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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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5 Replies to “One year after Michigan’s motorcycle helmet repeal: Too many preventable deaths”

  1. Yet another irresponsible article on the subject of helmet use and mandatory helmet laws. Here’s the big picture:

    2005 – 3,589 accidents with 121 deaths. That’s a 3.37% death rate.
    2006 – 3,386 accidents with 120 deaths. That’s a 3.54% death rate
    2007 – 3,821 accidents with 127 deaths. That’s a 3.32% death rate.
    2008 – 4,082 accidents with 127 deaths. That’s a 3.11% death rate.
    2009 – 3,451 accidents with 105 deaths. That’s a 3.04% death rate.
    2010 – 3,362 accidents with 125 deaths. That’s a 3.71% death rate.
    2011 – 3,175 accidents with 113 deaths. That’s a 3.55% death rate.
    and finally,
    2012 – 3,509 accidents with 129 deaths. That’s a 3.67% death rate.

    Based on all the press lately that is leading everyone to believe that repealing the helmet law is killing people, the numbers seem to have remained fairly consistent. The death rate last year is actually lower than 2010, and there were 500 less accidents than 2008. What that means is you could absolutely make the completely opposite argument about mandatory helmet laws. They do not result in safer riding conditions!

    Now for the tricky part. There are some additional factors to consider when looking at this data from last year;

    1) Last year was the longest riding season we’ve had in Michigan for as long as I can remember. It was a very warm Spring and the season extended well into November for many people willing to bundle up.

    2) Many studies have shown (and my personal experience can confirm) that riders in states without helmet laws put on more mileage per year than their helmet-law-restricted counterparts.

    3) Initial reports claim a significant increase in motorcycle tourism from surrounding states. (Prior to last year MI was the only state in the region with a mandatory helmet law so many bikers from neighboring states would not stop by for a visit). It’s hard to know exaclty how many out-of-state bikers visited us thanks to the repeal but based on statements by representatives from the food, hotel, and entertainment industry and the claims of the organizers of Muskegon Bike Time (the largest motorcycle related event in the state), the increase was significant.

    4) I haven’t been able to find motorycle registration information published for last year yet but history shows that registrations increase when a state repeals it’s mandatory helmet law. I.E. more bikes on the road. I drive 2+1/2 hrs per day for work. I’ve never seen more motorcycles on the road in MI than I did last year. I’ll be anxiously awaiting registration information.

    So basically what we have here is yet another biased and inconclusive report put together by people with an agenda. It’s up to you to determine what that agenda may be.

    Make no mistake….while it’s generally agreed by everyone that if you get hit in the head it’s better to have a helmet on, the data shows that mandatory helmet laws have a negative impact on the death rates when applied to the masses. It’s not just Michigan, data from other states shows the same result.

    1. Not everybody that receives a head/brain injury is lucky enough to die. Some(most) ‘live’ the rest of their lives at a diminished capacity.

  2. Why is it that no specific empirical evidence is presented as to the cause of motorcycle deaths. My question would be this. Please present evidence and facts collected by a bonafide agency like NHTSA or whatever, showing how many motorcycle deaths were caused by cars colliding with motorcycles? How many car drivers were at fault? How many motorcycle fatalities involved use of alcohol? How many fatalities involved excessive and illegal speed? How many fatalities were after daylight hours in combination with the previous conditions? How many were on winding or otherwise dangerous roads? In each situation was wearing a helmet a factor resulting in death? In order to get a true picture of the “cause” of death, I believe the complete situation needs to be evaluated without helmet hysteria. I wear a helmet at all times when I ride, always did, always will. I live in Michigan. Ride safe.

    1. John, you raise very good questions, and I congratulate you on your safe riding helmets and on wearing a helmet. I do, respectfully, believe you are mistaken when you write that there is no specific empirical evidence. The number of deaths are not negated because of another variable that you would like to see addressed (the cause of each specific death). The empirical evidence is that there has been an increase in fatalities, which is consistent and corroborates the empirical evidence from the other states that repealed their motorcycle helmet laws. Further, we can logically assume without any evidence to the contrary that the general causes of crashes does not fluctuate from year to year, even if the cause of any individual crash does vary. In other words, the questions you ask likely revert to a mean or average. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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