WhyBike Motorcycle Blog

Are unhelmeted riders really costing us an arm and a leg?

By James - 11/10/2006

Someone on a forum I participate in, while discussing helmet laws, brought up the frequent lament of those in favor of mandatory helmet laws. Insurance rates and taxes will go up as more unhelmetd bikers are a burden on the public healthcare system. I wondered how much the “burden” was and wanted to put it into perspective, so I did a little research.

Unhelmeted riders cost taxpayers $853 million last year.

The United States spent $1.9 trillion on healthcare in 2004.

Unhelmeted riders accounted for .00004% of the spend.

For comparison, caring for smoking related health problems cost the government $12.9 billion or .007%. That is more than 150 times more costly.

Here are some more numbers I found around the web:

Obesity costs the government $7.7 billion in healthcare expenses

Alcohol costs the government $12.2 billion in healthcare expenses

Medicaid fraud costs the government $140 billion in healthcare expenses

Now I am all for reducing waste, but the argument that unhelmeted riders are a burden on our healthcare system is a weak one. When it is put into perspective with other more costly activities it seems to be a pittance. Whether or not you are for or against helmet laws, I hope you find this data useful.



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  1. The “public burden” issue about unhelmeted riders is totally weak. You know what, if more automobile drivers wore helmets, there would be less money spent on public healthcare.

    Comment by Steve Johnson — 11/11/2006 @ 10:16 pm

  2. How about framing this in the proper context, i.e., the additional burden other motorcyclists must bear as a result (increased insurance rates, disqualification from certain health plans, AMA legal costs to fight mandatory cycling ’safety’ laws, etc.).

    Comment by Spookymonster — 11/13/2006 @ 5:35 am

  3. The referenced article that gives the number of people killed last year does not give a reason why that number was killed, just that the number has doubled since repealing the mandatory helmet law, and that there are more deaths per mile driven. As we all know, the number of motorcyclists has risen dramatically over the past 10-15 years, and most of those are recreational (weekend/fairweather) riders. These are also the ones who have the least experience and are not as likely to receive rider training. Because they don’t ride very far or often, I can understand the death per miles ridden has gone up. The other problem with the number of deaths, is that the article doesn’t tell how many of those were wearing helmets at the time. The conclusions that are drawn are only obvious to the person writing the article, and Senator Lautenberg who is trying to make a name for himself.

    Comment by Big Daddy — 11/15/2006 @ 5:34 pm

  4. While motorcycle fatalities have increased over 100% since 1997 and states without helmet laws have 41% more deaths they still account for only .15% of all deaths in the US - compared to 66% for heart attacks, cancer and respiratory illnesses.

    You still have a 1 in 84 chance of being killed in a car/truck vs a 1 in 1008 chance of being killed in a motorcycle accident (you have a greater chance of being killed tripping, walking across the street or drowning…).

    While the Lautenberg report does not mention why they are focusing on Motorcycle riders there are 75K injuries vs 2.6 MILLION injuries from automobile crashes - 3% for motorcycles which is the same amount as for Pedestrians involved in motor vehicle accidents.

    Statistically they really should be focusing on seat belt use (over 40% of fatal accidents find people without belts on) and drinking (over 30% of accidents involve drinking) or autos in general which outstrip cycle accidents by an over 20:1 margin.

    Comment by G Park — 11/28/2006 @ 9:59 pm

  5. OMG. You must be completely out of your mind. I wonder if you really ride motorbikes!!! WTF people? What is wrong with this country? I am from Europe where not wearing a helmet is illegal. I can understand people from U.S. when they argue that they just dont like wearing helmets. But when they argue that helmets dont save lives (some of them do, dont they?)…thats just comic man. You are like the mickey mouse of riders. Get a helmet…pfff. Seriously now, have you ever been involved at a serious accident with your bike? I dont think so. Probably you ride around your house block at 15 mph wearing your sleepers…What a shame

    Comment by Asaverle — 11/30/2006 @ 2:27 pm

  6. I never argued that helmets don’t save lives. THis post is about the burden of unhelmeted riders to the US taxpayer. I suggest everyone wear a helmet, but I disagree that it should be mandatory. The Europeans have a long history of letting their governments’ have a hand in every aspect of their lives. Choice is a scary thing if you are not used to it.

