Study: Washington is the safest state for motorcyclists by this measure


Washington state law requires motorcycle riders to wear a helmet in nearly all cases, and according to a new study, it shows.

Florida-based personal injury law firm Anidjar & Levine analyzed National Highway Traffic Safety Commission data to determine which states had the highest rates of motorcycle deaths where the driver wasn't wearing a helmet. The results were kind to Washington, which had the lowest rate in the country.

Of Washington's 510 motorcycle fatalities between 2018 and 2022, just 17 weren't wearing helmets. That 3.3% rate was a whole percentage point below the state with the second lowest rate, Massachusetts, and roughly half the rate of third place California. For context, the median rate was just under 48%.

At the top of the list, Iowa saw 72.4% of its fatalities occur in crashes where the driver wasn't wearing a helmet. Indiana's rate was just lower at 70.8 while Ohio's was 70.1.

17 states and Washington D.C. have laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, while 30 states require helmets for those under a certain age and three don't require them at all. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data suggests universal helmet laws reduce motorcycle fatalities by between 22% and 42%, and brain injuries by between 41% and 69%. Helmets reduce driver deaths by 37% and passenger deaths by 41%, according to the National Safety Council.

Helmet death rate doesn't tell the whole story

The study was not about motorcycle death rates as a whole, just percentages of deaths where drivers weren't wearing a helmet. If you look at each state's total motorcycle death count, Washington fares better than most similar-sized states, such as Arizona, Indiana and Tennessee, according to the NHTSA, but is roughly on par with Virginia, and has far more deaths than Massachusetts.

Motorcycle helmet safety tips

According to Burlington, Washington-based motorcycle instructors at Cascade Motorcycle Safety, simply wearing a helmet isn't the only step riders can take to ensure their safety.

"A better fitting helmet protects you better in a crash... Different helmet models from different manufacturers are going to actually have a different shape, because people's skulls are not all identical in their shape," a representative for the group said in a phone call.

Additionally, the protective layer of helmets can decay slightly over time.

"Check the date on your helmet, think about how maybe it's time to refresh your helmet," the representative said.

Motorcycle gear has also made strides in recent years, particularly when it comes to clothes that are both fashionable and protective.

"Maybe it's time to think about your gear. There's a lot of really good stuff with really up-to-date styles that can be protective and stylish and comfortable for your lifestyle."


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