Motorcycle culture is big in the state of Florida. Good riding conditions year-round, hundreds of miles of level highways, beautiful scenery and a plethora of fun destinations make a motorbike a terrific recreational asset. In addition, the rising price of gasoline has inspired many “weekend warriors” to turn to their more fuel-efficient motorcycles as their main rides for the daily commute.

More people on the road drive up the probability for accidents to happen-that’s a matter of simple statistics. What’s more troubling, however, is that only about half of Florida riders wear protective helmets, and the rate of life-altering injuries and fatalities from motorcycle accidents is on the rise, both in this state and across the nation.

Here’s a brief overview of the situation in Florida: The state repealed its universal helmet law in the year 2000, allowing people over the age of 21 to opt out of helmet use if they carry medical insurance coverage of at least $10,000. By 2008, crashes and injuries had nearly doubled. Motorcyclist deaths accounted for 17.8 percent of traffic fatalities, up from approximately eight percent in 2000. Since the helmet law repeal, the number of fatal crashes for every 10,000 registered motorcycles has increased by 21 percent, suggesting motorcyclists without helmets are more likely to suffer serious and fatal injuries.

Studies attribute the institution of mandatory rider training to the decrease in crashes, injuries and fatalities in Florida from 2008 to 2010. However, a recent study by the Governors Highway Safety Association reports motorcyclist fatalities have increased in the past two years, with Florida ranking third among the states with the most motorcyclist deaths. Texas is at the top of the list, with California a close second.

Like Florida, Texas only holds a partial helmet law, requiring riders under the age of 21 to wear a helmet. In 2009, the state relaxed its helmet exemption requirement, eliminating the $10,000 health insurance minimum for exemption eligibility.

On the other hand, California motorcyclists are subject to a universal helmet law, which has been in place since 1992. A study at the University of California – Los Angeles attributed the new law to a 40.3 percent decline in motorcycle fatalities in the two years following its instatement.

A brand new case study from Michigan that looks at the reverse situation is just as compelling, if not more so, and it is unique because it looks specifically at the effect of weakened helmet laws on injury severity as measured by medical insurance claims. The state of Michigan required all motorcyclists to wear helmets for more that 40 years, before the law was repealed last year in favor of a law similar to Florida’s. The Highway Loss Data Institute found that in 2010 the average insurance payment on a motorcycle injury claim was $5,410. After the law was repealed, the average claim rose to $7,257, an increase of 34 percent. This demonstrates not only the costliness of repealing the law, but the costliness of a traumatic head injury as well. On average, treatment for a motorcycle accident-related head injury costs tens of thousands of dollars. This type of injury can incur a lifetime of expenses through rehabilitation, long-term nursing care and permanent disability.

We’re not out to scare you off the road with this comparative survey. Florida will always be one of the finest states for a motorcyclist to travel and explore. We hope this data encourages you to make decisions that will keep you and your passengers safe and healthy. When it comes to helmets, opt in.