WASHINGTON -- Motorcycle fatalities have risen sharply in Florida since the state repealed its mandatory helmet law.
States that repeal such laws run the risk of increased deaths and mounting healthcare costs for injured bikers, according to two studies released yesterday -- one by the government, the other by the insurance industry.
The first, by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, found that in the three years after Florida repealed its mandatory helmet law in 2000, 933 motorcyclists have died in crashes, an 81 percent increase from the 515 who died from 1997 to 1999.
Although the state requires helmet use by riders under age 21, fatalities among that group nearly tripled in the three years after the repeal; 45 percent of those killed were not wearing helmets. The cost of hospital care for motorcycle injuries grew from $21 million to $44 million in the 30 months after the law changed; the figures were adjusted for inflation.
The study, conducted by the Connecticut-based Preusser Research Group, mirrored the findings of a 2003 federal review that found that fatalities increased by more than 50 percent in Kentucky and 100 percent in Louisiana after those states struck down their mandatory helmet laws.
''The results are remarkably similar that when you repeal a helmet law, you can expect an increase in fatalities and you can expect an increase in medical costs," said Rae Tyson, spokesman for the traffic safety administration.
The second study released yesterday, by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found that the death rate of motorcyclists from 2001-02 increased 25 percent compared with the two years before the repeal of helmet laws.
The debate has generated legislative struggles during the past decade, with motorcyclists rumbling through state capitals and unleashing torrents of phone calls and e-mails to lobby for repeals. Some motorcyclists contend that they should have the choice of wearing a helmet and urge states to focus more on rider education.
But safety groups contend that less restrictive laws lead to more fatalities and burden society through higher medical costs. They mostly have waged a losing battle since the mid-1990s, when Congress removed federal sanctions against states without helmet laws and a handful of states weakened their statutes.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia require all motorcycle riders to wear helmets, a decline from 47 states in 1975, according to the institute.