Lawmakers need to quit wasting time

Helmet law repeal is bad policy; spring ritual should stop

It’s almost a ritual of spring. The Michigan House or Senate has passed a bill repealing the state’s motorcycle helmet law and then goes on break.

Eventually, it gets to the governor’s desk and she — wisely — vetoes it as she did in 2006 and 2008. It takes two-thirds of the both chambers of the Legislature to override a governor’s veto.

Nothing ever changes. Well, sometimes both chambers pass the bill before going on break. It’s been happening for decades — lawmakers vote to repeal, governors veto.

In the meantime, bikers ride to Lansing. If it’s a warm day, they fill the grounds surrounding the Capitol with their leather clad bodies and tattoos and those of their friends for a little picnicking and some lobbying.

The bikers talk about individual rights and liberty as the reasons why they shouldn’t have to wear helmets.

Sometimes they bring up tourism and how a helmet repeal would beef up the economy. They point out that Illinois, Indiana and Ohio don’t require helmets and that sometimes bikers have to turn around at the Michigan border because they don’t have helmets.

It’s true there are more cyclists on the road. It’s also true that they’re 37 times more likely than the driver of a car to die in a crash or 8 times more likely to be injured.

And it’s true that helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries and 41 percent effective for passengers. In 2008, helmets prevented the deaths of 1,829 bikers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

That’s something the bikers don’t talk about.

Currently, Michigan law requires all people riding a motorcycle — and anyone less than 19 years old operating a moped on a public thoroughfare — to wear a crash helmet. According to studies by the NHTSA, about 83.3 percent of bikers comply with the state law.

H.B. 4747, which passed the Democrat-led House last Thursday, 63-46, would allow motorcycle riders 21 and older to travel without helmets.

The Chronicle Editorial Board opposes this change.
While vehicle fatalities are at record lows, motorcycle fatalities have increased over the last dozen years in Michigan and across the nation. Biker deaths now make up 14 percent of all highway fatalities nationally.

In 2008, the most recent year for which figures were available, 128 cyclists died in Michigan, 133 in Illinois, 131 in Indiana and 213 in Ohio.

A study published in the January 2010 Southern Medical Journal also supports mandatory helmet laws. The study looked at fatalities since the 1997 repeal of Texas’ mandatory helmet law. Overall, the number of motorcycle deaths increased by 30 percent. Some of that can be accounted for because of the growing number of riders. But when you look at the number of deaths per 100,000 registered motorcycles, the increase in deaths was 15 percent after the helmet law repeal. The number of deaths per mile traveled increased 25 percent.

Anyway you cut, deaths went up as the number of helmet users went down.

It’s just common sense that motorcyclists without helmets are more likely to get injured and die. And these injuries will cause the cost of health and auto insurance to rise for the rest of Michigan’s residents. They also will cause an increase in Medicaid expenditures for taxpayers.

The real question is, why do lawmakers waste their time passing a law they know is bad for the bikers and more costly for taxpayers? They know the governor will veto it and they have no chance of overriding the veto.

Are biker votes worth that much?

Last time we checked there were 200,000 registered motorcycles in Michigan. Not all of those owners want to repeal the helmet law. More than 8 million cars and trucks are registered in this state and there are more than 7.4 million registered voters.

Why don’t lawmakers get down to business on something that matters and stop wasting their time changing a good law.