    I put over 13K miles on my bikes every year. This summer when I was in Arizona I did ride without a helmet on and you nailed it; it was around the block to a restaurant and back.

    Comment by James — 11/30/2006 @ 2:55 pm

  7. James my comment was not going for you. It was in general a comment about people who complain all the time but still dont realize the meaning of some things. First of all if you want to ride without a helmet this is your choice and i accept it but its a long subject which I am not willing to comment right now. My personal opinion is that helmet use should be obligatory since there are many factors that concern its use. First of all you not using your helmet can be dangerous for other drivers. Consider of that. What happens if something gets in your eye while you are in a turn touching your knee at the asphalt? The most probable thing to happen would be you to lose concentration and the negotiation of the turn which will lead at your fall. falling from a bike can be dangerous not only for you but for many people and vehicles surrounding you. Another factor is that in europe there are many many young people riding bikes. Young people and especially young riders are more prone to an accident than middle aged, well trained, “veterans". At this point i would like to make clear that I am 28 years old but I ride bikes since I was 14. I had 3 accidents. One of them was BIG and I was saved by my helmet which absorbed all the damage. The point is that I CAN NOT understand the reasons of people not wanting to use helmet. Which is the reason? please explain it to me? (i am not trying to be sarcastic allthough it sounds like that). Now about your comment of europeans letting their governments have a hand in every aspect of their lives I would say that this is not a matter of region. We live in a westernized world where we share good and bad things. It doesnt matter if i live in ohio or in berlin or in athens. After all let me remind you that europeans are not killing each other on the streets for a ps3. Europeans dont vote for a president that makes wars to fill the industries that supported him with gold. And europeans didn’t invent mcdonalds. So please drop this arguement. Governments make rules. You either follow them or not. I for example, when I go for a fast ride I take out the registration plates from my bike since I hate these god damn speed radars. What I am trying to say is that I am not a man who follows rules blindly. I just can not see the reasons why people dont want to wear a helmet. Please give me some reasons and I will try to understand and respect your views.

    Comment by Asaverle — 11/30/2006 @ 5:52 pm

  8. This summer when I was in Arizona I did ride without a helmet on and you nailed it; it was around the block to a restaurant and back.

    Loved this part of your comment by the way ;)

    Comment by Asaverle — 11/30/2006 @ 5:54 pm

  9. Lets face it Wearing a helmet is a smart thing to do. But it is not the business of our gov. whether we do or not. If my wearing a helmet can save YOUR life in an accident it should be mandatory. But it can’t.
    Helmet laws are nothing more than someone wanting to tell someone else what to do or how to live.
    OH and Asaverie…Didnt we do away with the Europeans have any say in this country back in the 1700’s I think it was.

    Comment by jands_44 — 11/30/2006 @ 6:20 pm

  10. Lets talk about helmets… I’m recovering from a serious motorcycle accident that happened 10/13/06. Person driving a van makes a right turn on red, told the officer “I didn’t see him coming” so I t-boned the van then bounced off to the hiway and skidded on my Helmet which by the way it was a Yamaha helmet and its missing a area of 6 inches in diameter. The attending surgeon told me that the difference between a hospital stay and a funeral stay was my helmet. I’m an experienced rider, have been riding for 35 years and recently took a refresher course and I was still thrown off my bike, $3,500-$4,000 damamage to my bike along with $75,000 in hospital bills and the other driver received a measly $300. fine for no insurance. Its people that drive their killing machines that are causing a big percent of motorcylce accidents. Again, my HELEMT saved my Life!

