Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

April 10, 2013

Impact of state motorcycle helmet law debated

LANSING — A University of Michigan researcher estimates there would have been 26 fewer deaths and 49 fewer serious injuries in Michigan last year if all riders had worn helmets, as it was previously required under Michigan law.

Last year, Michigan joined 30 other states in allowing adult riders to go without a helmet, a move welcomed by supporters who said it would draw more motorcycle riders to Michigan and increase tourism revenue. But some say that early crash data shows that changing the law was a mistake.

The law, which went into effect April 13 of last year, allows people age 21 and older to ride without helmets if they have been licensed to operate a motorcycle for at least two years or have passed a safety course. Motorcyclists are required to buy additional insurance — at least $20,000 of first party medical benefits coverage — in case they are injured in an accident.

The Office of Highway Safety Planning’s data shows that motorcycle fatalities were up 18 percent last year, from 109 in 2011 to 129 in 2012.

Flannagan found that of those who crashed in that period last year, 74 percent wore helmets, compared to 98 percent in that same period the previous three years.

She also concluded that the fatality rate was nearly three times higher for those who didn’t wear helmets last year than those who did. Her study only takes into account riders who crashed, not the entire riding population.

Vince Consiglio, president of Michigan’s American Bikers Aiming Toward Education, said since the changes in the helmet law, motorcycle organizations throughout the country have shown increased interest in Michigan.

He said rider skill and experience are more important than helmets in preventing serious injury and death. He has trained more than 250 motorcycle students in the Detroit area this season, he said.

“We believe in tougher licensing, motorcycle safety programs and driver awareness,” he said. “Some people talk about safety and some people do stuff about safety. We have made and done things about safety.”

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