PIFC Expects an Increase in Death and Injuries If Present Helmet Law Repealed

January 15, 2002

A bill that would permit motorcyclists who are 18 and older to discard their helmets will do nothing but increase the number of motorcycle injury accidents and deaths in California, according to the Personal Insurance Federation of California (PIFC) in a Business Wire report.

Michael Gunning, senior legislative advocate for PIFC noted that SB 1057 (Morrow) would reverse the downward trend in motorcycle deaths. Gunning claimed that enactment of this bill will result in a greater number and increased severity of motorcycle related injuries, and will increase taxpayer costs for county health services. The bill states individuals 18 or older who discard helmets to have medical insurance, but there is nothing in the bill to enforce this requirement.

The present law requiring all motorcyclists to use helmets was put into law on Jan. 1, 1992. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) reports that one year after the law was enacted; motorcycle-involved deaths declined 37 percent. Five years later, deaths fell from 511 in 1991 to 232 in 1996. Overall the CHP reports that motorcycle fatalities and motorcycle injuries have decreased by over 50 percent since the helmet law was enacted in California.

In a study released Jan. 8, 2002 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the repeal of helmet use laws in some states and the weakening of the laws in others are noted as contributing factors to a jump in motorcyclist deaths. The IIHS reports that in Texas where the helmet law was repealed in 1997 helmet use went from 97 percent to 66 percent within one year of the law being changed. In 1996, the death rate per 100,000 motorcycle registrations was 74. It increased to 99 in 1998 and in 2000 rose to 120 per 100,000. In California during those same years the death rate increased much less — from 46 to 56 per 100,000.

Gunning said the PIFC strongly opposes changing the existing law, and encourages members of the Senate Transportation Committee to vote against SB 1057.

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