Motorcycle helmet-use laws and head injury prevention

JAMA. 1992 Mar 25;267(12):1649-51. doi: 10.1001/jama.267.12.1649.


Objective: To rebut criticism of a previous study of motorcycle helmet-use laws through reanalysis with improved measures of exposure, stratification for regional differences in crash risk, and addressing of total motorcycle-related mortality and the grounds for targeting motorcyclists for helmet-use laws.

Design: Death certificate-based correlational study of motorcycle-related deaths and motorcycle helmet-use laws.

Population studied: United States resident deaths from 1979 through 1986.

Results: Regardless of the denominator used (resident population, motorcycle registrations, or motorcycle crashes), states with full helmet-use laws had consistently lower head injury-associated death rates than states without such laws, even when stratified by region. Total motorcycle-related mortality, however, was similar between law groups. On a registration or crash basis, motorcyclists who died in crashes had a fivefold to sixfold higher risk of head injury than those who died using any other type of motor vehicle.

Conclusion: Full helmet-use laws were consistently associated with lower rates of head injury-associated death. While disagreement remains on the acceptability of the legislative approach, the scientific basis for motorcycle helmet-use laws as a head injury prevention tool appears sound.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Accidents, Traffic / prevention & control*
  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / mortality
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / prevention & control*
  • Head Protective Devices / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Motorcycles / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • United States / epidemiology