Motorcycle Deaths Hold Steady

In SuperFreakonomics: The Illustrated Edition, we explored the bizarre, unintended consequence of repealing motorcycle helmet laws: an increase in human organs available for transplantation.

Between 1994 and 2007, six states repealed laws that required all motorcyclists to wear helmets. Here's a look at per-capita organ donations from male victims of motor-vehicle crashes in those states versus all other states.


A new report shows that motorcycle deaths are not dropping. From the Wall Street Journal

A report released today by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) finds that no progress was made in reducing motorcyclist deaths in 2011. Based upon preliminary data from 50 states and the District of Columbia, GHSA projects that motorcycle fatalities remained at about 4,500 in 2011, the same level as 2010. Meanwhile, earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration projected that overall motor vehicle fatalities declined 1.7 percent in 2011, reaching their lowest level since 1949. Motorcycle deaths remain one of the few areas in highway safety where progress is not being made.

Furthermore, states are continuing to repeal helmet laws:

Another disturbing trend is the decrease in states with universal helmet laws. Helmet laws are the only motorcycle safety strategy whose effectiveness is rated as five-star in NHTSA’s highly-regarded publication, “Countermeasures That Work.” Only 19 states currently require all riders to wear helmets, down from 26 in 1997. Earlier this year, Michigan repealed its universal helmet law, while similar legislation has been introduced in five other states. No state has enacted a universal helmet law since Louisiana reinstated its requirement in 2004.

Guess that’s good news for anyone who might need an organ transplant in Michigan?


The UK has had a mandatory helmet law - and mandatory seatbelt law - for many years.

I never hear anyone complain about this - it is almost universally observed and regarded as simple common sense, not someone interferring with your freedom...

Should we repeal our laws - what would we get from that?


It's part of a package, you also have health care paid for by taxes. The problem is laws tend to follow rational lines and one of the strongest rational ties is between accountability and control. If you are accountable for something it is only right you should have power over it to the degree of your liability. If the people, as represented by the state are paying your health care bills they should have power over everything which impacts those bills, which is just about everything.

In practice the people generally don't want such power, but there is almost always someone in government who does. It's the road to serfdom. You can comfort yourself with the idea that it's ridiculous to think the state will ever take such powers but if you'd asked someone a hundred years ago about the many powers the state has taken on itself since then he'd have scoffed at the idea people would allow such intrusion, so I am not comforted. Liberties are like the old joke about the police coming for the one group after another without protest until finally they come for you and there's no one left to protest. Liberty and security are not compatible.

The question really comes down to why we live. Many if not most nowadays seem to think life is about maximizing pleasure, if one agrees with this selling liberties which don't bring much pleasure for benefits which do makes sense but the logical conclusion of the pleasure principle is a lotus-eater. Perhaps one day we'll all sit in pods with drugs and dreams pumped into our brains for 300 years and call it the ideal life.

If that's the choice I'll take liberty with all it's dangers.


Eric M. Jones.

I would like to propose that people not wearing helmets is at least partly an industrial design problem.

Helmets are (usually) big, bulky, restrictive and lack neck support. Furthermore unfastening the strap requires removing the gloves. The safety requirements really suppress innovation.

Really safe helmets that riders WON'T wear are much less effective than pretty good helmets that most riders WILL wear.


As a motorcycle rider who has been in an accident (not serious, thankfully), anyone who willingly rides without a helmet is an idiot, plain and simple. Although cleansing the gene pool might be a good thing for our society.

What I want to know is if they can repeal the helmet law, can we stop wearing seat belts? If it's a 'restriction on my free will' to ride without a helmet, isn't it fair for drivers to enjoy the same freedoms?

As a safety-conscious person I will always wear a helmet and a seat belt, because I don't want to endanger myself more than necessary for my and my family's future.

But really.. No helmets is ok, but they have 'Safety Belt Enforcement Zones' and can pull you over and ticket you for no seat belt?

Another testament to our backwards 'Freedom' filled society that selectively chooses what's best for us, even when it has no idea what it's doing..


As a rider who's been in a couple of accidents, I disagree. Realistically, there's a chance of getting hurt or killed doing most any enjoyable physical activity. Still, I think the data shows that the surest way to send your risk of premature death or disability (and associated health care costs) through the roof is to spend your life sitting on your butt and overeating. (See the new post on health effects of commuting.)

Now if helmets and helmet laws are such a good thing for safety, why not require them for riding in cars, too? Why stop there? Surely there are a number of people who trip & fall while walking, riding escalators, or even leaning back in their office chairs, exposing themselves to the risk of head injury. Shouldn't all these people be wearing helmets? Shouldn't office chairs have seat belts?


Reminds me of the 'Bobs' song 'I've got my Helmet on'.

Accidents in the home are a leading cause of injury shouldn't we all be wearing protective clothing at all times? Swimming pools kill more young people than guns and they aren't Constitutionally protected, shouldn't they be outlawed? Surely skiing is the most dangerous mode of travel per mile, why isn't it more highly regulated? Do they even wear helmets? Horseback riding would have to be second, do cowboys have to wear helmets?


People get self-righteous over the cost to society when motorcyclists don't want to wear helmets, or over motorcycle riding in general, yet they ignore the fact that as "costs to society go" this one is minuscule when weighed against what you and I shell out every day for for entitlement fraud and credit/identity theft, to name but two. And those I've cited are criminal activities, motorcycle riding is not. I just wish people would get on their high horse over the difficult issues that actually matter instead of targeting the easy puny stuff.


Yes, the priorities are all screwed up from a logical perspective. Most likely the strong feeling are because people see motorcyclists every day and have a visceral reaction to them. Just as people have a sympathetic response when they see someone trying to balance a heavy load, people who don't ride see a motorcyclist and they are frightened by the danger they feel for him. A helmet would reassure them somewhat.


This is similar to babies born out of wedlock - the unintended consequence benefits US society by reducing immigration. I guess we can just go with the flow at this point.