DR. MOHLER: Motorcycle riders — Keeping a lid on deaths and medical costs | PostIndependent.com

DR. MOHLER: Motorcycle riders — Keeping a lid on deaths and medical costs

Phil Mohler, M.D.
Free Press Health Columnist

Recent news story: “One person is dead and a second was transported to St Mary’s Sunday after a motorcycle accident near mile marker 9 on I-70. Helmets were present at the scene, but the men were not wearing them at the time of the accident.”

Motorcycle fatalities continue to rise in Colorado. In 2011, nearly 1 of 5 traffic deaths were motorcyclists.

In the 1960s, our federal government tied highway repair funds to the states in exchange for states implementing mandatory motorcycle helmet laws. All but three states quickly complied. In 1976, Congress decided that they had erred and repealed their own law, opining that they (Congress) cannot tell states how to run their business.

In short order, almost all the states repealed their helmet laws entirely or left laws that only applied to those under 17-20 years of age. The Colorado motorcycle helmet law applies only to riders and passengers 17 or younger.

Here’s what we know about motorcycle helmets and helmet laws:

• Helmets are estimated to prevent 37% of crash deaths in riders.

• In states with universal helmet laws, motorcyclists wear their helmets 98% of the time.

• Per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclists’ risk of a fatal crash is 35 times greater than for those in a passenger car.

• In spite of motorcyclists’ cries to the contrary, there are no data to support their contention that helmets increase the risk of serious neck injuries. Both the Hurt report in 1981 and the later MAIDS study from Europe show that riders with helmets in serious accidents tend to have fewer non-head injuries, as well as head injuries.

• Over the last 30 years, rather consistently, 60% of all medical costs for motorcyclist injuries in the U.S. get shuffled into the public domain. John Q. public pays.


Dear Lidless Motorcyclists, it is your right to have the wind in your hair and to be “one with the pavement.” Your civil rights, however, stop at my checkbook. If you make the decision to ride without a helmet, please buy adequate health insurance.

Dr. Mohler has practiced family medicine in Grand Junction for 38 years. He has a particular interest in pharmaceutical education. Phil works part-time for both Primary Care Partners and Rocky Mountain Health Plans. Email him at pjmohler@bresnan.net.

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