U.S. Department of Transportation – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Use of DOT-compliant motorcycle helmets in 2009 stood at 67 percent, a gain from 63 percent in 2008. This result is from the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), which is the only survey that provides the nationwide probability-based observed data on helmet use1 in the United States. The NOPUS is conducted by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In the past five years, motorcycle helmet use has been increasing slowly but steadily – increased from 48 percent in 2005 to 67 percent in 2009 (Figure 1). Figure 2 compares the overall picture of motorcycle helmet use and nonuse in 2008 and 2009.

Figure 1

Figure 2

The 2009 survey also found the following:

  • Helmet use in States that require all motorcyclists to wear helmets significantly increased from 78 percent in 2008 to 86 percent in 2009. The helmet use in these States continued to be higher than in those States without universal helmet use law (Figure 3).
  • Helmet use in the Northeast increased by 16 percentage points to 61 percent in 2009, which is a statistically significant increase (Figure 4).
  • In 2009, helmet use in rural areas continued to increase to 75 percent while urban areas saw a 15-percentage-point drop to 57 percent.

Figure 3

Figure 4

For More Information

This Research Note was written by Timothy M. Pickrell, a mathematical statistician in the Mathematical Analysis Division, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, NHTSA, and by Tony Jianqiang Ye, a mathematical statistician employed by URC Enterprises, Inc., working with the Mathematical Analysis Division, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, NHTSA. For questions regarding the information presented in this document, please contact timothy.pickrell@dot.gov.

Additional data and information on the survey design and analysis procedures will be available in upcoming publications to be posted at the Web site http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/CMSWeb/index/ in 2009.

Helmets are estimated to be 37-percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle riders and 41-percent for motorcycle passengers; NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,829 motorcyclists in 2008. (Traffic Safety Facts: 2008 Data, NHTSA, DOT HS 811159). For more information on the campaign by NHTSA and the States to raise helmet use, see www.nhtsa.gov.

The NOPUS also observes other types of restraints, such as seat belts and child restraints, and observes driver electronic device use. This publication is part of a series that presents overall results from the survey on these topics. Please see publications in the series, such as “Seat Belt Use in 2009—Overall Results,” for the latest data on these topics.

To view the complete Research Note, go to:
http://www.nhtsa.gov/ staticfiles/nti/motorcycles/pdf/809849.pdf

Although we disagree with laws requiring motorcycle helmets, as the above statistics make clear, helmets can save lives and reduce injuries when motorcycle accidents occur. As motorcycle accident lawyers, we see catastrophic injuries every day. When our clients fail to use proper safety equipment (especially helmets) these injuries are often far worse. Ride safe, ride smart, and always use proper safety equipment. Some motorcycle accidents are going to happen regardless of how careful a rider is (i.e., those caused by irresponsible cagers who aren't watching where they're going). In the unfortunate even of an accident, proper safety equipment can sometimes make the difference between minor injuries and major ones.