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In 2012, Michigan made it legal for some bikers to ride without a motorcycle helmet. Four years in, studies by the state and one of Michigan’s biggest hospitals show that decision was deadly, and expensive, for Michigan riders.
Last week, hundreds of motorcyclists rode to the capitol in support of a law that isn’t being amended, even though it should be. The law in question allows Michigan bikers over age 21 to choose not to wear a helmet, as long as they have a motorcycle endorsement on their license and have take a safety class. The helmet exception was the result of a 2012 lobbying effort by ABATE Michigan (ABATE stands for American Bikers Aiming Toward Education) – the same group planning next week’s ride.
The group seems all to willing to ignore research that says riding without a helmet is hazardous to one’s health. The 2015 Michigan State Police crash data shows that last year, 138 people died because of motorcycle crashes. That’s higher than any year since 1985.
The increase can easily be correlated to the helmet law. From 2000 to 2011, the average number fatal motorcycle crash deaths was approximately 112. But from 2012 to 2015 – the 4 years under the new law – That number has increased to 126 people. That’s 56 deaths more than under the old law.
Dr. Carlos Rodriguez was a neurosurgeon in the ER at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids in the days following the law change in 2012. He remembers:
“We had three or four really bad motorcycle crashes and all of them had not been wearing helmets. It made an impression on me. I thought, ‘Wow, this is more than we normally see.’”
So he started looking at the numbers. He found that since 2012, his hospital has treated 345 motorcycle crash victims. Of those, 10% of helmetless riders died, compared to just 3% of riders who were wearing helmets. Bikers without helmets were also more likely to have severe head injuries, spend longer in intensive care, and spend more time on a ventilator. All in all, that extra medical care averaged out to $27,760 in additional healthcare expenses – 32% higher than their helmeted counterparts.
Those numbers represent a drastic shift from 2011. According to Dr. Rodriguez, the proportion of motorcycle crash patients not wearing a helmet has quadrupled since 2011 (from 7% to 28%). Riders pronounced dead on the scene were also far more likely to be riding bear-headed. Before 2012, only 14% of DOA riders were helmetless. Now, that number is 68%.
All those numbers add up to one clear trend: riding without a motorcycle helmet is killing Michigan bikers. But riders can choose to protect themselves and their families, just by pledging to always wear a helmet when they ride their bikes. The numbers show, the decision could save a life.
David Christensen is a motorcycle accident attorney at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. If you have been seriously injured in a motorcycle crash, contact Christensen Law today for a free consultation.