Motorcycle helmets: Safety over style
74 motorcyclists died on Kentucky roads in 2020, according to the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety. In the event of a crash, wearing a proper helmet may save your life
*The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identifies May as Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.
Sun in your face, wind in your hair, and endless bluegrass-lined roads before you: An evening or weekend cruise on a motorcycle can be exciting, relaxing, and adrenaline-fueled all at the same time.
But that exhilaration can come at a hefty price. Motorcyclists are 27 times more likely to die in an accident than occupants of cars, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). A total of 5,014 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2019 in the U.S., according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Motorcyclist deaths had been declining since the early 1980s but began to increase in 1998 and continued to increase through 2008. Motorcycle deaths accounted for 14 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths in 2019 and were more than double the number of motorcyclist deaths in 1997.
One piece of protective gear has the ability to greatly reduce the above statistics: a helmet. On average, unhelmeted riders are three times more likely than helmeted ones to sustain traumatic brain injuries in a crash, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Motorcycles in Kentucky
Motorcycling is a common hobby in our state. According to the Kentucky State Police, there are more than 87,000 motorcycles currently registered in the Bluegrass State.
Kentucky first enacted a motorcycle helmet law for all riders in 1968. This law was amended in July 1998 to require helmet use only by:
- Motorcycle operators and passengers under the age of 21;
- Motorcycle operators who possess a motorcycle instruction permit;
- Motorcycle operators who have had an operator’s license for less than one year.
When Kentucky repealed the law in 1998, motorcycle fatalities increased by more than 50 percent (NHTSA).
In comparing states with and without helmet laws, the statistics are rather telling. In states where a helmet is required for all riders, 9 percent of motorcyclists killed in 2011 were not wearing a helmet.
That same year in states without a universal helmet law, 65 percent of motorcyclists killed were not wearing helmets.
Some riders claim that helmets reduce their peripheral visibility, but a helmet approved by the DOT (Department of Transportation) will not impair your visibility. A study of more than 900 motorcycle crashes did not find even one case in which a helmet kept a rider from spotting danger.
Other motorcycle riders will only bring along a helmet during long trips. Research shows that most crashes happen on short trips (less than five miles long), according to the Kentucky State Police.
Still yet, others will argue that protective head gear is not necessary on a low-speed cruise. However, research shows that most riders are traveling slower than 30 mph when a crash occurs. At that speed, a helmet can cut the number and severity of head injuries by as much as 50 percent.
Picking the right helmet
Finding the right helmet could literally be the defining factor between life and death.
Always look for the DOT symbol on the outside back of the helmet. This proves it has passed safety standards and will protect the head and brain in the event of a crash.
For a helmet to be DOT-approved, it must have:
- A thick inner liner. The minimum Federal safety standard requires a one-inch-thick inner liner made of polystyrene foam.
- Sturdy chin strip and rivets.
- A substantial weight. Helmets meeting the safety standard generally weight about 3 pounds.
Beware of “novelty helmets.” The NHTSA reports that retailers annually sell more than 800,000 of these unsafe helmets, which are usually peddled online, come in flashy colors and are less expensive than DOT-approved helmets. These helmets offer little protection and are bought for style rather than safety, and while they are cheaper, they may cost you your health in the event of an accident.
>> We want you to be safe out there on the road… but accidents still happen.
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