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Freedom to ride without a motorcycle helmet costs in lives

April 3, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

Since the motorcycle helmet law was repealed, riders who crashed and didn’t wear a helmet died at twice the rate of those who did. Solution? Strap it back on

Motorcycle helmet
Data and research studies show motorcycle helmet use works to reduce deaths and injuries in the event of a crash. In addition, when an all-rider motorcycle helmet law is in effect, almost every rider wears one.

This is a guest blog post by my friend Dan Petterson. Dan is president of a motorcycle safety group called SMARTER, and he and I have collaborated in the past on motorcycle safety issues such as the dangers of Michigan’s motorcycle helmet law. In his post below, Dan discusses how Michigan citizens have paid a high price for the small freedom that allows a few motorcyclists to ride without a helmet.

Dan has been delving into motorcycle crashes, injury and death statistics, in efforts to help enthusiasts and lawmakers understand the effect of the helmet law repeal. The crash data below hopefully can also be used by public safety officials to reduce future motorcycle accident injuries and fatalities. He previously wrote on whether the motorcycle safety programs we have today are really effective in preventing motorcycle accidents and what can be done to reduce future crashes. Dan has also measured motorcycle accident deaths based on general population numbers.

The attorneys at Michigan Auto Law appreciate his hard work.

Motorcycle crash injury and death numbers are cause for alarm

In March 2017, the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning (MIOHSP) released its preliminary annual statistical report, “Motorcycle Helmet Traffic Crash Statistics.” It provides motorcyclist crash data from 2012 — the year Michigan representatives and senators voted, and Gov. Rick Snyder supported, the repeal of our all-rider motorcycle helmet law — through 2016.

I’ll bet very few elected officials five years ago actually said, “Sure, more riders will die and more will suffer serious injuries, but that is the price we pay for freedom.”

Instead, these lawmakers blithely assumed as true what they were told by the ABATE lobbyists: that repealing the helmet law would not have a price.

But it has.

Try 167 riders’ deaths and 325 being seriously injured.

That’s what scientists would call a statistically significant spike.

Now we need to ask why more riders are dying and being injured in motorcycle crashes.

Deaths and injuries without use of a motorcycle helmet

According to the new MIOHSP report, in four of the five years, riders who crashed and were not wearing a helmet died at more than double the rate of riders who were. In 2015, the death rate for unhelmeted riders was nearly twice that for riders wearing a helmet.

This information is consistent with a University of Michigan study published in 2016. On average for the years 2012-16, for every 100 helmeted riders involved in a crash, slightly fewer than three died. For every 100 nonhelmeted riders in involved in a crash, more than six died.

If we assume nonhelmeted riders would have died at the same rate as helmeted riders had they been wearing a helmet at the time of their crash, we come up 167 deaths that need not have happened if all riders had been wearing a helmet.

As can be expected, riders who decided to go helmetless and crash suffer a serious injury at a higher rate than riders who were helmeted.

Making a similar assumption, if riders who decided to not wear a helmet would instead have been wearing one at the time of their crash, we can determine that the decision to go helmetless has cost 325 serious injuries from 2012-16.

State just shrugs at motorcycle helmet solutions

While Michigan motorcyclists are dying at a 30-year record-high number, the Michigan Department of State (MDOS), which responsible for a major part of our rider safety program, has decided to just sit back and hunch its shoulders.

The MDOS has rejected two no-cost logical strategies that would provide support for riders to wear a quality motorcycle helmet.

One of these actions is needed to meet a standard included in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Model National Administrative Standards for State Motorcycle Rider Training Programs. Standard 2.4.1 Protective Equipment specifically requires riders in training programs to wear a full-face or three-quarter helmet. Michigan currently allows half-helmets and therefore does not meet this national standard. Requiring student participants in MDOS-approved RiderCourses to wear a three-quarter or full-face helmet is not only necessary to meet this national standard, it also would also establish a model and expectation for students.

The second action, also recently rejected by MDOS staff, would require all Michigan rider training instructors (called RiderCoaches) to wear full personal protective equipment riding to, from and during the teaching of rider education courses. Currently, RiderCoaches are allowed to wear minimum level protective gear. The result is instructors telling new riders, “Do as I say, not as I do,” which every parent knows is an instructional strategy doomed to failure.

Evidence clear: Not using a motorcycle helmet is a mistake

To maintain support of our current “adult choice” motorcycle helmet law, advocates and elected decision-makers must be saying: “I believe the freedom for adult motorcycle riders to decide to ride without a helmet is worth us sacrificing about 33 people per year and subjecting another 65 individuals per year to the pain of serious injury and I am fine with that — plus I am OK with paying the costs associated with these increased death and injury rates.”

This evidence has always been available. It was here in 2012, when the elected decision-makers made their terrible mistake to repeal our all-rider helmet law. We now have five years of Michigan specific data, plus we have four Michigan specific research studies conducted during this time:

The data and research studies support the readily available national and international research, which shows: (1) helmet use works to reduce deaths and injuries in the event of a crash; and (2) when an all-rider motorcycle helmet law is in effect, almost every rider wears one.

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