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Helmet laws weaken as motorcycle deaths surge

We recently told you about a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that shows how motorcycle helmets save lives. Despite the evidence, fewer states require motorcycle helmets than in decades past, and there's an alarming trend in the number of fatal motorcycle accidents.

Back in the 1970s, all but three states required riders to wear motorcycle helmets. Now only 19 states maintain this requirement. (Most of those states do require helmets for younger motorcyclists.)

This may be a result of pressure from motorcyclists who do not think they should be forced to wear helmets if it's not their preference. The American Motorcyclist Association says that it opposes helmet requirements because they have "unintended consequences." Instead, the group emphasizes rider education and awareness.

Still, it's hard to argue with the numbers. Back in 2002, there were about 3,200 motorcycle deaths. Less than a decade later, in 2010, there were 4,500. And that number has essentially doubled since the 1990s. Yet the number of people dying in car accidents is at its lowest point since the 1940s. Something's off here, but what?

It all comes back to the CDC report, the results of which have been mirrored in many other reports over recent decades: Helmets save lives. In fact, hundreds of lives are saved every year by motorcycle helmets.

Still, many riders look at the helmet issue as one of personal liberty. The question comes up again and again: Can laws require people to do something for their own safety even if they don't want to? Or do the social costs of not wearing a helmet outweigh that concern? The debate isn't going away anytime soon.

Source: PBS, "Why rise in motorcycle deaths hasn't meant tougher helmet laws," June 19, 2012

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