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Here’s a question, if you are riding a motorcycle in Oklahoma, are you required to wear a helmet? Under current regulations, it depends how old you are. Under § 47-12-609(B), “no person under eighteen (18) years of age shall operate or ride upon any motorcycle unless such person is properly wearing a crash helmet of a type which complies with standards established by 49 C.F.R. § 571.218.” Simply put, if you are under eighteen and sitting on a motorcycle, you’d better be wearing a helmet that meets federal motor vehicle safety standards.

A U.S. Department of Transportation compliant helmet covers the motorcyclist’s ears, and is at least one inch thick, and is typically marked with an identifying sticker on the back of the helmet. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (“MSF”) has put together the handout “What You Should Know About Motorcycle Helmets” that covers how helmets work, how to choose a helmet, how to care for your helmet, and when to replace your helmet.

The NHTSA estimates that helmets saved 1,829 motorcyclists’ lives in 2008. From their calculations, an additional 823 lives could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets. In 2007, motorcycles only accounted for 3% of all registered vehicles in the United States and 0.4% of all vehicle miles traveled. Yet, per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclists were thirty-seven times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle traffic collision and nine times more likely to be injured. In 2008, 47% of all motorcycles involved in fatal crashes collided with another motor vehicle, and in two-vehicle crashes, 77% of motorcycles were struck in the front with 41% of these crashes occurring when the other vehicle turned left while the motorcycle was going straight, passing, or overtaking the other vehicle. The NHTSA also found that motorcycles are more likely to be involved in a fatal collision with a fixed object than other vehicles.

In spite of these grim statistics, many riders are reluctant to wear helmets unless they are required under State law. Unfortunately, for States like Oklahoma, the NHTSA found that helmet use rates are lower in states that do not require all riders to use helmets. For example, in 2006, 68% of motorcyclists in states requiring helmets for all riders wore DOT-compliant helmets while only 37% of motorcyclists wore DOT-compliant helmets in states that did not require all riders to wear helmets.

Whether you are under eighteen or an experienced rider, it is always a good idea to wear a helmet. Even with thousands of miles under your belt, you could find yourself involved in an accident on the next mile due to an ever-changing host of variables such as passenger vehicle driver error, adverse weather conditions, and unfavorable road conditions. The National Center for Statistics and Analysis (“NCSA”), part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”), estimated in 2005 that helmets are about 37% effective in preventing motorcycle accident fatalities. Even though head injuries are the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes, head injuries are not the only cause of fatalities. The NCSA estimate does not account for the effectiveness of helmets in accidents where other traumatic bodily injury led to the rider’s death, even if he or she was wearing a helmet.

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