Should Kentucky motorcycle riders wear helmets?
There were 122,360 motorcycles registered in Kentucky as of 2018, according to the Kentucky Traffic Collision Facts, 2018 Report (Collision Report). And while motorcycles are part of less than 1% of all collisions, they amount to 7% of fatal accidents. Riders need to be aware that though the risk of a crash is low, the likelihood of being seriously injured or killed in a collision isn’t negligible.
One of the factors that can determine whether a collision results in a fatality is whether riders wear helmets. Kentucky doesn’t have a universal helmet law. A vast majority of riders can decide not to wear a helmet—and many do. But what is the consequence of this choice? Many could argue the outcome is unnecessary injuries and deaths.
Kentucky Helmet Laws
As of 1998, Kentucky has limited helmet laws, according to Kentucky Safety Facts, published by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. Previously, Kentucky had a universal helmet law in place, which was originally enacted in 1968.
Currently, a rider is required to wear a helmet only if they:
- Are under 21 years old;
- Possess a motorcycle instruction permit; or
- Have held an operator’s license for less than one year.
In general, young and inexperienced riders must have helmets. But riders who have held a license for over one year and are older than 21 years old can forgo this safety equipment.
The real question is, are Kentuckians wearing helmets? The answer appears to be that a little over half of riders are using helmets. In 2017, 60% of riders surveyed wore helmets, according to the Collision Report. (Kentucky didn’t gather data for 2018.) This figure was down from 68% in 2015.
Motorcycle Crashes in Kentucky
The Kentucky State Police reported 1,494 motorcycles were involved in collisions in the state in 2018, according to the Collision Report. This amounted to only 0.61% of all collisions—a negligent amount. Passenger cars and trucks were far more likely to be involved in a crash at 90.98 percent, followed by large trucks at 4.35 percent.
Fatal Motorcycle Crashes: Do Helmets Matter?
When it came to fatal collisions, motorcycles played a bigger role. In 2018, 86 motorcycles were involved in deadly crashes, amounting to 7.47% of all fatal collisions and 88 deaths, according to the Collision Report.
Riders might wonder whether helmets play a significant role in preventing motorcycle fatalities. The numbers suggest they do. In 2018, 54 motorcycle riders were killed when they weren’t using a helmet, while 34 riders who used a helmet were killed.
There also was a difference between the number of motorcyclists injured while wearing a helmet vs. not. The same year, 536 motorcycle riders were injured while not using a helmet, while 496 were injured while wearing a helmet.
Kentucky lawmakers know helmet laws matter. When legislators repealed Kentucky’s universal helmet law in 1998, motorcycle facilities increased over 50%, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that helmets reduce motorcycle rider fatalities up to 37% and brain injuries up to 65%.
Additionally, in May 2020, motorcycle safety awareness month, Kentucky Office of Highway Safety Acting Executive Director Jason Siwula encouraged motorcyclists to wear protective gear, including helmets, according to ABC 13 WBKO.
Motorcyclists Follow Universal Helmet Laws
There’s little debate about it: universal helmet laws that require all or nearly all riders to wear helmets are effective. The U.S. General Accounting Office reviewed nine separate studies and found between 92% and 100% helmet use in states with universal helmet laws. When helmets are required, a vast majority of riders wear them. They obey the law.
In contrast, between 42% and 59% of riders use helmets in states with limited helmet laws. When helmets become optional, many riders choose not to wear them despite their clear safety benefit.
Should Kentucky Motorcyclists Wear Helmets?
Though most motorcycle riders in Kentucky aren’t required to wear helmets, they should. Studies have confirmed that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of head injury and death.
Wearing a helmet is even more important when riders consider minimum auto insurance requirements vs. the average cost of a head injury. Motorists in Kentucky are required to carry minimum liability insurance of $25,000 for bodily injuries per person, $50,000 for all bodily injuries per crash, and $25,000 for property damage.
Serious injuries, including traumatic brain injuries (TBI), will cost much more than a minimum auto insurance policy will cover, even if the rider has health insurance. Victims of a motorcycle crash will need to work with a motorcycle accident lawyer to recover as much compensation as possible from the negligent driver.
Treating a TBI is expensive, and a rider who sustained a moderate-to-severe TBI might need years of treatment or even lifelong care. The cost of a TBI is exasperated by the likelihood of unemployment in the years following. The lifetime cost of treating a TBI can vary between $85,000 and $3 million, according to Dr. Chandi Edmonds, previously the director of clinical education in the Physical Therapy and Human Movement Science Department at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
By wearing helmets, despite the legal requirement to do so, motorcyclists reduce the risk of suffering a head injury that could lead to pain and suffering, physical and cognitive disability, unemployment, and extensive medical debt.
Choosing the Right Helmet
The Kentucky Motorcycle Manual provides more information on choosing the right helmet. Whether the rider chooses a full-face or three-quarter helmet style, it should be designed to meet the U.S. Department of Transportation’s standards.
The helmet should fit snugly and have no visible defects, like loose padding or cracks. Riders should wear the helmet firmly secured to prevent it from coming off during a collision. They also should also consider a brightly colored helmet or a helmet with reflectors to help other motorists see them at night.