Motorcycle Fatalities Down in Michigan Despite Helmet Law Change?
May 19, 2012
By: Dave Rogers
How do you define "individual liberty?"
We're all safer if anyone who wants to can carry a gun at church, school or in a bar.
And it's OK to allow motorcycle riders to go without helmets -- it's freedom, you see. And it boosts tourism.
In fact, motorcycle fatalities have gone down since the helmet law was passed because of stepped up training.
These are the ideas of a political class gone slightly mad -- tetched as some say.
All this brings to mind the old story of the emperor who sat on his throne naked. And all the courtiers were afraid to mention it for fear of offending him. In this case the politicians seem afraid to tell business folks that reality must be recognized despite their money-grubbing goals.
Latest fiction from the tetched political class is the following quote from a press source:
"Motorcycle fatalities have gone up in the United States as more riders take to the road. But in Michigan, the number has gone down.
Why? State safety officials say it's because of rider training."
Secretary of State Ruth Johnson ironically was photographed wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle in a promotional piece printed in the Dearborn Press & Guide.
Why is that so strange? Well, because Michigan just passed a law, with great fanfare, allowing motorcyclists to ride without a helmet. Such a law will bring millions in tourism dollars, presumably from waves of helmet-less riders sweeping into the state to display their new "freedom."
Reports from police sources in the metropolitan areas contacted by this columnist are that the results of the no-helmet law change were immediate -- deaths occurred in motorcycle accidents where the rider might have lived had a helmet been worn.
Ms. Johnson says basic Rider Courses are required for teens ages 16-18 who want to ride motorcycles on the road; likewise for adults who have twice failed the skills test to get a motorcycle endorsement on their driver's licenses.
Michael Prince, director of the state Office of Highway Safety Planning, weighed in with the news that 350 riders from this state had enrolled in an advanced motorcycle training course.
Prince was one of the guests hosted by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson in a press conference last Tuesday at Motor City Harley-Davidson in Farmington Hills.
Johnson announced a new Return Rider Course for those who have ridden but who want to sharpen their skills. She also unveiled a new public service video designed to encourage riders to get proper training or even their endorsement.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed legislation April 13 (ominously Friday the 13th) repealing a 35-year-old safety requirement requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets.
Michigan thus became the 31st state to provide the helmet-less option.
Snyder framed his decision as one of individual liberty: "While many motorcyclists will continue to wear helmets, those who choose not to deserve the latitude to make their own informed judgment," he said.
Thomas Moran, of Fenton, in a letter to the editor of The Detroit Free Press, blasted Gov. Snyder for this decision:
"Gov. Rick Snyder's decision to sign legislation that repeals the motorcycle helmet mandate is a huge mistake. Michiganders will be forced to pay the costs in several ways.
Safety: Traumatic brain injuries will surge with helmet-less bikers.
Cost: The cost of caring for badly injured bikers will be borne by all."
Stephen M. Gursten, motorcycle accident lawyer and president of Michigan Auto Law, says: "I'm still amazed by the gigantic leap of logic that motorcycle helmet repeal advocates have. The argument is that requiring bikers to wear a helmet infringes on their personal freedom and liberty," said Gursten, adding:
"But these "advocates" ignore that their 'liberty' stops when others are then forced to pay their medical bills for catastrophic lifetime medical care. The costs of their 'liberty' to not wear a helmet is shifted to the rest of us taxpayers, as the burden is shifted to Medicaid to pay for serious brain injuries that could have been prevented."
The political class so intent on cutting taxes and never approving new taxes is placing a heavy tax on the people with their ridiculous policies ostensibly aiming to promote business for bars and tourism and expand "freedom."
Mike Guarino, writer for the Christian Science Monitor, recently reported:
"Safety studies show helmet laws lower health-care medical costs and increase public safety.
"A March 2012 study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor found that, had the Michigan law been repealed in 2009, the average cost per crash involving a motorcyclist would have increased 48 percent, from $213,770 to $317,031."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2008 reported that motorcyclists who do not use helmets are three times more likely to suffer a traumatic brain injury in a crash than those who are wearing helmets.
Tom Constand, a spokesperson for the Brain Injury Association of Michigan in Brighton, said the repeal is "unconscionable."
However, motorcycle advocates in the state say the change is necessary to boost tourism and that personal safety should be a matter of choice for each rider.
Jim Rhoades, the legislative director of the Michigan chapter of American Bikers Aiming Toward Education, said that road safety "lies in rider education, car driver awareness, and license endorsement."
Mr. Rhoades said Michigan lost "millions of dollars" each year due to the helmet requirement. Also supporting the repeal was the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, (MLBA) a trade association representing bars, restaurants, and other liquor vendors in the state.
One police source in the Flint area reported a drunken motorcyclist without a helmet recently was killed when he flipped into the highway median. "Had he been wearing a helmet, he might have lived," the source said.
"Every year we watch our customers ride into neighboring states and very few motorcycles ride" because of the previous law, MLBA executive director Scott Ellis said.
Senate Fiscal Agency analyst Matthew Grabowski told the Legislature: "If the passage of the bill leads to more head injuries, Medicaid costs for the state could potentially increase." Duh! A survey showed 31 percent in favor of repeal of the helmet law and 68 percent opposed.
The tetched pols appear to be on the wrong side of the angels no matter which way they turn. But facts and reality are obviously not their strong suit.
The federal Highway Safety Act of 1966 required all states to have a motorcycle-helmet law on their books so they could qualify for highway construction funds and other federal safety programs. With Michigan's new law, do we lose in federal dollars what we might gain through tourism?
David Clark, Okemos attorney, posts a summary of the new law on his website and comments:
"Actual enforcement of the law seems like it is going to become a questionable issue. State police have stated that 'Officers may not stop a motorcycle operator for not wearing a helmet based on the mere possibility the operator or passenger may not be exempt from the requirement to wear a helmet.'"
Mr. Clark adds: "This new laws says nothing about riders needing to carry or provide the proof of medical insurance clearly stated in section C, the proof that they have the required motorcylcle endorsement stated in section A, or the proof of successfully completing the required safety course."
Today, 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws mandating helmet use for all riders, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va.
Just because a lot of motorcycle riders, bar owners and some misguided politicians think it's OK for riders not to wear helmets ignores the facts: it will undoubtedly cost us all more money in higher medical bills for the injured riders. The brain-damaged cyclist will not have the money to pay for his or her own treatment, sometimes for life.
So, who really wins in this attempt to create more "freedom?"
Two bills to repeal the state helmet law were vetoed by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D).
But times change, and so does the thinking of politicians. We can't help but thinking these decisions need to be re-thought.
Columns Article 7023
Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at email@example.com)
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