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Faulty comparisons plague CDC task force push for universal helmet laws

July 09, 2014

PICKERINGTON, Ohio -- A new recommendation for universal motorcycle helmet laws by a task force of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is based on faulty reasoning, the American Motorcyclist Association reports.

The Community Preventive Services Task Force asserts that universal motorcycle helmet laws will reduce the rate of motorcyclists killed in traffic crashes. The recommendation is based on studies of U.S. states and foreign countries that require all riders to wear helmets, those that require only minors to wear helmets and those that have no helmet requirement.

"Researchers examined evidence from the United States and other high-income countries [made available through the United Nations' World Health Organization] and found that implementation of universal laws in place of partial helmet laws or no law led to substantial increases in helmet use and decreases in motorcycle-related deaths and injuries," according to the task force's statement. "When universal helmet laws were repealed and replaced with partial laws or no law, the opposite effects were seen; helmet use decreased substantially and motorcycle-related deaths and injuries increased."

To adequately assess the role of helmet laws in preventing serious injury or death in crashes, the CDC task force members would first have had to identify the fatal injury in each crash, then determine whether use of a helmet would have prevented that injury or reduced its effect, thereby saving the life of the motorcyclist.

However, the CDC task force cites no such detailed analysis and offers no evidence that the use of a helmet would have lessened or eliminated the fatal injuries in a significant number of crashes. Instead, task force members merely looked at the numbers and drew their conclusion.

"Correlation does not imply causation," said Wayne Allard, AMA's vice president for government relations. "Instead of trying to draw conclusions from this type of observation, the CDC task force could have better spent its time and resources searching for cures for infectious diseases."

The AMA has long advocated the voluntary use of helmets, but opposes mandates because helmets do nothing to reduce the likelihood of a crash.

"Rider education and motorist awareness/distracted-driver programs -- which are threatened when scarce funds are siphoned into helmet mandate enforcement -- should be the focus of the safety community," Allard said.

The AMA strongly encourages the use of personal protective equipment, including gloves, sturdy footwear and a properly fitted motorcycle helmet certified by its manufacturer to meet the DOT standard. However, adults should have the right to voluntarily decide when to wear a helmet. The AMA does not oppose laws requiring helmets for minor motorcycle operators and passengers.

"Helmet use alone is insufficient to ensure a motorcyclist's safety," Allard said. "There is a broad range of additional voluntary measures that can be implemented to improve the skill of motorcycle operators, as well as reduce the frequency of situations where other vehicle operators are the cause of crashes that involve motorcycles."

A complete statement of the AMA's position on universal mandatory helmet laws can be found here: www.americanmotorcyclist.com/Rights/PositionStatements/VoluntaryHelmetUse.aspx

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