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One year after Michigan’s motorcycle helmet repeal: Too many preventable deaths

April 30, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

During Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, will the GOP Legislature and Gov. Snyder admit their mistake and reverse course on  Michigan’s helmet repeal?

deaths after michigan motorcycle helmet repealHere we are at the start of another Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. This is a national initiative to encourage drivers and motorcyclists to “share the road” with each other.

But sharing the road safely with motorcyclists doesn’t do much if the motorcyclists are not wearing life-saving helmets to protect them in case of a crash. In Michigan, bikers are actually allowed to put their lives in jeopardy and ride helmetless because of the motorcycle helmet law repeal that was signed by Gov. Snyder last year.

The number of motorcycle accident fatalities is climbing due to this senseless law. So on the first day of Motorcycle Safety Awareness month, I’d like to share an excellent guest blog post by Dan Petterson. Dan is president of SMARTER motorcycle safety group. SMARTER is a Michigan group that advocates for safer laws for motorcyclists.

Under Dan’s leadership, SMARTER is approaching lawmakers and attempting to get our helmet law repeal reversed.

Here’s what Dan has to say about motorcycle safety and the repeal of our helmet law:

My name is Dan Petterson. I am the president and chief executive officer of the Skilled Motorcyclist Association–Responsible, Trained and Educated Riders, Inc. (acronym SMARTER). SMARTER is a motorcyclist association that recognizes all-rider helmet laws are a vital component of a comprehensive motorcyclist-safety program.

Christopher A. Hart, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, once noted that helmet-law repeals amount to a vast experiment affirming the effectiveness of such laws in reducing motorcyclist deaths and injuries. On Friday the 13th of April, 2012, Michigan enlisted itself in that tragic human experiment. What a terrible mistake our Legislature and governor made. As expected, the repeal of our helmet law has turned out to be a disaster that has cost human lives and has caused needless suffering.

While it is true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, when you make an error in judgment not costing you your own life, you do get a chance to admit you made a mistake and you get an opportunity to learn from it and make amends. That is the chance available now to our state Legislature and our governor. They have a chance to take a mulligan, an opportunity for a do-over.

In 2012, 55 helmetless riders died and 195 suffered incapacitating injuries. The research we just heard tells us that had all these riders been wearing a helmet, 26 would still be alive and 49 would not have suffered such serious injuries.

While we can’t turn back the clock to save the lives lost or irrevocably altered as a tragic consequence of this costly mistake, we can reinstate the helmet law now, just one year after repeal, and confidently look to the future knowing that the single-most important aspect of a comprehensive motorcyclist-safety program has been restored: the mandatory helmet law that served this state well for over four decades.

Motorcyclists should take responsibility for their own safety; but the sad fact is, sometimes they do not, and that is why a mandatory, universal helmet law is so important. Now, our lawmakers must exercise their “response ability,” their ability to respond to the Michigan-specific data now available. There is no shame in correcting your course; the shame is in continuing in a direction proven to be dead wrong.

The time for action to reinstate our lifesaving and dollar-saving all-rider helmet law has arrived. Polls have shown that the majority of Michigan voters support an all-rider helmet law. Elected officials who, with honesty and sincerity, admit their mistake and rescind their support for repeal will earn the respect of those voters. And our new legislators, who had no say in this costly experiment, joined by their colleagues who have diligently opposed repeal all along, will have an opportunity to carry out the will of the majority by enacting this common-sense measure that helps keep motorcyclists safe.

The dead and injured motorcyclists who chose to ride without a helmet don’t get a do-over. Our lawmakers are fortunate that they do. The riding season is upon us. How many more lives need we sacrifice?

Lawmakers, the time has come for you to cry, “Mulligan!”

Related information:

Does Gov. Snyder hate motorcyclists?

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