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Are Youth-Only Motorcycle Helmet Laws Better Than None at All?

Brooks, Erin MD*; Naud, Shelly PhD; Shapiro, Steven MD

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: June 2010 - Volume 31 - Issue 2 - p 125-129
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e3181c6beab
Original Article

Introduction: The trend in state motorcycle helmet laws has been a reduction from universal coverage requiring all riders to wear helmets, to partial coverage requiring only younger riders to wear helmets. In the current study we evaluate whether partial helmet laws reduce motorcycle fatalities and increase helmet compliance among young riders.

Materials and Methods: We compared a decade of motorcycle fatalities from the only 3 states with no helmet laws (New Hampshire, Iowa, Illinois) to 3 states with ≤17-year-old partial helmet laws (Connecticut, Indiana, Wisconsin). We excluded highway speeds, blood alcohol laws, and minimum legal drinking age as being significant variables.

Results: Overall, there was no significant difference in the average fatality rate per 10,000 motorcycle registrations for ≤17-year-old riders in partial helmet law states versus no helmet law states (P = 0.45). Furthermore, there was no significant difference in the helmet wearing rate of ≤17-year-old fatalities in partial helmet law versus no helmet law states (P = 0.79).

Conclusions: Partial helmet laws neither significantly reduce fatality rates nor increase helmet compliance rates among young riders. A partial helmet law is roughly equivalent to none at all; only universal helmet laws have been shown to effectively protect young motorcyclists.

From the *Department of Pathology, Fletcher Allen Health Care, Burlington, Vt; †Department of Medical Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vt; and ‡Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Burlington, Vt.

Manuscript received September 12, 2008; accepted June 24, 2009.

A retrospective analysis of motorcycle fatalities in nonhelmet law versus partial helmet law states.

Submitted, in part, as a poster at the 2008 Annual NAME meeting in Louisville, KY.

Reprints: Erin Brooks, MD, Department of Pathology, 111 Colchester Ave, Burlington, VT 05401-1473. E-mail:

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.