Michigan and Delaware governments are currently mulling over changing their helmet laws, with Michigan’s Senate passing a repeal and Delaware’s governor vetoing the most current version.
Delaware’s current law states “Every person operating or riding on a motorcycle shall have in that person's possession a safety helmet approved by the Secretary of Public Safety and shall wear eye protection approved by the Secretary; provided, however, that every person up to 19 years of age operating or riding on a motorcycle shall wear a safety helmet and eye protection approved by the Secretary.' In other words, if you are over 19, you can ride helmet free as long as you have one somewhere on the bike. While this is probably the most unique helmet law in the country, requiring a helmet, but not requiring it be worn, Delaware Governor Jake Markell explains, “Our law encourages riders to use the helmets they are required to carry. The law may be imperfect, but it sends a signal – wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle is something we value as a community. This requirement saves lives. Riders are more likely to wear helmets if they have to carry one on their motorcycle, and passengers picked up by a motorcycle at least have the option to wear a helmet since, under current law, one must be provided.”
In vetoing the repeal of this current law, Governor Markell cites motorcycle fatalities in his veto: “Sadly, many motorcyclists still do not take advantage of the helmet they are required to carry. In the weeks while this bill was being considered, there were multiple motorcycle accidents in which riders without safety helmets were killed. So far in 2011, eleven people have died in motorcycle accidents. Nine of them were not wearing a helmet. This total is already more than the number of motorcyclists killed in all of 2010 – and much of the busy summer motorcycle season still remains.”
Michigan’s helmet law, whose repeal recently passed through its Senate, currently states “A person operating or riding on a motorcycle . . . on a public thoroughfare shall wear a crash helmet on his or her head.” It also further states that “Crash helmets shall be approved by the department of state police. The department of state police shall promulgate rules for the implementation of this section pursuant to the administrative procedures act of 1969, Act No. 306 of the Public Acts of 1969, being sections 24.201 to 24.315 of the Michigan Compiled laws. Rules in effect on June 1, 1970, shall apply to helmets required by this act.”
This law has been challenged for decades, mostly for being much too vague as to what type of helmet should be worn, in addition to the usual “infringement of personal freedoms” challenges. The original bill from four years ago and two bills to repeal the helmet law were vetoed by Governor Jennifer Granholm.
What would make Michigan unique compared to other states that have passed such laws is the impact it could have on residents who never even considered owning a motorcycle. Michigan is the only state with unlimited personal injury protection benefits. Claims that exceed $500,000 are paid by the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association, a nonprofit created by statute to spread the cost of lifetime care among all motorists. The money comes from an assessment attached to each no-fault auto insurance policy. Michigan’s Governor Snyder is using the possible helmet law repeal as a starting point to discuss insurance reform.
In a recent poll conducted in Michigan, 68% oppose the repeal of the state’s helmet law (the poll allows for a 4% margin of error). Perhaps the residents of Michigan are more informed than their legislatures. From the American Journal of Health (2002): When Maryland adopted helmet safety laws in 1992, their motorcycle fatalities saw a 37% decrease. Conversely and just as dramatically, Pennsylvania saw a 40% increase in injuries after their repeal and a startling 66% in head injury deaths. (American Journal of Health, 2008).
If Michigan and Delaware want to discuss helmet law repeals and figure out how to cover their butts at the same time, there’s a simple solution. Stipulate “No helmet, no payment” and, conversely, give insurance discounts to bikers who have and use safety equipment, including proper boots, body armor, etc. To those who loudly lament about government “infringing on rights,” I would ask, “Do you stop at red lights? Do you have license plates on your bike and car? Insurance?” The government “infringes” on “rights” in every aspect of our daily lives, but we barely acknowledge it.
Like laws banning cell phone use in cars, wearing seat belts and keeping our babies in approved safety seats, looking to make more of us safe so we can be enjoying dinner in our homes each night is not such a bad idea. Statistically, helmet laws make a huge difference in lives saved. Next month, I will have those statistics.
By Louise Reeves