WASHINGTON (AP) - The average medical claim from a motorcycle crash rose by
more than one-fifth last year in Michigan after the state stopped requiring
all riders to wear helmets, according to an insurance industry study. Across
the nation, motorcyclists opposed to mandatory helmet use have been chipping
away at state helmet laws for years while crash deaths have been on the
For more than 40 years, Michigan required all motorcycle riders to wear
helmets. State legislators changed the law last year so that only riders
younger than 21 must wear helmets. The average insurance payment on a
motorcycle injury claim was $5,410 in the two years before the law was
changed, and $7,257 after it was changed - an increase of 34 percent, the
study by the Highway Loss Data Institute found.
After adjusting for the age and type of motorcycle, rider age, gender,
marital status, weather and other factors, the actual increase was about 22
percent relative to a group of four comparative states, Illinois, Indiana,
Ohio and Wisconsin, the study found.
“The cost per injury claim is significantly higher after the law changed
than before, which is consistent with other research that shows riding
without a helmet leads to more head injuries,” David Zuby, chief research
officer for the data institute and an affiliated organization, the Insurance
Institute for Highway Safety, said. The data institute publishes insurance
loss statistics on most car, SUV, pickup truck and motorcycle models on U.S.
While other studies have shown an increase motorcycle deaths after states
eliminate or weaken mandatory helmet requirements, the industry study is the
first to look specifically at the effect of repealing helmet requirements on
the severity of injuries as measured by medical insurance claims, Zuby said.
Some states have sought to mitigate the repeal or loosening of mandatory
helmet laws by setting minimum medical insurance requirements, but “that
doesn’t even come close to covering the lifelong care of somebody who is
severely brain-injured and who cannot work and who is going to be on
Medicaid and a ward of the state,” Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for
Highway and Auto Safety, which backs mandatory helmet requirements for all
Jeff Hennie, vice president of the Motorcycle Riders Foundation, dismissed
the study, saying the insurance industry views helmets as “the silver bullet
that’s going to change the landscape of motorcycle safety.” He said insurers
are upset because “life has gotten more expensive for them and they have to
pay out more.”
“The fact is our highways are bloody,” Hennie said. “This (the Michigan
helmet law change) doesn’t make helmets illegal. ... No one is forcing
anyone to ride without a helmet.”
Vince Consiglio, president of American Bikers Aimed Toward Education of
Michigan, blamed the increase in the severity of injuries on bikers who
don’t take safety courses required to obtain a special motorcycle license.
He said bikers without motorcycle licenses have made up an increasingly
larger share of fatalities and injuries in recent years.
But Gillan said the study “clearly shows there is no such thing as a free
ride, and the public is paying the cost for this.”
There’s no way to know how many of the Michigan claims involved
motorcyclists not wearing helmets, the study said. But another recent study
by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute found a
significant increase in motorcyclists involved in crashes who weren’t
wearing helmets after the law changed. From April 13, 2012, the first full
day after the change took effect, through the end of the year, 74 percent of
motorcyclists involved in crashes were wearing helmets, compared with 98
percent in the same period for the previous four years, the study found.
Nationally, motorcycle deaths have risen in 14 of the past 15 years, with
more than 5,000 deaths last year, according to an analysis by the Governors
Highway Safety Association of preliminary 2012 data. That’s the highest
proportion motorcycles have ever represented of overall traffic deaths, more
than 14 percent, the association said.
Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia require all motorcyclists
to wear a helmet, 28 states require only some motorcyclists - usually
younger or novice riders - to wear a helmet, and three states have no helmet
use law. States have been gradually repealing or weakening mandatory helmet
laws for nearly two decades.
In 1967, to increase motorcycle helmet use, the federal government required
that states enact helmet laws in order to qualify for certain federal safety
programs and highway construction aid. The federal incentive worked. By the
early 1970s, almost all states had motorcycle helmet laws that covered all
riders. In 1976, Congress stopped the Transportation Department from
assessing financial penalties on states without helmet laws, and state
lawmakers began repealing the statutes.
In 1991, Congress created new incentives for states to enact helmet and seat
belt laws, but reversed itself four years later.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which sent observers to
states last year to count how many motorcyclists wore helmets, found that 97
percent of motorcyclists in states with universal helmet laws were wearing
helmets compared with 58 percent of motorcyclists in states without such