Study Shows Increase in Motorcycle Accident Injuries After Michigan Helmet Law Change
In April 2012, Michigan motorcyclists saw a big change in laws regarding helmet usage. For 35 years before then, Michigan law mandated that all motorcyclists and passengers wear helmets while riding a motorcycle. But on April 12, 2012, that law was repealed and now motorcyclists are no longer required to wear a helmet if they’re over the age of 21, have purchased at least $20,000 worth of first-party medical insurance benefits, and have either had a motorcycle endorsement for at least two years or have passed an approved motorcycle safety class. Motorcycle passengers are also legally allowed to ride without a helmet if they’re at least 21 years old and carry at least $20,000 worth of first-party medical insurance benefits.
Before this change in the law, there have been multiple studies showing that helmets protect and save the lives of riders who are involved in motorcycle accidents. But now that Michigan’s new helmet law has been in effect for a few years, we’re beginning to see just how effective mandatory helmet laws were in protecting motorcyclists.
Dr. Carlos Rodriguez, senior author of a new study about Michigan motorcycle accident injuries, says he was able to see a marked increase in the severity of the injuries sustained by the victims of motorcycle accidents almost instantly after the law being changed. Rodriguez works at Spectrum Health Hospital in Grand Rapids and stated, “I just could not help but notice the number of patients that had been in motorcycle crashes with no helmet on, which was enormously different in number and volume than we had experienced the weekend before.”
This new study looked at patient records at Spectrum Health Hospital and records from the Michigan Department of Transportation from the motorcycle riding season (April to November) of 2011, before the helmet law was changed, and compared them to records from the motorcycle riding seasons of 2012, 2013, and 2014.
After the helmet law was changed in 2012, the number of non-helmet wearing motorcycle accident victims brought to the hospital jumped from 7% to 28%. Of those un-helmeted riders who were brought to the hospital, 10% of them died there, whereas just 3% of helmeted motorcycle accident victims died at the hospital. The numbers are even more dramatic when you look at the number of motorcyclists who died at the scene of the accident. Prior to April 2012, 14% of riders who died at the crash scene weren’t wearing helmets, but that number skyrocketed to 68% after the law changed.
Riders who weren’t wearing helmets were also more likely to sustain life-threatening head injuries and more severe injuries elsewhere. These injuries typically result in longer, more expensive hospital stays. Statistically speaking, unhelmeted cyclists involved in motorcycle accidents are also more likely to be found to be under the influence of alcohol.
This isn’t the first time accident data has been used to highlight how dangerous Michigan’s current helmet laws are. MLive published an investigation on the subject in 2012, which made many of the same findings the new study did.