Mich. House Passes Controversial Motorcycle Helmet Repeal Bill

June 7, 2006

With hundreds of motorcycle riders outside the Capitol, the Michigan state House today passed a controversial repeal of a mandate for riders to wear helmets.

The legislation passed by a 66-37 vote and is awaiting the signature of Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Insurance Journal contacted the Governor’s office and her spokesperson Liz Boyd said that “the Governor supports the current helmet law and does not support the repeal.” Boyd would not comment further and did not say whether the Governor will, in fact, veto the bill.

Several previous efforts at overturning the law requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet have failed. The Michigan mandate has been in place for 37 years.

Essentially the bill would allow riders 21 and older to go without helmets if they have been licensed to operate a motorcycle for at least two years or have taken a safety course. An additional requirement would mandate that riders carry at least $10,000 in personal injury protection insurance.

Those supporting the legislation such as ABATE say motorcyclists should have the freedom to ride without a helmet. At least 30 other states, including some in the Midwest, give adults the option to not wear a helmet.

Organizations that oppose the legislation see the issue from a different perspective, saying not wearing helmets lead to more deaths and injuries, which will lead to higher medical bills and insurance rates.

“This is bad legislation–pure and simple, and no amount of political spin and rhethoric is going to make this a good legislation. You can’t have good public policy by compromising on human safety.” said Gary Mitchell, vice president of Public Affairs for the Michigan Association of Insurance Agents.

Each survivor of a severe head injury requires between $4.1 and $9 million in care over a lifetime, according to Mitchell.

Mitchell added that the number of accidents involving motorcycles has had a major impact on insurance and medical costs. Despite the fact that motorcyclists represent about 1.7 percent of the assessments paid into the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA), they accounted for almost 5 percent of all medical reimbursements, he said.

As of June 2005, the MCCA paid claims on 503 motorcycle accidents, totaling more than $210 million. The average motorcycle claim paid by the MCCA was over $418,000 last year (up 71 percent from the $297,000 paid in 1994).

AAA Michigan also released a statement opposing the repeal.

“We are disappointed and saddened that state lawmakers undertook this course of action,” said Jack Peet, manager of Community Safety Services for AAA Michigan. “It makes absolutely no sense to make optional the only validated personal safety device available to a motorcycle rider.”

The statement said that “AAA will continue to oppose legislation that leads to unnecessary deaths and injuries on our highways at a cost that would be mostly borne by the citizens of Michigan. A 2005 AAA survey shows that nearly 90 percent of AAA Michigan members oppose a repeal of the state’s mandatory motorcycle helmet law.”

According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, a surviving patient with a critical head injury incurs an average of $171,000 in medical and convalescence costs in just the first year following the injury.
The financial burden placed on both the state and taxpayers for this so-called “freedom of choice” issue falls on most Michigan No-Fault insurance carriers. Unlike automobile drivers, motorcyclists do not pay for No-Fault insurance.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s list of safety laws by state ranks only Nebraska and Michigan as “good” regarding its current helmet legislation. Eleven other Midwestern states including Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa are all ranked ‘poor.”

In 1997, Arkansas and Texas repealed all-rider helmet laws, the next year motorcycle operator fatalities increased by 21 percent in Arkansas and 31 percent in Texas. Kentucky and Louisiana had similar experiences.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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