By the Times Herald, Port Huron
---- — Michigan’s new helmet law saw more motorcycle fatalities in its first year on the books. That shouldn’t come as any surprise.
The mandatory helmet requirement the Legislature repealed was a good statute with sound common sense. Its premise was riding a motorcycle without a helmet unnecessarily courts danger. Making helmets optional is verifying the value of the former law.
Michigan’s motorcycle fatalities increased by 18 percent last year. Office of Highway Safety Planning’s data shows deaths rose from 109 in 2011 to 129 in 2012.
Some attribute the spike to Michigan’s abnormally warm weather. March’s balmy temperatures brought motorcycles out on the roads in numbers usually seen in late spring and summer, a factor that might account for the rise in fatal accidents.
A University of Michigan researcher has a different take. She blames the new helmet law.
An assistant research scientist with the U-M Transportation Research Institute’s Biosciences Group and co-manager of the Transportation Data Center, Carol Flannagan studied motorcycle crash statistics from April 13, when the mandatory helmet law’s repeal went into effect, through the end of 2012.
When Flannagan compared the data to the same period in previous years, she concluded Michigan’s optional helmet law contributed to the increase in motorcycle deaths. She estimated 26 fewer motorcycle deaths and 49 fewer serious injuries would have occurred last year if helmets still were mandatory.
In comparing the periods, Flannagan said her research shows 76 percent of motorcycle accident victims wore helmets after helmets no longer were required. In the same period in each of the three years before the helmet law was changed, 98 percent wore helmets.
The fatality rate, she said was nearly three times higher for motorcycle accident victims without helmets than for those who wore them.
None of that was lost on opponents of the new law. They predicted it would result in greater fatalities.
Armed with Flannagan’s findings, insurance and health-care leaders told state lawmakers last week to restore the mandatory helmet law. But don’t expect that to happen.
Legislators tried for years to repeal the old law. But Gov. Jennifer Granholm always vetoed the legislation. When the latest attempt reached the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder, he signed it into law. Despite common sense, it is here to stay.
Times Herald, Port Huron