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Michigan Ends Mandatory Helmet Law Era

Michigan had required motorcyclists to wear helmets for more than 40 years, but those days are gone as of this week, and while some are thrilled, others are lamenting the Brave New World of freedom to choose and wind in the hair.

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm went toe-to-toe with the vocal group of motorcyclists seeking to repeal the helmet requirement and vetoed bills similar to the one current governor Rick Snyder signed into law.

“We believe that the key to motorcycle safety, accident reduction and injury prevention lies in rider education, car driver awareness and license endorsement,” said Jim Rhoades, ABATE of Michigan’s legislative director, of the legislative victory. “We plan to continue providing certified motorcycle rider safety courses across the state at affordable rates so every rider can be educated before hitting the road.”

Opponents say the new law will result more motorcycle deaths and debilitating injuries, raise insurance costs for all the state’s residents and boost state Medicaid costs. According to their analysis, done by the state’s Office of Highway Safety Planning Projects, at a minimum 30 additional motorcyclists will be killed every year and dozens more will be the victims of  incapacitating injuries. Some statistics says helmets are approximately 30% more likely to prevent motorcycle deaths and 67% more likely to prevent brain injuries, and that’s according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Michigan is the only state to provide unlimited medical coverage for crash victims, requiring lifetime benefits for all reasonable and necessary care. In Michigan, motorcyclists account for 5% of monies paid out of the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association for catastrophic injuries. Opponents of the helmet law repeal are quick to point out that riders make up only 2% of the assessment, reports the Insurance Institute of Michigan. Motorcyclists also receive special consideration under the state’s no-fault insurance law. If a motorcyclist is injured in an accident with an automobile, insurance paid for by the vehicle driver pays benefits to the motorcyclist, regardless of who is at fault.

The new law, and it was effective immediately, requires riders 21 and older to carry at least $20,000 in additional medical insurance to ride without helmets. Riders are also required to have passed a motorcycle safety course or have had their motorcycle endorsement for at least two years.

Michigan becomes the 31st state to make helmets optional, joining Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

A recent survey, conducted by AAA Michigan, found that more than 80% of likely voters were in support of mandatory helmet laws.
ABATE, the group responsible for the repeal,  has long favored removing Michigan’s mandatory helmet rule from the books saying Michigan was missing out on economic opportunities because bikers tended to avoid the state because of it.

Michigan State Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, authored the legislation, and he bought into that argument.

“Every year, millions of dollars leave our state because of Michigan’s outdated mandatory helmet law,” Pavlov said. “This bipartisan plan will keep our dollars here, attract even more tourists to Michigan and help our state in these tough economic times.”

AAA Michigan spokeswoman, Nancy Cain, was not so thrilled and failed to see the logic in Pavlov’s bill. AAA Michigan released a statement about the new legislation which said the law was passed “without regard for common good. Because the repeal will result in additional injuries — which will ultimately be paid for by all Michigan motorists — the need is even more critical for changes in the state’s current no-fault system.”

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