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I love riding my motorcycle. I am also heartbroken whenever I hear of a fatal motorcycle crash. So I will be as sensitive writing up this statistic as possible. But to be blunt, I saw that motorcycle crash deaths are up 47% in Missouri since the state repealed its helmet law and I thought, “Well, duh.”

Smashing your head on the pavement from a standstill can easily kill you. Now add in a moving car hitting your head instead of the ground. Or add in being knocked from your bike at speed and bouncing down the pavement for a ways before skidding to a stop. It starts to make sense why the CDC estimates helmets saved 1,872 riders in 2017 alone.

In 2020, the state of Missouri began allowing certain riders to go helmetless. These motorcyclists must be older than 26 and carry proof of health insurance. Why proof of health insurance? Because the CDC estimates that caring for motorcyclists needlessly smashed up by helmetless crashes costs the U.S. $1.5 billion annually.

Despite all these stipulations, motorcycle deaths in Missouri immediately rose. We only have data for the first three riding seasons since the law passed, but deaths are up 47%. With 174 riders killed last year alone, 2023 was the deadliest year for Missouri motorcyclists ever.

Overhead view of a crash scene with an injured motorcyclist
Motorcycle crash | Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Jon Nelson of the DOT told the Missouri House Transportation Accountability Committee that the same thing has happened elsewhere. “We’ve seen that in other states…Whenever they’ve repealed a helmet law, similar increases.”

That said, Nelson admitted there could be other factors. This includes traffic bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels and the increasing numbers of drivers distracted by cellphones or large touchscreens in their cars. Motorcycle deaths in Missouri have been on the rise since 2018, two years before the state repealed its helmet law.

Nelson said, “I don’t think any one area, including public policy, is the silver bullet to fix any of this. These are layers of protection to improve safety…That begins with public awareness, education, certainly public policy has a role to play in that enforcement of that public policy.”

Committee Chairman Don Mayhew was a bit more blunt, “I don’t disagree that the helmet laws made a difference in the number of fatalities. I think that’s pretty obvious.”

After listening to Nelson’s report, neither the Committee nor the greater Missouri State House of Representatives discussed reinstating the helmet law.

Next, find out which states have no motorcycle helmet laws, or see some motorcycle helmet myths in the video below: