Between 1976 and 1980, 28 state legislatures in the United States repealed or weakened their motorcycle helmet-use laws. This paper estimates the number of excess deaths attributable to this deregulatory activity, and the associated economic costs to society. Because of data limitations, no attempt was made to estimate the excess nonfatal injuries and associated costs.
We applied a variant of log-linear contingency-table analysis to the monthly counts of motorcycle fatalities in the 48 contiguous states over the period 1975 through 1980. This analysis produced estimates of the total number of deaths, in each of 36 age-sex groups, that could be attributed to changes in the helmet laws. We then estimated the direct and indirect economic costs associated with fatalities in each age-sex group. Our findings indicate that 516 excess deaths occurred in 1980 in the 28 states that weakened or repealed their helmet laws. This represented 24 percent of the total motorcycle fatalities occurring in those states. Women and younger cyclists of both sexes comprised a disproportionate share of excess deaths. The economic costs to society that are associated with the excess fatalities resulting from the repeals of helmet laws total at least $180 million.