26 Lives Lost to Michigan Helmet-law Repeal, Researchers Say

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26 fewer deaths. If Michigan had not repealed its mandatory helmet law last year, a University of Michigan researcher estimates 26 fewer people could have died in motorcycle crashes in the state, MLive reports.

Those 26 fewer fatalities would represent a 21% reduction from 2011, said Carol Flannagan, a researcher at U of M’s Transportation Research Institute. Using the same analysis, Flannagan said there would have been 49 fewer serious injuries, an 8 percent reduction. Her comments were made during the first public analysis of 2012 Michigan motorcycle crash data on Thursday.

Last week, Michigan released traffic crash data for 2012 that showed an 18 percent increase in motorcycle crashes from 2011 to 2012. Using those statistics, Flannagan isolated motorcycle crashes between April 13 and December 31, when the mandatory-helmet repeal took effect. She then compared that data with the same period in 2011.

Using a regression model, Flannagan separated crashes where alcohol was a factor and isolated crashes where not wearing a helmet was a factor, allowing her to compare just those crashes with similar risk factors. After accounting for alcohol and other factors, she concluded that not wearing a helmet doubles the risk of fatality, and increases chance of serious injury by 60 percent.

It’s important to note the data does not represent a full representation of the number of motorcyclists on the road, or those wearing or not wearing a helmet — only those involved in crashes

Flannagan’s regression model brought to light another startling fact: in a motorcycle crash, alcohol more than quadruples the risk of death and triples the risk of injury.

Also during the session, trauma-care physicians from a hospital in Grand Rapids shared results of a study that concluded unhelmeted riders spent more time in ICUs and had larger hospital bills. Interestingly, their numbers also showed that before arriving at their hospital, the fatality rate of unhelmeted riders increased from 33 to 77 percent; however, if a crashed rider did make it to the medical facility, the fatality rate stayed about the same: 3% for helmeted riders, compared with 2.6% for those without.

The research also found that in 2011, 7 percent of patients admitted to the hospital were not wearing a helmet, which increased to 29 percent after the repeal in 2012. The study looked at 192 patients admitted to the trauma center in 2011 and 2012.

The helmet choice law went into effect last April. The law allows someone to ride without a helmet if they are older than 21, have two years of motorcycle experience and $20,000 in additional rider and medical insurance.

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  • Marsh

    We have a similar helmet law in Texas. I am a firm believer that you should have the choice of helmet or not. That being said, I have never known anyone who began a ride with the intention of crashing their bike. Every time it happened to me, it was a huge surprise. I choose to wear a helmet, every time I ride, because there are too many things on the road that are beyond my control.

  • snail

    Helmet should be be a choice! As riding a motorcycle on the public road is not a right it’s a privilege.
    Should save the money used for the study, does not take a year of study to determine that helmets save your noggins. Just try by running as fast as you can and bang your head against a wall with a helmet then try without a helmet. I guaranteed you will convinced. One concussion was all I needed, and never again riding with out it afterward.

  • Eric C

    I wonder if insurance companies in states that don’t require helmets have higher insurance rates?

  • http://www.motorcycle.com Jon Langston

    Funny you should ask that, Eric – Motorcycle.com has just wrapped up a revamp of our Insurance page! Check it out here: http://www.motorcycle.com/buyers-guide/motorcycle-insurance.html
    Interestingly, I just researched this exact topic for an article that’s not yet posted, but the short answer, as it is with many insurance Q’s is: Maybe. Depends on the state.
    There’s no hard-and-fast general rule ads to how helmet-law states rates differ from non-helmet-law states – but some insurers will definitely offer a discount if you take proactive steps to be a safer rider – and that includes wearing a helmet.
    Check out my Top 10 ways to save on moto-insurance: http://www.motorcycle.com/insurance/top-10/top-10-ways-to-save-on-motorcycle-insurance.html.

    Good luck!

  • Ivan

    Despite generally having a “keep government out of my business” point of view, I’m a supporter of mandatory helmet laws. In the current system, insurance or no insurance, *I*, as a tax payer and an insurance subscriber have to bear the costs of your medical care if you damage your dumb head because you were too lazy, dumb or ignorant to wear a helmet. The helmet laws, in my opinion, function more to protect others from having to bear the extra costs of preventable injuries due to someone else’s idiocy, than to protect the rider.

  • Vernon

    Living in Texas, I can choose whether to wear a helmet, or go “tete al fresco”.
    I have been fortunate; my two or three spills occurred at speeds under 10 miles per hour.
    In the last such spill I was making a turn, the front tire caught in a defect of the road and cause me to fall over – at about 10 miles per hour.
    I fell, putting out my [gloved] hands to guard against the fall. Yet despite my best efforts my head — or rather my helmet — made a hard contact against the road.
    It was nothing beyond me getting a torn pair of jeans and a scuffed pair of gloves.
    That is until I inspected my helmet.
    There were a total of three impact sites on the helmet – how I managed to strike the ground at three different spots is beyond my powers of observation.
    But I was very glad that I did wear my helmet.

    The point is this: it is not a question of “if”, rather than a question of “when” you a conscientious rider will take a spill, a fall, or a collision.

    I have ridden without a helmet – I think we are all guilty of that at one time or another.

    But for ninety-nine percent of my riding, I wear a helmet. It just makes sense, apart from any rhetoric or perceived legal or financial issues.