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Motorcycle accident fatality rate shows the importance of helmets

We often write about the dangers that motorcyclists face on Tennessee roads and highways. Because the vehicles are smaller, less visible and offer less protection, motorcycle accidents are more likely to be fatal than comparable car accidents.

Most riders are already aware of the heightened risks they face, but accident and fatality statistics provide even more proof. According to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, over 4,500 motorcyclists were killed in crashes in 2010. In context, this means that motorcyclist deaths account for one in seven traffic fatalities in the United States.

Other research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals that compared to those traveling in cars, motorcyclists involved in a crash are 30 times more likely to be killed.

Tennessee law requires that all riders wear helmets, but we are one of just 19 states with a "universal" helmet law. There are 3 states with no helmet laws at all, and the remaining 28 states have laws requiring them only for certain riders.

Research has shown that wearing a motorcycle helmet dramatically reduces a rider's fatality risk in the event of a crash. The GAO report cites studies saying that the death risk could be reduced by as much as 39 percent.

Between 1997 and 2008, the motorcyclist fatality rate more than doubled, even as passenger vehicle fatality rates saw a slight decline. In spite of the overwhelming evidence showing the effectiveness of and need for motorcycle helmets, only 19 states have enacted universal helmet laws.

Thankfully, Tennessee is among them. We must hope that in time, other states will do their part to promote motorcyclist safety and protect riders.

Detroit News, "GAO: Give states more flexibility to reduce motorcycle deaths," David Shepardson, Nov. 28, 2012
Huffington Post, "Motorcycle deaths, injuries cost $16 billion," Joan Lowy, Nov. 27, 2012

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