With Republicans holding the majority in Lansing, lawmakers are taking the opportunity to resurrect the controversial issue of repealing the state’s motorcycle helmet law.
House Bill (HB) 4008 would allow riders 21 or older to ride helmetless if they carry at least $20,000 in personal injury insurance. A second bill, Senate Bill (SB) 291, would eliminate the helmet requirement for riders 21 and older who have passed a safety course or carry a motorcycle endorsement on their license the previous two years.
Similar legislation was introduced in 2006 and 2008, but vetoed by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
For four decades, Michigan motorcyclists have been mandated by law to wear helmets. The new legislation pits motorcycle safety advocates against proponents for personal choice.
Mike Helberg, a Waterford resident and seasoned motorcyclist for over a decade, said although he can empathize with the bills’ safety implications, he believes it boils down to personal choice.
“I understand a helmet can be the best way to avoid a head injury, but it also can be a hindrance when it comes to safety — it’s harder to turn your head and restricts vision while wearing a helmet,” he said. “I think the bigger picture is it’s a personal choice.”
Helberg opines that given the economy in the state, repealing the helmet law could boost the tourism industry.
“All the states around us don’t have a helmet law and riders avoid Michigan, so it hurts our tourism business,” he said.
State Sen. Mike Kowall (R-Commerce, Milford, Highland, White Lake, West Bloomfield, Orchard Lake, Wixom, Walled Lake, Wolverine Lake) said he supports the new legislation, stating the current law is another case of government over-regulation.
“I hope anyone with common sense would wear a helmet, but I don’t believe the law should be there to force people into wearing one,” Kowall said.
However, according to a new spring poll of state residents conducted by Marketing Research Group, Inc., a majority of poll respondents are opposed to repealing the current law. According to an AAA press release issued in late March, the study reveals 81 percent of state residents believe the current mandatory helmet law should be maintained, with only 16 percent saying Michigan motorcycle riders should not be required to wear a helmet.
“We strongly oppose both bills,” said Jack Peet, AAA Michigan Traffic Safety Manager. “Twenty-thousand dollars in medical coverage would barely touch the amount of medical costs resulting from these types of motorcycle accidents. These proposals will result in increased motorcycle fatalities and injuries and higher costs for all motorists.”
Kowall, a long-time motorcyclist who wears headgear when he rides, said the helmet debate is a long saga with very little substance.
“There hasn’t been any good debate on this,” Kowall said. “A lot of people don’t understand the basis of the law. It may be safer to ride with a helmet but we’ve seen studies where people have sustained broken necks and damage when riding with a helmet.”