231 $323,990,417
Colorado 147 $206,187,959
Connecticut 155 $218,192,346
Delaware 25 $34,488,086
Hawaii 58 $80,712,198
Idaho 57 $79,858,479
Illinois 428 $600,646,597
Indiana 265 $372,797,156
Iowa 147 $206,019,886
Kansas 94 $132,302,421
Maine 57 $80,542,164
Minnesota 152 $213,942,197
Montana 52 $72,597,337
New Hampshire 51 $71,628,543
New Mexico 106 $148,949,986
North Dakota 21 $28,093,419
Ohio 513 $720,538,948
Oklahoma 132 $184,889,306
Rhode Island 33 $46,609,477
South Carolina 202 $284,009,487
South Dakota 43 $60,541,586
Utah 76 $106,174,126
Wisconsin 217 $305,334,302
Wyoming 26 $37,275,377
Totals 3,303 $4,638,173,956

Table of Contents / Comprehensive Approach to Safety / Anatomy of a Crash /
Preventing Brain Injuries / Reducing Injuries & Saving Lives / Helemet Laws Work /
Reducing Costs / Not a Stand Alone Issue / Common Myths /
Tax Payer vs. Personal Freedom / More Info. / End Notes