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Do I have to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle?

DuPage County residents make personal decisions about the safety gear they wear while riding bicycles or motorcycles. Illinois is one of just three states with no universal or partial law requiring bicyclists or motorcyclists of any age to wear helmets. The lack of helmet laws supports a rider's freedom to choose, but the position is not without criticism.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 83 percent of motorcyclists killed statewide in 2010 were not wearing helmets. Nationwide statistics show states with universal helmet laws have far fewer motorcyclists' deaths and head injuries than states with partial helmet laws or no helmet laws. According to the CDC, helmet use reduces motorcycle fatality rates by 37 percent and head injury rates by 69 percent.

Some motorcyclists feel helmet laws impinge upon an individual's right to make personal decisions. The CDC admits traffic laws limit options for riders and drivers but argues some restrictions are necessary for public safety. Another objection by motorcyclists is the belief helmets lessen the ability for riders to see or hear traffic; in fact, government-approved helmets do not restrict the use of these senses.

Government officials reported helmet use saved an estimated $3 billion in health care and other motorcycle crash-related costs nationwide in 2010. Some motorcyclists claim they are the only ones affected by a choice not to wear helmets. Accident-related medical costs for unhelmeted riders, generally higher than helmeted victims, often increase overall insurance premiums or get passed along to taxpayers when an unhelmeted motorcyclist lacks insurance.

Litigants in Illinois motorcycle accident lawsuits would not dispute whether an injured motorcyclist broke a helmet law - there is no law to be broken. Damage awards through civil claims for medical costs and other losses are based on driver or rider fault and negligence. Juries consider whether and how carelessness or recklessness contributed to an accident and injuries before making a compensation decision.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Injury Prevention & Control: Motor Vehicle Safety," accessed July 23, 2015

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