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7 reasons every state should pass a motorcycle helmet law requirement

August 10, 2011 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan motorcycle attorney lists reasons for mandated motorcycle helmets

As the Republican Michigan Legislature bullies its way to repealing our motorcycle helmet law requirement, I thought I’d give my readers and the public more reasons to WEAR YOUR HELMETS!

Below are the top 7 reasons why every state should pass an all-rider motorcycle helmet law. This week, I found this list on the SMARTER website after talking to Dan Petterson, SMARTER president. It’s a great resource for motorcyclist safety information and strategies to reduce the risk of being injured in a crash riding motorcycles. The statistics on the list are from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Fatal Analysis Reporting System, 2005; Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

1. Motorcycle helmet laws save lives:
Death rates from head injuries, such as traumatic brain injury, are twice as high among motorcyclists in states without all-rider helmet laws. And motorcycle helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing motorcyclist deaths and 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries.

2. Helmet laws increase helmet use:
Studies show that helmet use approaches 100 percent in states with all-rider motorcycle helmet laws. Age specific helmet laws are virtually impossible to enforce, and there’s NO EVIDENCE that these laws reduce motorcycle fatalities and injuries.

3. Fiscal responsibility:
Riders without helmets have higher health care costs as a result of their crash injuries. As a motorcycle lawyer who has probably helped more bikers injured in motorcycle crashes than any other lawyer in Michigan over the past 17 years, I can say that injuries for motorcyclists who are injured without helmets are always almost catastrophic, and usually include traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injuries. And nearly half of these motorcycle accident victims do not have private insurance. The financial burden for treatment and care of uninsured motorcycle crash victims is then placed on the government and taxpayers. For instance, in 2005, Maryland estimated that a repeal of its all-rider helmet law would increase Medicaid expenditures by $1.2 million in the first year and up to $1.5 million each year after.

4. Fatalities and injuries from motorcycle accidents are climbing:
Motorcycle fatalities are at their highest level in 20 years, and now account for more than 10 percent of all annual fatalities, even though motorcycles make up less than 2 percent of all registered vehicles and only .4 percent of all vehicle miles traveled. In Michigan, the problem is even worse: Michigan motorcycle accident deaths have increased by 21 percent.

5. The public overwhelmingly supports helmet laws: According to a motor vehicle occupant survey conducted by the NHTSA, 81 percent reported that they favored mandatory helmet use laws for motorcyclists. A recent Lou Harris poll yielded the same results.

6. Alternatives are costly and ineffective:
There is no scientific evidence that motorcycle rider training can reduce crash risk and is an adequate substitute for an all-rider helmet law. A review by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation concluded that there’s “no compelling evidence that rider training is associated with reductions in collision.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also supports these claims.

7. Helmets do not increase the likelihood of spinal injury or crash: Critics of helmet laws often cite a highly disputed study by J.P. Goldstein indicating the added weight of helmets causes neck and spinal injuries during crashes. More than a dozen peer-reviewed medical studies have refuted this claim. A student reported in the Annals of Emergency Medicine analyzed 1,153 motorcycle accidents in four states and determined that helmets reduce head injures without an increase occurrence of spinal injuries. Studies show that helmets do not restrict vision, interfere with hearing, or cause heat discomfort.

Steven M. Gursten heads Michigan Auto Law. He received the highest motorcycle accident settlement in Michigan last year, according to Michigan Lawyers Weekly. Steve has spoken at trial seminars on motorcycle lawsuits, and is available for comment on Michigan’s motorcycle helmet laws.

– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by cogdogblog

Related information to protect yourself:

Motorcyclist dies of TBI in motorcycle helmet law protest

Top 3 most common motorcycle crashes and what insurance will cover you

Michigan motorcycle accident law FAQs

Michigan Auto Law is the largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights to better serve you. Call (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation with one of our motorcycle attorneys.

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7 Replies to “7 reasons every state should pass a motorcycle helmet law requirement”

  1. My rebuttal to your seven reasons why I should be forced to wear a helmet

    1) The last time I looked at the statistics involving injuries when not wearing a helmet they were extremely questionable. For example, if a bike is parked on the side of the road and the rider happens to have a helmet on the ground beside them when hit by a vehicle, this motorcyclist is written up as having a helmet. Conversely, there is very little study done on how much a helmet contributes to injuries and increased incident of accidents due to limited vision and hearing. Skewed statistics used as evidence are as bad as none at all.

