Michigan Helmet Law

michigan helmet law

Michigan helmet law currently allows individuals to decide for themselves whether or not they want to wear a helmet. This comes at a cost to the public.

Michigan helmet law currently allows motorcycle riders and passengers over the age of 21 to decide for themselves whether or not they will wear a motorcycle helmet. We are here to help those with brain injuries. Thus, it is not hard to guess how we feel about a law that allows people who have never experienced the catastrophe of severe brain injury to expose themselves, their families and society to all that comes with that. The April 2012 repeal of the Michigan law that required motorcyclists to wear a helmet came after a 35-year mandatory helmet law.

Compare the stories on TBI Voices, http://tbilaw.com/tbivoices, to this hollow claim of individual rights:

“Our perspective is that this is a freedom issue and an individual rights issue,” Jim Rhoades of ABATE of Michigan, the nonprofit cycling rights group that pushed for the 2012 repeal of Michigan’s law requiring motorcyclists to wear a helmet, told MLive.

It is not just the injured person who suffers from brain damage. While there are hundreds of other ways to get a brain injury, those that happen on motor cycles combine almost all of the most dynamic forces.  Will a helmet eliminate brain injury in motorcycle crashes? Of course it won’t. Just stopping a brain in an instant that is going 65 mph is going to cause damage. But what the helmet will do is significantly reduce the risk of correlative damage to the skull. What we know because we understand the biomechanics of force, deceleration and neural matter is confirmed by a recent study.

In a study entitled “Repeal of the Michigan helmet law: the evolving clinical impact” in the American Journal of Surgery, Striker and colleagues examined found that there is a clear benefit to motorcyclists wearing a helmet. Non-helmeted riders had a higher mortality rate, ten percent versus three percent. The median cost of the hospital stay was also higher. In addition, injury severity score and abbreviated head injury scale were higher. In general, non-helmeted riders riders increased from seven to 28 percent after the repeal.

Another study seems to agree that wearing a helmet has clear benefits to the rider. The number of people who died each year in the three years after the repeal was 124. The three years prior to the repeal saw 114 deaths each year, increasing 26 percent. Claim severity was 36 percent higher. Overall losses were 51 percent higher.

“Opponents of a mandatory helmet law believe that it infringes upon individual freedom of choice and the right to privacy. They argue that individuals who do not wear helmets harm mainly themselves. However, that is really not the case.” said Lori Conarton, communications director at the Insurance Institute of Michigan, in our interview with her. “The consequences of that person’s decision not to wear a helmet is borne by all of society through higher insurance premiums, lost productivity and increased health care costs.”

She also cited a University of Michigan study that stated hospitalized non-helmeted motorcyclists had average care costs of $37,310, which is 20 percent higher than helmeted motorcyclists, and were 6 percent less likely to have insurance.

“In Michigan, motorcycle injury costs are pushed on to the insurance buying public. All drivers in Michigan are required to purchase unlimited, lifetime medical benefits as part of their auto insurance in Michigan. However, motorcyclists are not required to to purchase this high level of benefit while operating a motorcycle,” Conarton told us. “If motorcyclists are injured in a crash with a motor vehicle, the insurance on the motor vehicle picks up the tab for the motorcyclists’ injuries up to the catastrophic threshold of $545,000. This cost is borne by all drivers who have insurance.”

The Michigan helmet law requires motorcyclists to be over the age of 21, to pass a safety course or have ridden at least two years, and to have at least $20,000 in first-party medical benefits to ride without a helmet.

It seems unlikely that this shift to define this issue as one of individual rights is likely to change in our current political climate, but at least for those who need more than common sense to convince them, we have even more evidence of the cost of the helmet free highway.


Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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