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Motorcycle helmet repeal puts spotlight on Gov. Snyder

Advocates of the helmet law repeal say it's about individual freedom, but it comes with costs.
Varin Tsai
Advocates of the helmet law repeal say it's about individual freedom, but it comes with costs.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is facing a big decision.

It's one of the more sharply political decisions he's faced since he became Governor.

Does he follow his own party, the Republican-led legislature, and sign off on their motorcycle helmet repeal bill?

Or does he go against them with a veto?

For a Governor that fancies himself a "numbers guy," he's got to know the numbers are stacked against him.

In a 2003 evaluation of the repeal of motorcycle helmet laws in Kentucky and Louisiana, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wrote:

All studies concluded that universal motorcycle helmet laws raise helmet use to 90 percent or higher from pre-law levels of 50 percent or lower. Universal laws reduce motorcycle fatalities, fatality rates, and severe head injuries. The studies also confirm that helmets reduce the probability of injury, of head injury, and of fatality for crash-involved motorcyclists.

The Michigan bill requires helmet-less riders to carry extra insurance.

Will that provide enough cover for Gov. Snyder to end Michigan's 43 year-old universal helmet law?

Not enough, according to Karla Klas, a registered nurse and "avid motorcyclist" at the University of Michigan's Trauma Burn Center.

In a letter to Governor Snyder, she urges him to veto the law. Among her reasons:

Numerous studies show 50% of unhelmeted riders either have governmentally funded medical coverage or do not carry insurance at the time of injury despite mandatory insurance provisions in the law.

She also points to a UM study that found "unhelmeted riders had 20% higher initial hospitalization costs and nearly 2x initial rehabilitation costs compared to helmeted riders."

So with numbers like these staring down the number-loving, "nerdy" Governor... which way will he go?

He hasn't given an indication yet.

In the past, he has seemed to agree that without additional insurance coverage, helmetless riders would saddle the public with millions of dollars in medical costs.

In addition to these financial numbers, he's undoubtedly adding political calculations to his looming decision as well.

We've been getting a lot of feedback on this story from our online fans, and from contributors to the Public Insight Network.

Our Public Insight Analyst, Meg Cramer, put together some of your thoughts:

In Favor

Adam S:

I am in favor [of the repeal]. The state has no right telling people what they may or may not do with their bodies or what risks they may subject themselves to. While the state certainly can and should advise the public against riding a motorcycle without a helmet, it has no place imposing that decision upon riders.

My one concern is that repealing the motorcycle helmet law may increase the burden on taxpayers to pay for medical care. The bill should explicitly state that the State will not pay for medical expenses arising from motorcycle accidents in which the rider was not wearing a helmet.

Robert Slomoanski:

Either way, it should be your choice, unless you’re a minor. You’re not putting anyone else in danger besides yourself. It should be a choice the rider makes


Sylvia Avsharian:

I believe there should be a helmet law for the same reason that I believe there should be a seat belt law. It's a proven fact that they save lives, and prevent injuries. People can be as free as they want, as long as they have the means to accept the consequences of their actions. If you don't have the money to pay for the long-term care needed in case you don't die from a crash, then put your helmet on regardless of what the law says about it!


I think it is an absolutely ridiculous idea to repeal the motorcycle helmet law. What's next? Repealing the seatbelt law? Helmets are proven to save lives as well as taxpayer dollars. It will be all but impossible to enforce the conditions within the bill mandating supplemental insurance. I don't buy the argument that repealing this law will generate substantial tourism dollars. What it will do is increase our insurance premiums and health care costs. This is not a freedom or tourism issue. It is a safety and taxpayer issue. I've already written to Governor Snyder to veto this misguided and foolhardy legislation. Lansing has more important issues to address.


Aaron Klenke:

As long as the state is not required to pay for health care for those riding without a helmet it has no vested interest and should not be involved.

* This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. You can share your thoughts on the motorcycle helmet law here.


Mark Brush was the station's Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.
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