    2) I will accept this as axiomatic since I assume that the majority of riders are law abiding citizens.

    3) I agree completely with fiscal responsibility. I pay extra to maintain a level of insurance that will cover the costs of severe injury from a relatively high risk sport. However, this should be the case regardless of helmet laws. Putting on a helmet does nothing to mitigate the risk of an accident on a motorcycle.

    4) Using the articles that were linked for reference, I’d say that since the rest of the country experienced drops in accidental deaths, this seems more of a localized phenomenon that other states have dealt with effectively using means other than mandatory helmet laws.

    5) This is the most insidious reason of all for passing a mandatory law or ANY type. First, I don’t care what the public thinks about me wearing a helmet. It’s their prerogative to think I’m an idiot. Second, how many steps do you have to go before passing a law, “because the public supports it”, is used to justify anything you want it to? Bottom line is that this is completely irrelevant to the issue.

    6) This point makes no sense to me. The statement is that alternatives are costly and ineffective. The only alternative you mention at all is rider training. Are you saying that the only alternative to a helmet law is a rider safety course? Are you saying that the state should provide a rider training course? Are you saying that there is no reason for a rider to take a safety course? There are other alternatives to a helmet law, ineffective or not. You might want to list them. By extension, show me the statics where a drivers education course saves lives? Maybe those should be done away with as well?

    7) As for the last one, as a rider of over 30 years and a helmet wearer for most of that time, clearly you have no idea what you’re talking about if you think that a full face helmet does not restrict vision, hearing and I love this, cause heat discomfort. I don’t give a damn how well ventilated your helmet is, you’re uncomfortably warm if you’re wearing it in 90 degree or above weather.

  2. There is no effort to repeal the hat law but to amend it so adults, 21 & over, won’t be arrested, incarcerated, and/or fined if not wearing a hat; similar to the alcohol consumption law.
    Helmet use might save a life but the helmet law only arrests, incarcerates, and/or fines, the only issue addressed in the law, everthing else is hope and wishful thinking.
    Duh! Punishing an adult for failure to wear a hat will produce increased use. So what? Punishing adults will change some behavior but it doesn’t make it right. So you want everyone in a motorcycle accident killed & injured to be wearing a hat or else. Not exactly the American way but it works in Iran so maybe you have a point. Can you say Toby?
    After more than 45 years, if hat laws have reduced “costs” then where has the money gone. Most motorcycle accident injuries impact primarily legs & arms regardless of hat use. Estimates don’t make reality; if they did then we would be at full employment with low unemployment. Smoke & mirrors.
    With increased use of motorcycles comes an increase in accidents. More people are killed & injured in auto accidents with seatbelts now than 20 years ago due to increased use. In the early 70’s, when helmet laws 1st began taking effect, motorcycle accidents, injures, & fatalities skyrocketed. Because of hat laws? No, the oil embargo. Figures don’t lie but liars can figure. Easy to make a statistical argument to support any position. Doesn’t make tthe argument accurate or relevant.
    Tyrany of the majority is never a positive position. Slavery was overwnhelming “supported” by the public in the South. Didn’t make it right.
    You gotta quit smoking that stuff! Crash avoidance is much more beneficial, and cost effective, than crash injury reduction. If you avoid the crash you avoid the injury completely. Education is the ONLY solution. If helmets are so good then why threaten & punish adults into using them? Convince adults to wear a hat with sound arguments. Threats of punishment are never productive in the long run.
    You’ve never heard of inertia? Increasing the weight of your head by 25% on your neck (a flexible stem) increases the probability of causing injury to your neck and spine. You’re arguing with physics.
    You’ve made a passable case for helmet use but you’ve failed to make a case for threatening adults with arrest, incarceration and/or fine for simply not wearing a hat while on a motorcycle. Michigan bikers are the only ones addressing the law, not the device. The law states that you, regardless of age or experience, will be arrested, incarcerated and/or fined if you ride a motorcycle without a hat. Period. Nothing in the law addresses accidents, injuries, fatalities, insurance costs, medical costs, public burden or anything else. Make a case that adults aren’t capable of making responsible decisions and maybe you’ll convince your fellow citizens that your “threat & punish” approach to motorcycle safety is the best policy. But then I’m guessing that you’re an adult so it might be impossible for you to make that case. But keep trying. The Taliban might evewntually take over the USA and they’ll be looking for like minded individuals.

