Background: Despite evidence that motorcycle helmets reduce morbidity and mortality, helmet laws and rates of helmet use vary by state in the U.S.

Methods: We pooled data from eleven states: five with universal laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet, and six with partial laws requiring only a subset of motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Data were combined in the Crash Outcome Data Evaluation System's General Use Model and included motorcycle crash records probabilistically linked to emergency department and inpatient discharges for years 2005-2008. Medical outcomes were compared between partial and universal helmet law settings. We estimated adjusted relative risks (RR) and 95 % confidence intervals (CIs) for head, facial, traumatic brain, and moderate to severe head/facial injuries associated with helmet use within each helmet law setting using generalized log-binomial regression.

Results: Reported helmet use was higher in universal law states (88 % vs. 42 %). Median charges, adjusted for inflation and differences in state-incomes, were higher in partial law states (emergency department $1987 vs. $1443; inpatient $31,506 vs. $25,949). Injuries to the head and face, including traumatic brain injuries, were more common in partial law states. Effectiveness estimates of helmet use were higher in partial law states (adjusted-RR (CI) of head injury: 2.1 (1.9-2.2) partial law single vehicle; 1.4 (1.2, 1.6) universal law single vehicle; 1.8 (1.6-2.0) partial law multi-vehicle; 1.2 (1.1-1.4) universal law multi-vehicle).

Conclusions: Medical charges and rates of head, facial, and brain injuries among motorcyclists were lower in universal law states. Helmets were effective in reducing injury in both helmet law settings; lower effectiveness estimates were observed in universal law states.

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Published in Injury Epidemiology, v. 3, 8, p. 1-11.

© Olsen et al. 2016

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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