Dear Governor Snyder:
If a proposed bill to radically weaken Michigan’s universal motorcycle helmet law reaches your desk, a Coalition of County Medical Societies led by the Washtenaw County Medical Society, with the support of hospitals, physicians, and medical groups from across Michigan, urge you to veto it.
The proposed changes to Michigan’s 42-year-old law fly in the face of medical research showing helmets save lives and prevent serious injuries; it would result in higher financial burdens on taxpayers and motorists; and can’t be effectively enforced.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s preeminent medical authority, has concluded, “The single most effective way for states to save lives and save money is a universal helmet law.”
Helmet use reduces the risk of death by 37 percent and the risk of head injury by 69 percent, according to the CDC.
Other states that have eliminated mandatory helmet laws have seen a sharp decline in use. When Florida repealed its law in 2000, use fell from 99 percent to 53 percent, the CDC notes.
You have previously said that you would support changes to Michigan’s mandatory helmet law “only if other motorists don’t pay more as a result.” But research indicates taxpayers and motorists would pay more.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) cites research that found only slightly more than half of motorcycle crash victims have private insurance. For patients without private insurance, medical costs are borne by the government, and thus ultimately by the taxpayers.
Moreover, helmet laws have been shown to save money. After California’s universal helmet law went into effect in 1992, hospital costs for motorcycle-related head injuries fell by more than half, from $36.6 million the previous year to $15.9 million, according to the NHTSA.
In Michigan, about 50 lives are saved each year, along with $86 million, under our current helmet law, according to the CDC. This makes Michigan a leader among neighboring states with partial or no helmet laws. Why would we want to take a step backwards?
Based on conversations with members of the insurance industry, we are also concerned that changes to the law would drive up insurance costs for all motorists. How can you guarantee that rates will not rise to cover increased injury payouts?
Lastly, the proposed law would be completely unenforceable.
Right now, it’s easy for a police officer to tell if someone is in violation, either they’re wearing a helmet or they’re not.
But the proposed law would exempt motorcyclists who are over 21 and who carry additional insurance. This would make it impossible for police to determine whether a rider was in violation without conducting a traffic stop. With roughly 200,000 registered motorcycles in the state, do we really want to allocate limited law enforcement resources to double checking riders’ ages and whether they are carrying the appropriate additional coverage? How would we enforce the coverage requirements on out-of-state motorcyclists?
Again, we urge you to stand up for Michigan taxpayers and motorists and for smart public health policy by keeping Michigan’s mandatory helmet law intact.
Cynthia H. Krueger, MD, Washtenaw County Medical Society (WCMS) President
William J. Meurer, MD, MS, Chair, WCMS Task Force on Helmet Law Legislation
Calhoun County Medical Society
Genesee County Medical Society
Ingham County Medical Society
Jackson County Medical Society
Kalamazoo Academy of Medicine
Kent County Medical Society
Macomb County Medical Society
Marquette/Alger County Medical Society
Michigan College of Emergency Medical Physicians
Michigan Health & Hospital Association
Michigan State Medical Society
Muskegon County Medical Society
Oakland County Medical Society
Saginaw County Medical Society
Saint Joseph Mercy Health System
University of Michigan Health System
Wayne County Medical Society of Southeast Michigan