  3. Freedom to choose if you want to wear a helmet is the issue. I choose not to wear armored pants , steel shinguards or a lot of other uneccessary accessories. I ride with out drinking alcohol and I maintain awareness and control of my motorcycle at all times ,Those are the safety factors that are way more important than a law that is more of onerous governmental intrusion , REPEAL .REPEAL.

  4. Hi Vern, thanks for writing in. Looks like you win on this issue, if I had to guess what Governor Snyder will be doing with the bill waiting right now for his signature. I would just add to your e-mail that, from my perspective of having a lot of very safe, very careful, and by the time they are sitting across my desk – very injured – motorcycle owners over the years, it isn’t how careful you are, or that you abstain from drinking alcohol that you maintain awareness and control of your motorcycle at all times. The issue is the other guy. Remember, the vast majority of the motorcycle injury accidents I have handled did not involve the motorcycle rider being at fault. The vast majority were drivers of motor vehicles who didn’t see, didn’t stop, or didn’t look. And that isn’t something you can control, no matter how careful you are. And when that does happen – and it will, although may it never happen to you – my point is that you want a helmet on to significantly reduce your chance of death and serious traumatic brain injury.

  5. While I agree that I would rather be wearing a helmet if/when involved in a MC accident, this is not at all the issue at hand! What is being debated, is whether that decision should be made by the adult who is intentionally placing him/herself in harm’s way, or by big brother.

    There appear to be 2 major arguments for mandatory helmet laws: saving lives, and reducing costs to the public.

    In terms of saving lives, while an admirable cause, a mandatory helmet law does nothing to prevent the distracted driver from pulling out in front of the innocent MC rider (which accounts for about 80% of all MC accidents). However they do restrict the rights of the MC rider to choose how much risk he/she is willing to take on. We don’t have laws requiring car drivers to wear helmets (which would undeniably also save lives)!? We don’t have laws preventing severely overweight people from purchasing bon-bons!? I could go on and on…

    I would also like to point out at this time that even in states like Florida where helmet use is not mandatory, more MC riders die wearing helmets than those that don’t! Could it be that helmets cause more accidents?

    As for additional costs to the public, this is just plain ‘ol fear-mongering.

    If fatalities truly go up as helmet laws are lifted, what better way to cut costs than outlaw helmets altogether!? More riders will die and less will be left to care for.

    And if you don’t like that argument, how about taking a more realistic approach and dealing more harshly with the cage drivers that cause the bulk of the accidents?

    And what about the fact that MC riders, at least here in Michigan, already pay a disproportionate portion of the MCCA fund? How is that fair to them?

    Anyways, bottom line is that this is about the freedom to choose. It’s not about whether helmets save lives, or if their use actually causes more accidents. It’s simply about the fact that, as an adult who’s served this country in the military and fought for our freedoms, I should be able to decide for myself

  6. the part in section two were it say and i quote ” 2. Helmet laws increase helmet use: Studies show that helmet use approaches 100 percent in states with all-rider motorcycle helmet laws.” is not necessarily true just because there is a helmet law does not mean everybody is going to follow it i mean like all though i am 15 if i drove a motorcycle i would wear a helmet because i know how bad the damage will be if i don’t but i have been to states were there is a motorcycle helmet law and i saw at least 15-20 bikers without a helmet

  7. Yes, you are technically correct that just because the law says (or said, as in Michigan) that you have to wear a helmet means that people actually will wear one. And I cannot argue with your comment about what you have personally observed in other states. However, all I can say is that in Michigan, the helmet law was enforced well and I cannot personally ever recall seeing a rider on a public road without one when we had the law in effect. That also is consistent with the studies by NHTSA that have been done on this showing same.

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