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Commentary: Dying without helmets

From the time he began running for office, Governor Rick Snyder has said that he was in favor of common sense solutions to improve life in our state -- and that he intended to use “relentless positive action” to make them happen.

He hasn’t been afraid to push for drastic changes. He got the legislature to change the business tax and enact a new tax on pensions. He signed right to work into law last December, and got lawmakers to approve a new Rapid Transit Authority.

Some people approve of some or all of this; others are bitterly opposed. But the fact is that we don’t know exactly what effect any of these moves will have. It is too soon to tell.

But the governor signed another bill into law last year, and we do now have solid evidence about its effects.  It has turned out to be a disaster that has cost human lives and suffering.

The governor’s decision is also costing money. In fact, the law he signed is going to cost us all, if not in blood, in cold, hard cash, added to the medical bills of everyone with health insurance.

We are talking about thebillrepealing the motorcycle helmet law last April. The early numbers are in, and there were 20 more motorcycle fatalities last year than the year before, and not wearing helmets was clearly the reason.

The evidence is stark. Traffic accidents and fatalities were down last year, but not for motorcyclists. Two years ago, when it was still illegal to not wear a helmet, five bikers who weren’t wearing them died in Michigan. Last year, that number went to 55.

Fifty-five, and the helmet law was only in effect for seven months. How about the number of seriously injured riders? Last year, that figure jumped from 24 to 195. Those are the people who really end up costing the rest of us.

Last week, the Gongwer News Service reported some sobering early statistics from one hospital, Butterworth in Grand Rapids. In a several month period before the helmet law was repealed, 10 dead motorcyclists were brought in to the hospital. Three hadn’t been wearing helmets. In an equivalent period after the law, motorcycle fatalities jumped to 13. Ten were not wearing a helmet when they were killed.

Rachel Titus, a spokesperson for Butterworth Hospital, also said that riders who were not wearing a helmet and survived had to stay in the critical care unit longer, and cost an average of $11,000 more than those wearing a helmet.

“This is very concerning,” Titus said. “This is found to be statistically significant. With only seven months of the law, we are already seeing negative ramifications.’”

We will see many more. It was a mistake to repeal the helmet law, and the lawmakers need to reinstate it. They outlaw non-medical marijuana largely because they see it as a threat to the users, and society. That may be debatable.

But there’s no question that motorcyclists who don’t wear a helmet are hurting and killing themselves, and costing us a bundle. Doing the right thing here should be obvious. Neither our state or our society can afford less.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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