Background: On July 1, 1997, Arkansas became the first state in 14 years to repeal their adult helmet law. We examined the clinical and financial impact of this repeal.
Methods: A 6-year retrospective review was conducted of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences trauma registry including the 3 years before and the 3 years after the repeal of the helmet law. A head and neck Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS) score >or= 3 was considered severe. All patients admitted to the hospital or who died in the emergency department were included in the study. The database of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department was also used to determine the number of crashes and fatalities occurring statewide (1995-1999).
Results: Although total and fatal crashes in Arkansas were not significantly different (1995-1996 vs. 1998-1999), nonhelmeted deaths at the scene of a crash significantly increased from 19 of 48 (39.6%) (1995-1996) to 40 of 53 (75.5%) (1998-1999) (p < 0.0001). Before repeal, 25% of nonfatal crash admissions were nonhelmeted (18 of 73). This significantly increased to 54% (52 of 96, p< 0.001) after repeal. Overall, patients who were nonhelmeted had significantly higher AIS scores for head and neck, significantly more severe head injuries (AIS score >or= 3), 47% (33 of 70) versus 20% (20 of 99), and significantly longer length of intensive care unit stay. Financially, patients without helmets had significantly higher unreimbursed charges compared with their helmeted counterparts, resulting in a total of 982,560 dollars of additional potentially lost revenue over the length of the study.
Conclusion: Repeal of the mandatory helmet law was associated with an increase in the nonhelmeted crash scene fatality rate. After the repeal, there was a disproportionately higher admission rate for nonhelmeted motorcycle crash survivors. These patients had an increased use of hospital resources and poorer reimbursement of charges compared with their helmeted counterparts. This resulted in significantly higher unreimbursed charges. States considering repeal of their mandatory adult helmet laws should consider the potential negative financial impact on their health care system and the increased morbidity associated with nonhelmeted motorcycle riders involved in a crash.