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House approves helmet law repeal; future of bill uncertain

Motorcycle riders travelling without helmets.
Motorcycle riders travelling without helmets.

The state House has approved a measure to repeal Michigan’s motorcycle helmet requirement for riders who are at least 21 and have two years experience.

Opponents of the helmet law have been trying to get rid of it since it was adopted in 1976.

State Representative Paul Opsemmer supports the repeal. He said Michigan has a stricter helmet law than any neighboring state and that has had an effect on tourism.

"Repealing this law will open up Michigan’s scenic highways and open roads to many out-of-state riders who do not come to the state of Michigan," Opsemmer said. "Right now, they’d have to pack one helmet for the state of Michigan alone.”

Riders who want to ditch their helmets would have to carry an additional $20,000 in medical coverage. That’s more than what’s required in any other state without a helmet requirement.

State Representive Joan Bauer and other supporters of the current law said that’s not nearly enough to cover the medical expenses of a critically injured rider.

"That would perhaps pay for a broken bone," Bauer said. "I also have a pretty good idea of the costs involved – the emotional costs to the patients and families and the crushing medical costs – all of which I fear will increase dramatically if we no longer require motorcyclists to wear helmets.”

Bauer said taxpayers and insurance customers would have to pick a lot of those additional costs.

Opponents of repealing the law say the extra coverage would pay just a small fraction of a critical head injury and the balance would be forced onto taxpayers and insurance customers.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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