Mich. House Passes ‘Opt Out’ Option for State’s Helmet Law

October 12, 2007

The Michigan State House passed legislation on Thursday, Oct. 11th that would enable motorcyclists to ride without their helmets on Michigan roads. The newest proposal includes an “opt-out” solution. Michigan motorcyclists would have the chance to buy their way out of wearing a helmet for a $100 fee according to some opponents of the bill.

American Bikers Aiming Toward Education (ABATE) authored the bill, which would require riders to be 21 years or older, licensed to operate a motorcycle for at least two years, complete a motorcycle safety course and have insurance or security of $20,000 for first-party medical benefits in the event of an accident.

Many who oppose the bill say it is just another ploy to eliminate the mandatory helmet law.

“It’s like a ‘get out of jail free card,'” said AAA Michigan Community Safety Services Manager Jack Peet. “Those who can afford the fee don’t have to wear a helmet; everyone else does.”

The reality, added Peet, is that no one can afford HB 4749, which would result in 22 additional fatalities each year, along with 132 more incapacitating injuries, 610 other injuries and $140 million in added economic costs to Michigan citizens.

“If the mandatory helmet requirement is repealed or waived through a fee, there will be a significant increase in severe head injuries and deaths,” said Peet. “Studies show that in a crash, unhelmeted motorcyclists are three times more likely than helmeted cyclists to suffer traumatic brain injuries.”

In addition, motorcycle crashes account for a disproportionate share of money paid out of the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA), a fund which is supported by a surcharge on every auto insurance policy in this state. Although motorcyclists represent 1.7 percent of the assessments paid into the MCCA, they account for 6.7 percent of all claims reported.

Since its inception in 1978, MCCA has reimbursed member insurers more than $210 million for 503 motorcycle injury claims exceeding the threshold. Total reimbursement for all claims exceeds $4.4 billion. If the mandatory helmet law is repealed, serious injuries to motorcyclists will rise. Since Michigan’s no-fault law allows lifetime benefits for all “reasonable and necessary” medical costs, the number of claims and the amount paid by the MCCA to reimburse insurance companies will increase, causing all policyholders in Michigan to pay more.

The $20,000 first-party medical benefit touted by ABATE, says Peet, wouldn’t begin to cover these catastrophic expenses.

In addition to increased medical costs passed on to taxpayers, Motorcycle deaths and injuries are on the rise after the repeal of mandatory helmet laws in Florida, Kentucky and Louisiana. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that in the three years after Florida’s repeal of its mandatory helmet law in 2000, 933 motorcyclists were killed, an 81 percent increase.

Another study found that fatalities grew by more than 50 percent in Kentucky and 100 percent in Louisiana after those states struck down mandatory helmet laws.

Opponents of the mandatory helmet law believe that wearing a helmet infringes on individual freedom of choice and the right to privacy. They argue that individuals who do not wear helmets harm mainly themselves.

However, AAA pointed out that In Florida after the helmet law was repealed, the cost of hospital care for motorcycle injuries grew from $21 million to $44 million in the 30 months after the law changed.

Source: AAA Michigan

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