    Comment by mtspecialist — 11/30/2006 @ 7:44 pm

  11. Great post and statistics. Very interesting discussion between US and EU riders. Welcome to my world. I’m a US citizen but 18 year resident of Germany, Britain, The Netherlands and France. I wear a helmet when in Europe and in the US regardless of the state law. Statistically, it’s a smart thing to do, BUT I respect every individual’s right to choose his own course in life.
    The idea that you may not ride with a helmet, because you don’t WANT to is alien to most Europeans. To them, there is one right answer. If the right answer is wear a helmet, then make a law about it, because what YOU want is not important. What SOCIETY wants is all that is important. So whilst we’re building McDonald’s, PS3s and making jobs with our horiffic capitalism, Europe is busy killing its filmakers(NL), burning thousands of cars (France) and continuing ethnic cleansing on the continent right up to the end of the 20th century(Yugoslavia). I guess us Uhmericans will just have to shut up and remain stupid.
    And that “I break the law when I don’t agree with it” line is classic continental nonsense. If I agree with it (an argument), we should make a law for it. If you agree with it (another argument), you’re a numbskull and I reserve the right to break the law you got passed and brag about it.
    That pretty much sums up the difference between the US and the EU. In the US, we don’t like to pass too many laws, because we try to follow them, if we do pass them. In the EU, the very word “pass” is often not used, because the laws are often handed down by unelected, bureacratic decree, therefore many find no need to abide by them.
    Stand firm US riders. Your right to choose is a valuable commodity that many other countries can’t even conceive of.

    Comment by TJL — 12/1/2006 @ 9:41 am

  12. I dont think the topic here was against wearing a helmet but rather against the government making you wear a helmet. Of course a helmet is the smart thing to do.

    Comment by jands_44 — 12/1/2006 @ 10:38 am

  13. TJL you dont know what you are talking about. Obviously you have no idea of how legislation works in your country and especifically in Europe. Are you trying to tell me that laws in USA are few so everyone can follow them and respect them? My god I have never heard of a more naive comment in my life. I respect the choices people make regardless of if there is a law or not. After all if you read carefully all the coments I am not the one who said that people should wear helmets because the law says so. Another cotributor to this forum said that, commenting one of my comments and in a way trying to make a point of the way he thinks European people work and think. I believe that people can not be categorized and can not be judged concerning their ideology, country or origin. Behaviors like that drive society at dead ends. TJL I might comment as well that furthermore you have no idea of geography and politics. I am not a specialist on that subject neither but saying that europe kills its filmakers (!!!), burns cars (???) and continues ethnic cleansing is absurd. First of all Yugoslavia allthough it belongs at the european continent it is ages away from the european way of thinking. It is more linked to the balkan way of thinking…Also it is quite hard for me to follow your idea of the moral sides of your comment (if there are any) saying that your country is busy making money for the rest of the world. If war is the way to do that I would prefer to live poor but still live. I dont care if you are american, european, japanese or mongolian. I dont even care for my nationality or ethnic background. I asked a specific question and i still got no answer. Why people want to ride with no helmets? I am not trying to be cocky neither to start a flaming post. I sincerely dont understand the reason. By the way you dodn’t make ps3s. Japanese make them. You just buy them.

    “Stand firm US riders. Your right to choose is a valuable commodity that many other countries canít even conceive of.”

    Dude, what are you talking about? Right to Choose what? Do you think that your politicians are so democrats that give enough freedom to their people? They give the ammount of freedom they can control and thats a universal value my friend. Otherwise we would all live in a perfect world.

    So, please forget of laws and rules. I am not here making comments defending my legislative system or any legislative system. I am here making comments which are based on my personal experience as a biker and based on my experience of people I have met that ride with no helmet. In Europe, riders who dont wear helmets are in general SQUIDS, they dont know the physics involved riding the bike, they are unaware of any theory and even at the time of riding they are so bad at it that sincerely i am scared when they ride next to me. Is it the same in U.S.?

    I like Voltaire (it seems you all like him too) too you know, but some things are just stupid. You are
    defending the right of people not wearing helmets and you constantly say that you live in a country that gives you freedom of choice when at the same time you cant smoke a cigarette not even at the yard of your house. Choices?… Choices…nice word…especially when it is used in a world with so limited spectrum of choices.

    Comment by Asaverle — 12/1/2006 @ 12:59 pm

  14. Let me put this as eloquently as I can. “It is nobodies Damn business other than my own whether I wear a helmet or not.”

    Comment by jands_44 — 12/6/2006 @ 8:44 pm

  15. 41 yo, been riding for 30+, more than 20 on the street and have always worn a helmet…i suspect those who dont wear helmets are also the same who dont buckle up while in their cages

    Comment by Greg — 12/8/2006 @ 11:01 am

  16. A little less than 3 months ago, my brother-in-law was riding home in Goose Creek, SC, where adult riders are not required to wear a helmet, and he normally chose not to wear one. This particular evening, some girl in a cage was in a hurry to make her next delivery, and pulled out right in front of my BIL. The only lucky thing with this crash (no, I do not believe it can be called an accident for obvious reasons) was that it happened right next to a rescue squad.

