Sunday, August 16, 2009

motorcycle helmet safety: mitch vs the data

governor mitch daniels is quoted in today's behind closed doors column, and as is often the case, what he said turns out to be transparently false.

daniels, a motorcyclist himself, was asked about helmet safety:

Asked, though, if those fatalities might be lessened with a mandatory helmet law, Daniels said that "honestly, the data says that's not the key -- that really the key is practicing motorcycle safety and people on four wheels being a little more attentive. That's what will make the difference, just as seat belts have made a difference."

you'd think the comparison to seat belts—a safety device designed to protect riders in event of crash, and one which is required by indiana law—would work in favor of motorcycle helmets, but let's ignore the logic and look directly at the data.

for example, here's the abstract (pdf) of an NHTSA study titled Motorcycle Helmet Effectiveness Revisited:

This report looks at the measurement of how effective motorcycle helmets are in preventing fatalities in motorcycle crashes. Based on a comparison of crashes involving motorcycles with two occupants, at least one of whom was killed, the method uses data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) to estimate helmet effectiveness. Technological changes over the past 15 years have led to improvements in helmet design and materials. Recalculating the effectiveness of helmets in preventing fatalities, using more recent data, shows that helmets have indeed improved in this respect. The effectiveness of helmets has increased from 29 percent in 1982 through 1987 to 37 percent over the years 1993 through 2002. The significance of this improvement is that over the same period, helmets have saved the lives of 7,808 riders. The potential number of lives saved over the period is even higher, at 11,915. Unfortunately, the declining rate of helmet use among motorcyclists has contributed to rising numbers of rider fatalities despite the improved life saving qualities of helmets.

here's more from a 2008 NHTSA fact sheet (pdf):

  • Head injury is a leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes.
    An unhelmeted motorcyclist is 40 percent more likely to suffer a fatal head injury and 15 percent more likely to suffer a nonfatal injury than a helmeted motorcyclist when involved in a crash.
  • NHTSA estimates that motorcycle helmets reduce the likelihood of a crash fatality by 37 percent.
  • A Crash Outcome Data Evaluation System (CODES) study found that motorcycle helmets are 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries and that unhelmeted motorcyclists involved in crashes were three times more likely to suffer brain injuries than those wearing helmets.
  • A study conducted at the University of Southern California, which analyzed 3,600 traffic crash reports covering motorcycle crashes, concluded that wearing helmets was the single most important factor in surviving motorcycle crashes.

in other words, the data plainly shows that motorcyclists who are wearing a helmet are much more likely to survive a crash, and much less likely to be seriously injured. other studies show that people are more likely to wear helmets in states with mandatory helmet laws. more people wearing helmets means fewer fatalities and injuries.

so why is mitch daniels lying about the data? and why did the indy star not call him out on it? this information wasn't exactly difficult to find (though i admit the NHTSA site is slow as hell today). this isn't just some political lie, like when mitch says he didn't raise taxes even though he actually did. this is a life-or-death issue, and mitch's lies could convince impressionable hoosiers to endanger themselves by not wearing a helmet. so why does the star let him get away with it?

1 comment:

Steph Mineart said...

The cynical side of me thinks it's because Mitch cares more about votes than about actual safety of riders, maybe? If you run the numbers, the pro-helmet advocates are rather few, and the anti-helmet stance among motorcycle enthusiasts seems to be particularly popular, at least in my anecdotal observation. One of my blog posts examining seat belt law changes for trucks was highly commented upon by anti-seat belt opinion holders.