Injuries Soar After Michigan Helmet Law Repeal

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The link between helmet laws and motorcyclists fatalities may seem intuitive and obvious, but now because of a study published in the American Journal of Surgery we have scientific proof that helmets save lives.

The study focuses around Michigan, which repealed its mandatory helmet law (thanks to help from the AMA) in April 2012, and has since had three riding seasons with a greatly reduce helmet-wearing requirement.

After the repeal, motorcyclists in Michigan can now ride without a helmet if they are over 21-years-old, have had their license for at least two years, and have at least $20,000 in additional medical insurance coverage.

Postulating that legislatures made a mistake in that repeal, the basic conclusions from the study are that the state has seen an increase in injury severity for motorcycles, a higher in-patient mortality for motorcyclists, and worse neurological damage for motorcyclists.

While those are all painful logical results, the numbers paint an even more grim picture.

The American Journal of Surgery notes an almost immediate rise in motorcyclist death and injury after the helmet law’s repeal, and focuses on the trauma center at the Spectrum Health Hospital in Grand Rapids for its result – where Dr. Carlos Rodriguez works, the study’s main author.

Within weeks of the helmet law’s repeal, the number of motorcyclists admitted to Spectrum Health Hospital increased noticeably. The study says that there was a four-fold increase in the number of motorcyclists who had not been wearing a helmet admitted to the hospital (7% before the law was repealed, 28% after).

The study also reports a three-fold increase in the number of helmetless riders who died at the hospital, verses before when helmets were mandatory (3% before the law was repealed, 10% after).

The most staggering statistic though involved riders who didn’t even make it to the hospital, with the non-helmeted rider fatality rate increasing from 14% before the law was repealed to 68% afterwards – almost a five-fold increase.

Interestingly enough, the repeal of the helmet law also had an affect on rider intoxication, as the study reports an increase in blood-alcohol levels for admitted motorcyclists. This makes for interesting conjecture regarding the link between impaired judgment, helmet use, and accident rates.

The study finishes its results saying that non-helmeted motorcyclists admitted to the hospital stay in the ICU longer, and require more assistance in breathing.

It also says that the average cost of the hospital visit for a helmetless rider is 32% more than for a helmeted rider ($27,760 vs. $20,970) – a cost according to Dr. Rodriguez that the hospital and taxpayers often have to pay, despite Michigan’s insurance requirement.

No matter which side of the helmet debate you fall under, there is much to be said about this study in the American Journal of Surgery, as it is not a perfect assessment, and focuses on the data of only one hospital in Michigan.

However, the study captures on one of the best “before and after” moments in the helmet law debate. However as we stated at the start of the article, the benefits of riding with a helmet are intuitive and obvious, as are the detriments of riding without one – a point this study easily illustrates.

What isn’t obvious is the steep and immediate increase that repealing helmet laws has on society, not to mention the cost and burden that is placed on everyone, by the actions of a few motorcyclists looking to express their “freedom” on two wheels.

Despite this significant data point in the discussion regarding mandatory helmet last, we expect the debate will continue on.

Source: American Journal of Surgery via Reuters

Jensen Beeler

Despite his best efforts, Jensen is called one of the most influential bloggers in the motorcycle industry, and sometimes consults for motorcycle companies, whether they've solicited his expertise or not.