Local reactions to helmet law repeal

GENESEE COUNTY — Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill on April 12 repealing Michigan’s 45-year-old mandatory helmet law for motorcycle riders.

It allows those age 21 or older to ride without a helmet provided they carry at least $20,000 in additional medical insurance and have either passed a motorcycle safety course or had a motorcycle endorsement for two years.

It was great news for no-helmet proponents such as the American Bikers Aiming Toward Education (A.B.A.T.E.) which has lobbied since 1975 to repeal the law.

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association also supported repeal as a boon to tourism, by attracting more helmetless riders from other states.

But others are not celebrating the new law – Public Act 98.

AAA Michigan estimates that the repeal of the motorcycle helmet law will result in at least 30 additional fatalities each year, plus 127 more incapacitating injuries and $127 million in economic costs to Michigan residents.

Motorcyclists represent 1.9 percent of assessments paid into the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA) but they account disproportionately for 5 percent of all money paid out and 7 percent of all claims reported, according to AAA.

Premiums paid by all insured motorists to fund the MCCA could rise under the new law, according to Greg Eve, of Eve Insurance on Beecher Road.

He explained that under Michigan’s No- Fault law, the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage from a passenger vehicle pays for a motorcyclist’s injuries, in accidents involving the two. Michigan’s PIP coverage has no dollar or time limit which can add up to millions of dollars in insurance claims.

To protect insurance companies, each insured passenger vehicle is charged an annual fee ($175 beginning July 2012) to fund the MCCA. MCCA then reimburses the insurance company when a PIP claim exceeds $500,000.

“We see medical costs rising very quickly and adding more injuries to an already overburdened system,” Eve said.

He cautioned that motorcyclists most often are not at fault in accidents which places the burden on motorists to do a better job sharing the road to help keep down costs.

Law enforcers and other affected parties also are weighing in on the new law.

Officer Ken Szmansky rode a police motorcycle for eight of his ten years with the Swartz Creek Police Department.

“I am an accident investigator,” he said. “There are so many head injuries that you see with the helmet, I couldn’t imagine being in an accident without one.”

The resulting head trauma presents a sobering picture of the risk involved, he said.

“… where the helmet is cracked in half, you might equate your head to that helmet and say ‘wow, OK, I get it.’”

Studies show an 81 percent increase in motorcycle fatalities in Florida in the three years after it repealed its helmet law, a 50 percent increase in Kentucky and a 100 percent increase in Louisiana, said Jim Santilli, executive director of the Traffic Improvement Association of Michigan (TIA) in Auburn Hills, quoting data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

“Helmets are estimated to be 37-percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle riders and 41 percent for motorcycle passengers,” said Santilli.

Sgt. Clinton Keene, of the Michigan State Police, Saginaw Post, said law enforcers will not start stopping helmetless motorcyclists without cause such as a missing taillight, weaving or driving under the influence.

Lt. Matt Bolger, of the Michigan State Police Flint Post, said under appropriate circumstances MSP will inspect helmets to ensure they comply with the statute (if the individual is under age 21 and required to wear a helmet).

Riders are encouraged to carry proof of the $20,000 insurance coverage but they are not required to, he said.

Joseph R. Karlichek Chief of Operations for STAT EMS of Flint, said workers have been prepared to see increases in brain injuries resulting from helmetless motorcyclists involved in crashes.

“The repeal of the helmet law in STAT’s estimation may lead to unnecessary further injury, increase in long-term morbidity and drive up health care costs,” Karlichek said.

People have the right to make choices, including bad ones, Karlichek said but added that he believes many motorcyclists will continue to wear a helmet.

STAT will be tracking head injury data for helmetless riders via its Clinical Improvement Program, he said. It also will continue to work with healthcare partners on safety education programs.

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