Florida's weakened motorcycle helmet law: effects on death rates in motorcycle crashes
Objectives: Effective July 1, 2000, Florida's universal helmet law was amended to exclude riders ages 21 and older with insurance coverage providing at least 10,000 US dollars in medical benefits for injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash. Observed helmet use in Florida was reported to have declined from nearly 100% in 1998, before the law change, to 53% after. This study examined the effects of the law change on the likelihood of death, given involvement in a motorcycle crash. Methods: Rates of motorcyclist deaths per crash involvement in Florida for 2001-2002 (after the law change) were compared with those for 1998-1999 (before the law change). Before/after death rate ratios (95% CIs) were examined, and logistic regression models estimated the effect of the helmet law change on the odds of death in a crash, while controlling for rider gender, age, and seating position, and number of vehicles. Results: The motorcyclist death rate increased significantly after the law change, from 30.8 to 38.8 deaths per 1,000 crash involvements. Motorcyclist death rates increased for single- and multiple-vehicle crashes, for male and female operators, and for riders of all ages including those younger than 21. After controlling for gender and age, the likelihood of death given involvement in a motorcycle crash was 25% higher than expected after the law change. It is estimated that 117 motorcyclist deaths could have been avoided during 2001-2002 if Florida's universal helmet law had remained in place. Conclusions: This study provides evidence of the life-saving benefits of universal helmet laws. The results also suggest that age-specific helmet laws are not effective in protecting the youngest drivers. This is not surprising, as these laws are largely unenforceable.