Louisiana injuries and motorcycle registrations

Motorcycle registrations v. motorcycle injuries

Now let’s compare motorcycle registration to all unhelmeted injuries. As we know, the Preusser Research Group, examining the effects of the repeal on behalf of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), claimed reliable data was not available and then dismissed the need to factor in registrations; “Further analysis suggests that regardless of this trend, the lack of a universal helmet requirement leads to increased motorcycle fatalities well beyond what might be expected from an increase in registrations.” The report goes on to say that, “This increase in helmet use after the reinstatement of the universal helmet law by crash-involved riders was associated with a significantly lower proportion of fatalities, severe injuries, and moderate injuries during the post-reinstatement period compared to the pre-law period. The analyses indicated that there were also fewer severe and fatal crashes following the law change.”

So we gave Preusser the benefit of the doubt and argued it that way and still found serious flaws in the group’s analysis.[i] Also, anti-helmet law advocates often argue that helmet laws cause registrations to go down and use that to argue that helmet laws are bad for tourism (as well as for small businesses such as dealerships, etc.). So let’s look at both assumptions and see how they measure up:

As DataDan already pointed out in terms of fatalities—the MV-1 tables are easily access through the Federal Highway Administration website:[ii]

The data does support the helmet story—injuries rose above the contribution of motorcycle registrations. Had Preusser included the motorcycle data—including the 2004, it would’ve confirmed their interpretation that unhelmeted use leads to more fatalities. But the story doesn’t stop there:

Once the helmet law was reinstated, helmeted fatalities rose fast and in three out of four years—and almost did in the fourth year. Iow, there’s very little difference between unhelmeted and helmeted injuries in comparison to registration—and that doesn’t support the helmet story.

One of the arguments anti-helmet advocates push doesn’t prove to be true either. It’s true that registrations dipped slightly the first full year after the reinstatement, but then rose even faster than in the repeal years. If other states are like Louisiana, then, a helmet law doesn’t discourage those who want to ride from riding.

In fact, between helmeted and unhelmeted, injuries outpaced registrations in all but 1999. The helmet story, then, doesn’t hold up as told. While helmets do prevent some fatal injuries and reduce or prevent some lesser ones, helmets alone are not sufficient to make riders safe on the road.

[i] It may be of interest that the lead data analyst for the NHTSA report was Helen Weinstein, who, according to the Preusser Research Group site, “holds the M.S. degree in Science from Simmons College. She was elected to six successive two-year terms on the Trumbull (CT) Town Council where she has served as Chairman of the Finance Committee, Vice Chairman of the Council and Chairman of the Council.” She is the only employee that is referenced in terms of motorcycling and yet has no background in traffic safety nor motorcycling as a basis for analysis of the data.  http://www.preussergroup.com/

[ii] See: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/. 2008 is listed by itself. For earlier years, choose vehicles under the category Quick Find.

Explore posts in the same categories: Motorcycle crashes, Motorcycle fatalities, Motorcycle helmet use, Motorcycle injuries, Motorcycle Safety, Uncategorized

10 Comments on “Louisiana injuries and motorcycle registrations”

  1. westwood Says:

    Interesting. I suppose the idea is that helmets should at least foster a culture of safety, and that sentiment seems to be failing.

  2. This debate only matters to people who need to determine the merits of a helmet law on a personal level. But the court of public opinion has little effect on the helmet law itself. Being a legislative matter, it all boils down to which side has the most political power. Might makes right.

    When it comes to influencing legislation, nothing is more convincing than the ability to help win an election. And the most direct way to accomplish this is by becoming a campaign volunteer. They deliver votes by the dozen.

    Helmet law advocates won’t do campaign work. They are all talk, no action. Motorcyclists, on the other hand, are willing to get off the couch and help elect biker-friendly legislators. And that’s why bikers will win.

  3. wmoon Says:

    It’s a subject that needs discussion–is it adverse recruitment? Risk compensation (or homostasis or any of the other theories of that ilk)? Or simple ignorance–that riders think that safety gear does something it cannot do (protect them better)? Or what?

  4. wmoon Says:

    That may be–and yet helmet laws stand despite what you say in 20 states… And what is this “win”–repealing helmet laws is “winning”?

    I would say that going for a ride and coming home both alive and in one piece is winning. I’d say that riders knowing how to ride well and safely, other motorists seeing us and respecting our rights on the road are winning. But repealing a law so you have more of a chance of not coming home alive or in one piece? That’s not “winning” in my book.

    Those who spend all their political capital on helmet law repeal remind me of that old saying about cutting off their noses to spite their faces or being pennywise and pound foolish. Of worrying about the speck and not the plank in the eye. To me motorcycle rights–which they purport to be working for–is far, far more than repealing a helmet law.

  5. DataDan Says:

    Thanks for the series, Wendy. I found it very interesting. Though I wear a helmet (not that I have a choice here in CA), I think some riders tend to overestimate their effectiveness, as you suggested in a reply. Moreover, I think that helmet *laws* are way oversold by the safety establishment. I hope that your contribution to the dialogue will help calibrate expectations to reality.

    Looking at all six repeal states collectively, more is revealed about the effect on registrations (see this chart: http://home.att.net/~datadan/charts/growth.jpg ). Over the past 15 years, the repeal states tripled in registrations while the states that maintained all-rider laws didn’t quite double. That doesn’t imply causation, of course, but it’s a large enough difference that it can’t be dismissed as random. Note that the %change in deaths vs. %change in regs shows that the fatality rate in the repeal states increased *less* than in the helmet law states. (Data from FARS and FHWA.)

    For another perspective on injuries, I recommend looking at Florida, which repealed its all-rider helmet law in 2000. It’s the second biggest motorcycling state in the US (to CA), and they publish thorough crash data (http://www.flhsmv.gov/html/safety.html — click on Traffic Crash Facts). As this chart shows (http://home.att.net/~datadan/charts/flinjrate.jpg), the injury rate per reg has been declining for years, and helmet law repeal was merely a bump in the road of the long-term trend.

  6. DataDan Says:

    Wendy: In my previous post, a closing paren was joined into the URL of the first link. I don’t think I can fix it myself after submission, but maybe you can in moderation. I believe it needs a space between the URL and the paren.


  7. wmoon Says:

    DataDan–thanks for your kind words. I, too, had noticed in all the repeal states is that there is a sudden surge of those not wearing helmets–and a consequent rise in deaths–and then a leveling off. Iow, there’s a contingent that don’t want to wear a helmet but once the rush is over, it levels off or drops down regardless of a helmet law reinstatement or not. Very nice graphing of the trend over years and states.

    One thing, however, I would point out is that only 20 states (and D.C.) have universal helmet laws now–so the effect you depict is even greater considering that three of the states with the highest registrations all repealed during these years.

    Like you said, my concern is that there’s a great deal of over-reliance and false trust put in helmets/gear and training when neither hold up to examination. And yet I strongly believe that riding can be much safer without losing our rights nor enduring limitations.

    I’m very interested in what you think of where we’ll be going soon on this rather long trip through the motorcycle safety puzzle….

  8. wmoon Says:

    Fixed it, DataDan.

  9. Dave Says:

    Could it be that when a law is past riders who started wearing a helmet fell in to a false sense of safety and started to push there risk limits speeding more going into curves hotter …

  10. wmoon Says:

    You’re on the same thinking track I’m on…stay tuned.

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