Friday, March 26, 2010

Michigan's Motorcycle Helmet Law, Yes or No?

With Michigan lawmakers moving to make motorcycle helmet use by riders older than 21 voluntary the old debate over government restrictions on personal freedoms in starting to boil once again.

I lost a friend to a motorcycle accident and have had two friends seriously injured. They were all wearing helmets and had they not been I am sure that I would have lost at least one of those that was injured if not both. I have been on the scene of a motorcycle accident where the rider’s helmet left a large dent in the doorframe and roof of a car instead of his head and I have had my own life saved by a helmet in a motorcycle crash so, personally, I am a firm believer in their use. I also take the matters of personal choice and freedom very seriously.

As a practical matter wearing a helmet while riding, just like wearing a seatbelt in a car, is a smart personal safety choice. Regardless of which side of the motorcycle helmet issue you’re on there are two facts that are unarguable? You are more likely to be seriously injured in an accident if you are on a motorcycle than if you are in a car and the use of helmets does reduce serious injuries and fatalities in motorcycle accidents.

Before being allowed to operate a motorcycle on the Naval base I was assigned to back in the 1980’s I had to complete a safety course. Helmet use was obviously one of the key topics and the one statistic that sticks with me was that most motorcycle traffic fatalities occurred at speeds of less than 35 mph and the vast majority of those riders were not wearing helmets. Since most states now have helmet laws that statistic may have changed but at the time it was enough to convince me to always wear one.

Clearly, a rider’s choice to not wear a motorcycle helmet isn’t a major issue until there’s an accident. Like your mother probably told you “It’s always fun until someone gets hurt.” If a rider chooses not to wear a helmet and is seriously injured, or worse killed, in an accident where the use of a helmet could have prevented or lessened the injury and there was no one else affected beyond the rider there probably wouldn’t be any laws requiring helmet use but that’s not the way the world works.

Above and beyond the devastating effect the tragedy will have on the riders loved ones and friends there are potential social and yes financial ramifications. After a serious injury in or on any kind of vehicle there is almost always some sort of litigation. Whenever there is litigation it’s expensive and emotionally draining for those involved. It raises auto insurance premiums, eats up costly court time and public resources not to mention the health care expenses involved. Tack on the potential devastating financial effects on the rider’s family and the psychological effects on other drivers and witnesses involved in the accidents and it becomes clear that in a large percentage of cases more than just the individual rider is adversely affected by the choice not to wear a helmet.

The larger question in this issue, as it has always been, seems to be where do the rights of others begin to trump the right to personal choice? The failure of a rider to wear a helmet doesn’t seem to threaten anyone else’s personal safety or offer any additional protection to another’s personal property. The risks of injury in an accident for people other than the motorcycle rider appear to be the same regardless of what the rider is wearing so what is the point of the legislation? Is it based strictly on the financial benefit to society that is realized by lowering the number of serious injuries and fatalities or are they in place to limit the pain and suffering of others?

Do you feel that Michigan’s motorcycle helmet laws should be changed? Let us know what you think! Please share your comments below.