While a helmet cannot guarantee a motorcyclist's safety, a national study from the Government Accountability Office said a rider's chances are improved when wearing the proper safety gear.
According to the report, helmets are the only effective method of protecting a rider's safety. Officials said helmets saved 1,550 motorcyclists' lives in 2010 and typically reduce the risk of death by 39 percent.
Despite the claim, many motorcycle lobbyists and riders frown upon mandatory helmet laws.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
James Benner of Brookes Mills checks the fit on a motorcycle helmet for his grandson, Issac Benner, 3, of Duncansville on Friday afternoon at Cernics.
In Pennsylvania, mandatory helmet laws are limited.
A motorcycle helmet is mandatory for all riders under the age of 21 and all riders on a motorcycle permit, but people who have had their motorcycle license for two years or have completed the Basic Rider Course are not required to wear a helmet.
After licensed and in possession of a license for the minimum time period, motorcyclists can chose if they want to wear a helmet.
Wearing head protection is a "common-sense" safety precaution not unlike wearing a seat belt, PennDOT spokeswoman Pam Kane said.
From 2007-11, 57 motorcyclists were killed in PennDOT District 9, Kane said.
There were 1,021 motorcycle crashes reported on state and locally-owned roads in the district, which encompasses all of Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fulton, Huntingdon, and Somerset counties, during the same five-year period, Kane said.
Of the 57 fatalities, 29 involved an intoxicated motorcyclist. Over half of the crashes were single-vehicle crashes involving only the motorcyclist, and 248 were speed-related.
About 10 percent of the crashes occurred between 4 and 5 p.m., Kane said.
"That's when the majority of the aggressive driving crashes occur, too," Kane said, adding that the crashes were not based solely on motorcyclists' error.
Saturday ranked the highest in terms of crashes, followed by Sunday and Friday, respectively, she added.
Education and wearing a helmet while riding are effective means to keep riders safe, Kane said.
Josh Mazzei, parts manager at Cernic's in Duncansville, said riders are typically much safer when wearing protective gear.
"They're 100 percent safer wearing a helmet then when they're not," Mazzei said.
While many see it as a personal decision, safety should be paramount, he said.
"I just don't think the risk they're taking is going to outweigh that," Mazzei said.
But for Charles Umbenhauer, a Pennsylvania lobbyist for the Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education, it is up to riders to make decisions which affect their own safety.
The modified Pennsylvania helmet laws still require adults to wear a helmet at some point while on a bike - something adults should be able to choose to do on their own, Umbenhauer said.
Other motorcycle lobbies, including the American Motorcyclist Association, said helmet laws should not be mandatory.
"The AMA believes that adults should have the right to voluntarily decide when to wear a helmet. The AMA does not oppose laws requiring helmets for minor motorcycle operators and passenger," according to the association's official positions page.
"Mandatory helmet laws do nothing to prevent crashes. Regardless of the protective equipment worn, any motorcyclist involved in a crash is at a considerable risk," according to the AMA.
In Pennsylvania, state funded motorcycle education through the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program is available for free to all residents - helmets and safety equipment included. Applicants can become licensed through completion of the program.
For motorcycle rider James Benner, buying a helmet for his 3-year-old grandson Issac Benner was a "no-brainer."
Benner, of Brookes Mills brought his grandson to Cernic's in Duncansville to purchase an off-road motorcycle helmet Friday morning.
"I don't want him hurt," Benner said, watching as an employee sized up the different helmets on display.
Although Benner said he typically does not wear a helmet when on the road, his grandson's safety when riding his new all-terrain vehicle was paramount.
"I have to wear a helmet," Issac said, clutching the grey and black helmet in one hand and a lollipop in the other as he left the store with his grandfather.