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Blame the weather? No helmet law? Cause of spike in motorcyclist deaths uncertain

The number of motorcyclists who died in traffic accidents in Michigan last year rose 18-percent.

Abouta year ago Michigan became the thirty-first state to allow people to ride motorcycles without helmets.

But Michigan State Police warn one year isn't enough time to say whether the changes to the helmet law had anything to do with this year’s spike in motorcycle deaths.

“That number is very sensitive to what happens in terms of weather from year to year,” said Anne Readett, who’s with the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.

“If we have a cold rainy summer we know that motorcycle riding is going to be down and we would likely suspect that crashes and fatalities would be down as well,” Readett said.

But last year was a seriously hot, dry summer. This time last year it was a record 80-degrees in much of lower Michigan, perfect for riding. Plus, Readett says there’s also a lot more motorcycle riders than a decade ago.

Readett says it’s going to take about three to five years of data to see any trend the helmet law changes may cause.

Overall, the number of traffic crashes declined, but the number of traffic deaths increased. 936 people died on Michigan’s roads last year.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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