A state law requiring motorcycle riders to wear a helmet is once again being debated, following the introduction of legislation that would let riders opt out of wearing a helmet. The bills pit safety advocates against proponents of personal choice. List us among the personal choice group.
House Bill (HB) 4008 would allow riders 21 or older to ride helmetless if they carry at least $20,000 in personal injury insurance. 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.
Opponents say wearing a helmet is the best way to avoid a head injury. They argue an increase in fatalities and injuries following the elimination of the helmet requirement would drive up insurance costs for all motorists.
Jack Peet, AAA Michigan’s traffic safety manager, said $20,000 in insurance coverage would “barely touch the amount of medical costs resulting from these types of motorcycle accidents.”
Proponents counter that it’s harder to turn your head while wearing a helmet, which also can restrict the rider’s vision. They also argue that lifting the helmet requirement could boost the state’s tourism industry, as the states bordering Michigan don’t have a mandatory helmet law and many riders avoid Michigan because of required helmet use.
We have no doubt that wearing a helmet improves one’s ability to avoid injury and death. Yet, helmets aren’t sure-fire life savers — no need to look further than the two fatal motorcycle accidents that occurred last weekend in Waterford Township, in which both riders killed were wearing helmets at the time of their deaths.
This debate should be about personal choice. No one is jeopardized by a person who opts not to wear a helmet other than the motorcycle rider.
When it comes to higher insurance costs for one and all, there’s several ways to address that. Many state lawmakers over years have shown a propensity for trying to benefit the insurance industry with favorable reform measures. Here’s another opportunity to scratch that itch — change the law, if need be, so that an insurance company can write into policies that they won’t pay anything for head injuries to those who opt out of wearing a helmet, let them set a ceiling on coverage, or allow them to ratchet up premiums for those who want to ride bareheaded. Then — truly — the only person carrying any risk is the person who chooses to shoulder that risk.