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Federal task force preparing recommendation for mandatory motorcycle helmet laws

November 08, 2013

PICKERINGTON, Ohio -- A federal task force is poised to recommend that all states have mandatory helmet laws for all motorcyclists, which the task force says would reduce injuries and deaths as well as result in economic benefits, the American Motorcyclist Association reports.

The AMA has repeatedly expressed its belief that motorcyclists would be best served if regulators and legislators focus on programs to prevent motorcycle crashes from occurring in the first place. The AMA also said that any economic benefits would be insignificant since health care costs related to motorcycle crashes are miniscule in the context of total health care costs nationwide.

"The AMA continues to strongly encourage the use of personal protective equipment, including gloves, sturdy footwear and a properly fitted motorcycle helmet certified by its manufacturer to meet federal safety standards," said Wayne Allard, AMA vice president for government relations, on Nov. 7. "But we also believe that adults should have the right to voluntarily choose to wear a helmet."

The Community Preventive Services Task Force, whose 15 members are appointed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, makes recommendations to the CDC and reports to the U.S. Congress about community preventive services, programs and policies to improve health. The task force is preparing to recommend that all states have universal helmet laws, which means that all riders, regardless of age, would be required to wear helmets.

The task force is ready to make the recommendation based on its belief that a universal helmet mandate would reduce motorcyclist deaths and injuries, and that mandating riders to wear helmets would result in economic benefits. The task force believes health care costs for injured helmeted riders wouldn't be as high as those of injured unhelmeted riders, and also that universal helmet laws would result in fewer missed days of work for injured riders.

The CDC, which oversees the task force, is a federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services and is headquartered in Atlanta. Its official mission is to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the United States. "Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same," the agency says on its website.

Explaining the AMA's opposition to the proposed recommendation, Allard cited the official AMA position on voluntary helmet use.

"The AMA strongly advocates helmet use, but helmet use alone is insufficient to ensure a motorcyclist's safety," said Allard. "There is a broad range of 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."

In its position on voluntary helmet use, the AMA noted that mandatory helmet laws do nothing to prevent crashes.

"The AMA supports actions that help riders avoid a crash from occurring, including voluntary rider education, improved licensing and testing, and expanded motorist awareness programs," said Allard. "This strategy is widely recognized and pursued in the motorcycling community."

Concerning the task force claim of economic benefits, the AMA noted that injured motorcyclists are less likely than the general population to use public funds to pay for injuries sustained in crashes, and are just as likely to be insured as other vehicle operators.

In addition, the AMA said the costs associated with the treatment of motorcyclist injuries account for a tiny fraction of total U.S. health care costs. An even smaller portion of these costs is attributable to unhelmeted motorcyclists, the majority of which are paid by privately purchased insurance. In 2000, for example, approximately 1.55 percent of total U.S. health care costs were attributable to all motor vehicle crashes. Motorcyclists involved in crashes represented a miniscule percentage of this figure.

To read the AMA position on voluntary helmet use, go to www.americanmotorcyclist.com/Rights/PositionStatements/VoluntaryHelmetUse.aspx

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