    The rescue squad was immediately tending to my BIL. His heart stopped beating twice while they were attempting to stabilize him, but both times they were successful in restoring it. After stabilization, he was helicoptered to MUSC and their head trauma unit. Total damage: broken right leg, spine fractured in two places, collapsed right lung, massive abrasions, and internal bleeding in the head.

    He spent a total of two and a half weeks in intensive care, then another two months in the hospital, until the beginning of this week where he was moved to intermediate physical therapy. We are looking for probably at least another two months before we can bring him home.

    Why do I tell you this story? Actually, it shows two things about the helmet…if he had been wearing one, his head trauma would indeed have been minimized, or perhaps completely avoided. On the other hand, with a helmet the fractures to his spine could very well have been aggravated, and my BIL would be a paraplegic. Knowing my BIL like I know, the loss of the use of his hands or legs would devastate him.

    So while I overall think the helmet can save lives, I think it should be up to the rider to weigh the consequences of wearing one or not, and make his own choice based on that. I totally disagree with any law that protects me from myself.

    As for the original topic of this blog, it is not the lack of helmets that is costing the taxpayers, rather it is the lack of educating the non-riding cagers about motorcycles that is hurting our bikers, and hurting the biker families… forget about costing the taxpayers!

    Comment by Rodney — 12/8/2006 @ 2:33 pm

  17. greg…your probably right. But again..seatbelts also should be the choice of the adult wearing them. Notice I said adult. Im all for mandatory restraint of children. But after we reach a certain age we should be able to decide for ourselves. Some of us just dont like being looked after by our gov.

    Comment by jands_44 — 12/11/2006 @ 2:54 pm

  18. I’m a state trooper. I have seen more destroyed bodies and lives than I could have ever imagined. I don’t belive that there is any right answere to the question. There is always an exception. I’ve seen a man wearing a helmet put his bike down, then have his head run over by a 10 ton box truck. Helmet or not it was his time. But I have seen people survive crashes that would have taken their lives if they had not been wearing a helmut. As far as seat belts, I’ve seen a family destroyed, mom was wearing one dad was not. The guard rail intruded into the car and killed the mother. The father was ejected and died. Now there are two children without parents, and before there bodies were cold inlaws were fighting over the children. If the father had worn his seatbelt they would have at least one parent. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Nothing is perfect, you don’t wear your helmet or you seat belt I’ll carve you a ticket. It’s your choice. I arrive at a collisoion scene and your dead, I’ll be sad, I will never forget you, and hope I’m not the one that has to tell your family. I’m more likley to get killed by a car than a gun, but I still wear my body armor every day. I wear my seatbelt every time I get in the car. I wear my helmet every time I get on my bike. It’s still your choice, your not going to go to prison for not wearing either of them. But it may cost you a few dollars, just like the joice between 600 minutes or a 1,000 on your cell phone. You do what you want, I’ll do what I have too, just don’t get pissed. As far as taxes go, yeah, its a drop in the bucket. Just remember your choices don’t just affect you. I hope you have a safe ride and keep it rubber side down helmet or not, seatbelt or not. If I have to clean you off the road I will, if I do you wont be the first. I do hope you’ll be the last.

    Comment by CrustyBISCUIT — 12/30/2006 @ 5:15 pm

  19. I find it absolutely appalling that legislation is passed regarding helmets, seat belts, or any other safety devices. If you cannot conceive why one would ride without a helmet, great, don’t ride without a helmet, there is nothing but your own will preventing you from wearing a helmet. But for those who can conceive reasons not to wear a helmet, however small or stupid, how is it going to hurt you if they don’t? What are you afraid of? Are you afraid you might look like a geek wearing your helmet when there is no law telling you to? Are you so incompetent that you must have a law agreeing that you made the right decision?

    Sometimes I wear a helmet, sometimes I don’t, but I will never support in any way anyone who pushes mandatory helmet or seat belt laws.

    Comment by nik — 9/11/2008 @ 2:16 pm

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