Of the 19 motorcyclists who died in crashes so far this year, 12 were not wearing helmets. This number is on pace to be a slight decrease from last year — when 41 riders died in crashes — but is part of a larger trend of more motorcycle fatalities, according to the Utah Department of Transportation.
In 2010, 21 riders died in crashes, and 11 weren’t wearing helmets.
Since then, the percent of motorcyclists who die in crashes has stayed at more than 50 percent, public safety officials said Wednesday at a news conference with trauma surgeons and a man who survived a motorcycle crash.
UDOT doesn’t keep statistics of helmet use in nonfatal crashes, but anecdotally, Kent Harrison said he has seen a slight increase in riders wearing helmets and other safety gear in the past three years he has been a Life Flight helicopter pilot.
“But we still see a lot of people ride without a lot of safety gear at all,” Harrison said. “I see them every day.”
He has worked in emergency services for 14 years. “It used to be that you ride in shorts and put on a helmet,” Harrison said. “Now we see more protective vests, a lot more protective pants, so people are getting the message but it‘s slow.”
Helmet technology is advancing, with manufacturers adding more ventilation and safety components, as well as attractive features, such as wireless capability.
Mikel Madrid, who works for Harrison Eurosport, a Sandy motorcycle dealer, suggested riders upgrade their helmets every five to seven years because impact foam on the interior wears down over time.
Nathan Christensen, who has been riding motorcycles for about two decades, broke his shin, six ribs, shoulder blade, collar bone and two vertebrae and punctured a lung in a car crash two years ago.
The crash also scraped his helmet and tore his jacket to shreds, but he didn’t suffer any brain trauma. He had been on his way to a motorcycle safety refresher course after not riding his bike for a few years.
“Had I not been wearing the gear … ,” Christensen said before trailing off, looking down at his scuffed up helmet.
Utah is one of 28 states that require only some riders wear helmets. Riders who are 21 or younger are required to wear helmets (up from 19 or younger, as of the 2017 legislative session). Currently, 19 states and Washington D.C. require all motorcyclists wear a helmet.