By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets saves lives and money, with more than $3 billion in savings attributed to helmet use in 2010, according to a U.S. federal study released on Thursday.
It also resulted in about 1,500 fewer deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Helmet use resulted in savings by reducing healthcare expenses, lost wages from injuries and other costs, the CDC said.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring anyone on a motorcycle to wear a helmet. Twenty-eight states have laws requiring helmet use by only some people, and three states have no helmet law, the CDC said.
Annual savings from helmet use ranged from $394 million in California, which requires all motorcyclists to wear helmets, to $2.6 million in New Mexico, where only those under age 18 must do so, the study found.
"Another $1.4 billion could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets," CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden said in a statement.
In 2010, 4,502 people were killed in motorcycle accidents, amounting to 14 percent of all traffic deaths even though motorcycles account for less than 1 percent of traffic.
More than 40 percent of motorcyclists who were killed in accidents from 2008 to 2010 were not wearing a helmet, according to the CDC. On the other hand, helmets reduced fatalities by 37 percent for motorcycle drivers and 41 percent for passengers, resulting in 1,544 fewer motorcyclist deaths in 2010, the study said.
In states without helmet laws, 79 percent of the motorcyclists killed were not wearing helmets, compared to 12 percent in states that require all riders to wear helmets, the CDC said.
Deaths rose when states relaxed helmet laws, with Florida cited by the CDC as an example. In 2000, the state switched from a universal helmet law to one requiring only those under 21 or with less than $10,000 in medical insurance to wear them.
In the two years after the law changed, the number of deaths per 10,000 registered motorcyclists increased 21 percent in Florida, the CDC said. Hospital costs for motorcyclists with head, brain or skull injuries more than doubled, increasing to $50 million from $21 million.
But a member of a Florida group that opposes helmet mandates for adults said the death statistics do not reflect the state's mild weather, which allows riders to be on the road more often.
"In Florida, we can ride year round," said Darrin Brooks, legislative director of the ABATE of Florida motorcyclists' group. "Let the rider decide."
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Mohammad Zargham)