Influenced by AHRQ-Funded Study, West Virginia Lawmakers Keep State Motorcycle Helmet Law
During the West Virginia legislature's 2005 session, a bill was introduced that would have repealed the state's mandatory motorcycle helmet law for adults age 21 and over. The bill to repeal the helmet law, which had been introduced for eight consecutive years, had strong political support, according to Senator Michael Oliverio, member of the Senate Transportation Committee. However, the bill failed, and data based on AHRQ's Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) played an important role in its death in the Senate Transportation Committee.
The Committee was influenced by the research findings of Jeffrey Coben, MD, Director of the Center for Rural Emergency Medicine, West Virginia University School of Medicine. His AHRQ-funded research on injuries and associated costs in other states that had repealed motorcycle helmet laws was instrumental in persuading legislators not to repeal the 30-year-old West Virginia law. One of the arguments in favor of repeal-that it would stimulate tourism in the state-was effectively countered by the HCUP data Coben furnished.
According to Oliverio, the data from Coben's work was especially persuasive in the bill's failure. Coben's data showed that many motorcyclists injured in states that had repealed helmet laws had no health insurance or had limited health insurance. A significant number of those injured without helmets also sustained costly traumatic brain injuries. Medical costs for a large number of those injured were uncompensated by private third-party payers and often had to be borne by state governments.
Coben J, Steiner C, Owens P. Motorcycle-related hospitalizations in the United States, 2001. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2001; 27(5):355-352. AHRQ Publication No. 05-R015.