Did Texas make a deadly mistake in repealing the motorcycle helmet law?

January 18, 2010

In 1997, Texas repealed its mandatory motorcycle helmet. A new study begs the question: Did Texas make a deadly mistake?

According to a study published in the January edition of the Southern Medical Journal, overall motorcycle deaths increased by 30% in Texas after the state changed its mandatory helmet law.

Al Vabon, a University of Arkansas professor and co-author of the study believes the study shows that repealing the law was bad public policy. According to Vabon, motorcyclists who aren’t wearing helmets are having an overall negative effect on highway safety in Texas.

Mandatory helmet laws were common fixtures during the period when the federal government reduced transportation funding for states without such laws. Once the federal policy changed, Texas was one of the first states to repeal its mandatory helmet.

After the mandatory helmet law was repealed, helmet use by motorcycle riders decreased to 36%.

The study used data on Texas motorcycle fatalities from the period of 1994 to 2004 to analyze trends before and after the helmet law was changed.

A month-by-month breakdown indicated a sudden increase in fatal motorcycle accidents that coincides with the exact month the helmet law was repealed.

The chairman of the Texas Motorcycle Rights Association refutes the study by pointing to preliminary Texas DOT numbers that indicate a decrease in fatalities in 2009. He believes that accident prevention – not helmets – is what really saves lives.

The apparent decrease in motorcycle fatalities in 2009 may be misleading if taken at face value, however. Gonzalo Ponce, program manager of the Texas DOT’s traffic safety section, attributes the decline in fatalities to a decreased ridership due to the poor economy.

For more on this fatal motorcycle accident study, click here for the complete article.

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