Joel's Policy Paper

Joel Van Wyk
Rachel Robson
Composition and Communication: Bullshit
March 11, 2009
Policy Paper
Motorcycle Helmet Use in Iowa
When the spring temperatures start to rise, motorcyclists are going out to enjoy the fresh air. With such nice weather, helmets seem to become too much of a hassle. Many motorcycle riders believe they can ride safely without this protection. Some also feel a helmet is not necessary as they only ride for leisure and are not riding for a great distance or large amount of time. Riding without a helmet gives these riders a sense of thrill and freedom. They come up with different reasons for not wearing their helmet. Some of these include helmets being uncomfortable, inconvenient, and the possibility of reducing riders’ peripheral vision.
A big reason for people not wearing motorcycle helmets is due to the high cost. A motorcycle helmet can range from $100 to nearly $1500. For more added protection, the cost becomes higher. When riding a motorcycle, there is ultimately no protection if a crash was to happen. There is clothing protection available, but the helmet is most important. Some people realize this is a necessity and can save their lives, but others do not feel this protection is necessary. Just because of the high cost, motorcyclists do not feel helmets are needed as an important part of riding.
In 1967, to increase motorcycle helmet use, the federal government required all states to enact helmet use laws in order to qualify for certain federal safety programs and highway construction funds. The federal incentive worked. By the early 1970s, almost all the states had universal motorcycle helmet laws ("universal" in the sense that they covered all riders) (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2009). Many states repealed the universal law. They were able to either change or modify the law. Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia require helmets for all motorcycle operators and passengers. In 27 states, only persons under a certain age (usually 18) are required to wear helmets. Three states (New Hampshire, Illinois, and Iowa) have no law requiring helmets (Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics). Iowa was able to repeal its law July 1, 1976 and no changes have been made since (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, n.d.).
With almost all of the states having universal or partial motorcycle helmet law, you would think Iowa would adopt a law for requiring some, if not all riders to wear a helmet. These are obviously used as protection for motorcycle riders. Statistics show that the use of a helmet benefits the rider in a variety of ways, including saving his or her life.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that motorcycle helmets reduce the likelihood of a crash fatality by 37 percent. A study conducted at the University of Southern California, which analyzed 3,600 traffic crash reports covering motorcycle crashes, concluded that wearing helmets was the single most important factor in surviving motorcycle crashes. NHTSA also estimates that from 1984 through 2006, helmets saved the lives of 19,230 motorcyclists. If all motorcycle operators and passengers had worn helmets during that period, 12,320 additional lives may have been saved. An un-helmeted motorcyclist is 40 percent more likely to suffer a fatal head injury than a helmeted rider when involved in a crash (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2008).
Not only does the helmet prevent fatality, it also reduces the severity of injury when involved in a crash. A Crash Outcome Data Evaluation System (CODES) study found that motorcycle helmets are 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries and that un-helmeted motorcyclists involved in crashes were three times more likely to suffer brain injuries than those wearing helmets (CODES Technical Report, 1996). An un-helmeted rider is 15 percent more likely than a helmeted rider to suffer a non-fatal injury (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2008).
A 1994 study by the National Public Services Research Institute concluded that wearing a motorcycle helmet does not restrict a rider’s ability to hear auditory signals or see a vehicle in an adjacent lane (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2008). A helmet will not only protect your head from a potential injury, but also cut down on wind noise, windblast on your face and eyes, and deflect bugs and other debris that flies through the air. It will also protect you from changing weather conditions and reduce rider fatigue (Geico, n.d.).
The use of a helmet would also reduce the cost of healthcare resulting from an accident. Analysis of linked data from CODES in three States with universal helmet laws showed that without the helmet law, the total extra inpatient charges due to brain injury would have almost doubled from $2,325,000 to $4,095,000 (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2008). The money that is saved with the helmet law is a lot more than if the motorcyclists would have just bought and worn a helmet.
The policy I am proposing is to make a law in Iowa requiring all motorcyclists and passengers to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle. The Iowa Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau would fund for the making of advertisements to inform Iowans and other states surrounding Iowa of the new law. The Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau, GTSB, administers a number of federally funded highway safety initiatives (Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau, 2009). The GTSB would receive more funds from the government in order to pay for this law. That money would come from the national budget. The cost of these advertisements would be at most $500,000. This would go towards making a commercial and a billboard sign. The cost of airing the commercial would be free because it is a public safety announcement and the billboard cost would be cheaper as well. The costs would mainly go towards the people making the commercial and billboard. The laws regulations would be as follows: 1. A helmet must be worn by all passengers on a motorcycle. 2. For each passenger not wearing a helmet, a $125 fine will be given to the driver of the motorcycle and the cost to appear in court would be $25. The total cost of the ticket would add up to $150 for only one passenger, then adding $125 for each additional passenger not wearing a helmet accordingly. 3. If the offender repeats the violation five times in one year or eight times in two years, the Department of Motor Vehicles will have the opportunity to suspend or revoke the driver’s motorcycle license. 4. The law would be treated as a misdemeanor with the only punishments being fines and possible suspension or revocation of the motorcycle license. It will not be necessary to hire more police officers to enforce this law because it is easily noticed.
Helmets have many benefits. This is the reason why 47 states have a partial or universal law covering helmet use. There should be no reason why a law in Iowa should not be made to enforce the mandatory use of helmets. While many motorcyclists may argue that it should be their choice, the safety of those individuals is much greater than their opinions. The fines for not wearing a helmet are high to help ensure that motorcyclists will follow this law.

Works Cited

(2008, January). Motorcycle Helmet Use Laws. Retrieved from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website:

(2009, March). Helmet Use Laws. Retrieved from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website:

(2009, March). Retrieved from the Iowa Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau’s website:

(n.d.). History of US Motorcycle Laws and Changes in Coverage. Retrieved from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website:

(n.d.). Motorcycle Helmets Save Lives. Retrieved from Geico’s website:

Branas, C.C. PhD, & Knudsen, M.K. MD (2007, September). State Helmet Laws and Motorcycle Death Rates. Retrieved from Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics’ website:

Johnson, S.W., & Walker, J. (1996, January). The Crash Outcome Data Evaluation System. Retrieved from

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