NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


November 20, 2008

Today, in an address at the 10th Annual Motorcycle Industry Council Communications Symposium, NTSB Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker reiterated the need for all States to require all motorcycle operators and passengers to wear DOT-approved safety helmets when travelling on their motorcycles. 

Head injuries are a leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes.  However, currently, only 20 States, the District of Columbia, and 4 territories have universal helmet laws requiring all riders to wear a helmet, 27 States and 1 territory have partial laws requiring minors and/or passengers to wear such helmets, and 3 States have no helmet laws.     

"The Safety Board is very concerned that, in recent years, the number of motorcycle fatalities has been more than double the number of deaths in each year from accidents in aviation, rail, marine, and pipeline combined," Rosenker said.  "Last year, we issued a series of recommendations to the States, Territories, and the District of Columbia to enact or upgrade their legislation so that all motorcycle operators and passengers are required to wear DOT-compliant helmets while riding or operating motorcycles," he added. 

The use of a safety helmet that complies with U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218, is the single critical factor in the prevention and reduction of head injury.    

Although rising motorcycle use may partly explain this disturbing trend, increases in fatalities and injuries have far outpaced increases in motorcycle registrations and vehicle miles traveled, measures used to determine accident and injury rates.   

Since 1997, the number of motorcycle fatalities has increased 143 percent, (from 2,116 in 1997 to 5,154 in 2007) an increase that far exceeds that of any other form of transportation. Reported injuries have also climbed from about 53,000 in 1997 to 103,000 in 2007, a 94 percent increase.  In 2007, for example, motorcycle fatalities accounted for more than 12.6 percent of all motor vehicle crash fatalities (41,059 for all vehicles and 5,154 for motorcycles).     

"I congratulate the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) for encouraging riders to wear motorcycle helmets, and advancing a new safety internet service that deals with helmet safety," Rosenker said.  MIC's soon to be released helmetcheck.com initiative will provide motorcyclists the opportunity to identify motorcycle helmets that meet DOT-safety requirements," Rosenker said.  Additionally, MIC's motorcycle helmet task force is working very closely with the

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on addressing federal labeling to reduce misleading labeling of novelty helmets.  

Rosenker also addressed states that have repealed their mandatory helmet laws within the last 10 years.  "Repeal of a universal motorcycle helmet use law is a very costly and very poor public policy that is unsupported by the facts," he said.  Studies have shown that fewer motorcycle rider fatalities would have occurred had the laws not been repealed.  Furthermore, when mandatory helmet laws exist, helmet use ranges from 92 to 100 percent, while without a law or under a partial law, helmet use generally ranges from 42 to 59 percent. 

In addition to requiring the use of a DOT-approved helmet when traveling on a motorcycle, the Safety Board also made recommendations to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to develop guidelines for the States to use in gathering accurate data on motorcycle registrations and vehicle miles traveled.   The Safety Board asked that the FHWA provide information to the States on the various methods to collect registrations and vehicle miles traveled and how these methods can be put in place. 

Additionally, the Board recommended that NHTSA reprioritize the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety (NAMS).  NAMS is a "blueprint for the future" of motorcycle safety in the United States.   

"Adoption of our recommendations that are designed to increase motorcycle safety will result in fewer needless fatalities and injuries for person enjoying this sport," Rosenker said.   

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NTSB Media Contact:
Terry N. Williams



The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.