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Motorcyclists who drank and drove in 2012 more likely to ride helmetless, die in crashes

New data shows people who drink and drive motorcycles in Michigan were much less likely to wear helmets after the state repealed its mandatory helmet law.

Carol Flannagan, Research Director of the Center for the Management of Information for Safe and Sustainable Transportation within the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. She presented her findings to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning this week.

“The story that I see in the data has to do with the combination of risky behaviors that are kind of all traveling together in the data or going together in some sense,” Flannagan said.

Particularly at risk are those motorcyclists who drink and drive. “Once they are in a crash their probability of dying is much higher,” she said.

Crash data collected in 2012 after the repeal went into effect shows at least 74-percent of motorcyclists wore helmets. But if they drank alcohol, only 54-percent then wore helmets.

“Alcohol more than quadruples the risk of death in a crash and nearly triples the risk of serious injury,” Flannagan said, “And there’s an additional two times risk for not wearing your helmet.”

Non-helmet wearers made up half the motorcycle fatalities, but less than a quarter of the total motorcycle population.

129 people died in motorcycle crashes in Michigan last year. That’s the highest count in at least ten years. Although a longer season of warm and dry weather could be a factor.

Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Data from Michigan Traffic Crash Facts at michigantrafficcrashfacts.org.

Representatives from Spectrum Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids also presented data collected through the level one trauma center there. Hospital officials could not share that information at this time, but hope to publish a more complete picture soon.

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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