Last week, Michigan became the 31st state to give motorcyclists the option of wearing a helmet under legislation signed by Governor Snyder. The new law lets motorcyclists choose whether to wear a helmet if they are at least 21 years old, carry additional insurance, and have passed a motorcycle safety course or have had their motorcycle endorsement for at least two years. Additionally, motorcycle passengers who want to exercise this option must also be 21 or older and carry additional insurance.
The safety community has registered disappointment in this action and rightfully so in my opinion. Why? Well, the data suggests that this action will increase the number of deaths on our roadways and increase our auto insurance costs. I believe that the safety community will be carefully keeping records of this over the coming year to see just what the impact of the law will be.
While I was hoping the governor would veto the legislation, he didn’t. I hope the impacts, if any, will be small. SEMCOG’s role in safety planning is to monitor the data, inform the public, and work with partner agencies to make the region safer. Research shows that per vehicle mile traveled, the death rate for motorcyclists is nearly 40 times greater than for passenger car occupants. In 2010, crashes involving a motorcycle were the lowest of the previous five years – a total of 1,176, or just one percent of all crashes. However, 90 percent of those crashes resulted in injuries
Given those stats, the new legislation seems counter to other recent legislation that stresses safety. The state just made using seat belts a primary enforcement issue a few years ago. Why? To make driving safer. The state also just passed legislation on texting while driving and discouraging cell phone use while driving. Why? To make driving safer.
I am very careful around motorcyclists and I can only imagine how much more nervous and careful I will be the first time a helmetless cyclist pulls up next to me. Please be careful. SEMCOG will continue to monitor the data and we’ll let you know if the helmet legislation has a positive or negative impact on traffic crashes in the region.
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