Michigan’s recent helmet law repeal has people debating over whether helmet laws are a matter of personal safety or public affairs. Michigan now allows motorcyclists over the age of 21 to ride without a helmet as long as they carry $20,000 worth of additional insurance and have passed a motorcycle safety course within the last two years. Many motorcyclists are excited about this development, as they believe that wearing a helmet comes down to personal safety, and should be their choice. Opponents of the bill say that the repeal will spell out millions of dollars a year in additional healthcare costs, paid by the government and state taxpayers, which could be prevented if all riders wore helmets.
According to statistics, motorcycle helmets reduce the chance of fatality in a crash by 37%. A motorcyclist riding “lid-free” is 40% more likely to suffer from a fatal head injury. Oklahoma is an example of a state that enforces helmet use for riders under a specific age – in this case, anyone under the age of 18.
Currently, twenty nine states have repealed a universal helmet law. A total of 19 states still require all motorcyclists to wear helmets. Another 28 states enforce some motorcyclists to wear helmets, usually requiring it for riders under a specific age, such as Michigan and Oklahoma. Only three states currently have no motorcycle helmet laws in place – New Hampshire, Iowa and Illinois.
After Florida repealed its motorcycle helmet laws in 2002, it saw a 40% increase in riders admitted to hospitals to treat motorcycle injuries, and the fatality rate rose by 24%. The costs to treat motorcycle injuries, where head wounds were the primary focus, increased by $22 million dollars in the first two and a half years following the repeal.
Smarter-usa.org claims that only slightly more than half of all motorcycle crash victims have private health insurance, which means the millions of dollars in annual injury healthcare costs for uninsured riders is paid by the government (aka taxpayer dollars). Michigan’s repealed law requires riders to have personal health insurance, plus additional insurance- though many say it is not enough. The average motorcycle claim paid by the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association is $418,000 – hardly touched by the additional $20,000 of insurance that Michigan bikers are being required to carry.
Bikers who oppose helmet laws say that such laws infringe on their rights. They argue that personal safety is their own choice and is not a decision that should be made by lawmakers. Some cite that other activities such as alcohol consumption and the use of tobacco cause more deaths and cost the economy much more in healthcare costs, and yet the law does not prohibit the use of these substances because the use of these products is a personal choice.
Some bikers who oppose helmet laws also point out that allowing motorcyclists to ride “lid-free” will encourage tourism to the state, boosting the state economy.
Others still, say that most motorcycle accidents, whether the bikers are wearing helmets or not, are caused by negligence or lack of experience – things a helmet can’t fix.
Whatever side of the fence you are on, one thing is clear – this is a heated topic, and one that will continue to stir debate as more states consider repealing their own helmet laws. But for now, many Michigan motorcyclists are happy to feel the wind in their hair as they ride home, for the first time, without a helmet.
Noble McIntyre is an experienced Oklahoma motorcycle accident attorney and the senior partner and owner of McIntyre Law. Thank you, Noble, for this very informative article. It’s hard to understand why anyone would be “hard-headed” enough to take chances by not protecting their head!