The National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) is a probability-based survey that uses observed data to make estimations on the number of motorcyclists who wear helmets while riding throughout the United States. The U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducts NOPUS annually, and there has been a positive trend in helmet usage over the last 10 years. More people are wearing helmets while riding their motorcycles each year.
In 2010, only 54.3 percent of all riders and passengers on motorcycles wore a helmet. According to NOPUS, it is estimated that 70.8 percent of all riders in 2019 wear helmets. This could be a result of more states passing mandatory helmet laws that mandate all riders to wear helmets. There are currently 19 states and the District of Columbia that have universal helmet laws meaning that all riders have to wear helmets, and 28 states have helmet laws that cover some riders such as those under the age of 18 or 21. Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire do not have any laws or regulations regarding wearing helmets.
“In Missouri, the law used to be that every motorcyclist must wear a helmet,” explains Attorney Kevin J Roach. “But recently if you are over a certain age it is no longer necessary for you to do so. If stopped by police riders without a helmet must provide proof of insurance that will cover them in the case of an accident.”
Despite the increase in helmet wearing by motorcycle riders, the fatality statistics have generally remained unchanged. In 2018 there were 5,038 reported fatalities and that number dropped by 0.5 percent in 2019 to 5,014 reported fatalities. However, helmets do significantly lower the risk of being in a fatal motorcycle accident. Helmets can prevent traumatic brain injuries and are estimated to reduce the risk of a fatal accident by almost 40 percent.
Whether or not a person wears a helmet while riding their motorcycle is dependent on a number of factors. If there is a passenger on the motorcycle with the driver, the driver is more likely to wear a helmet than if they were riding solo. However, weather conditions and state laws can also impact whether a person chooses to wear a helmet. In addition, helmet improvements could be a factor in why more people are wearing a helmet on their motorcycle. Today, Helmets are less clunky, more stylish, and more comfortable for riders to wear. Riders have more options for the kind of helmet to wear and can choose one that expresses their individuality while being safe on the road.
The process of collecting data for the NOPUS is advanced so that NHTSA can obtain reliable results and strong data. At selected locations, there are even on-road observers that record data on motorcyclists. This data is only obtained through observation, motorists are not stopped or interviewed. For 2019 there were 707 motorcyclists observed with 828 riders between June 2 and June 17 across 1,877 different locations. These locations were all across the country and took place during different times and weather conditions to get accurate data.