Motorcyclists praise ‘freedom’ helmet law repeal brings, others concerned

There is a new law in Michigan regarding the helmet requirement for motorcyclists.  This article explains the conditions that must be met.

Joan Liebrock, CIC

Lansing— Motorcyclists can let their hair blow in the wind in Michigan starting today after Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill into law repealing a helmet requirement for riders.

Riders celebrated the end of the law they’ve opposed for decades while others raised the prospect that the change will raise insurance costs and the number of injuries and fatalities.

Snyder’s signature on the controversial bill ends weeks of speculation about whether he’d go along with the Republican-backed repeal, which last year he asked lawmakers not to deliver without a wholesale makeover of Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance system.

Michigan becomes the 31st state to give motorcyclists the option of wearing a helmet under legislation signed by the governor Thursday and announced Friday.

The ink was barely dry on the governor’s signature when Len Noe, 37, of Superior Township was getting ready to ride. He’s waited decades for the requirement to be overturned.

“This is a great day — I’ve had a sticker on my helmet for years saying ‘Let those who ride decide’,” Noe said. “People who don’t ride don’t get it.

“For me it’s the closest thing to freedom that I’ve ever felt.”

Motorcyclists can forgo a helmet if they are at least 21 years old, carry at least an additional $20,000 in medical insurance and have either passed a motorcycle safety course or had their motorcycle endorsement for at least two years. Passengers also must be 21 or older to go helmet-less, and there has to be an additional $20,000 in insurance for the passenger, bought either by the passenger or the motorcycle driver.

Michigan State Police spokeswoman Tiffany Brown confirmed Friday riders can immediately go without helmets if they meet the requirements.

“While many motorcyclists will continue to wear helmets, those who choose not to deserve the latitude to make their own informed judgments as long as they meet the requirements of this new law,” Snyder said in a press release.

The governor’s office announced the signing Friday morning. Snyder had until Monday to sign or veto the bill, or it would have automatically become law.

The governor has vetoed just one bill in his 15 months in office, a measure that would have prohibited new state regulations that are more stringent than federal regulations.

Vince Consiglio, president of American Bikers Aiming Toward Education, or ABATE of Michigan, praised the change in a statement and said helmet laws haven’t cut the cost of insurance.

“Motorcycle accidents are a very small percentage of accidents overall,” he said. “Data from other states demonstrate that states that remove mandatory helmet laws do not see an increase in insurance premiums, and states that institute helmet laws do not see a corresponding decrease in insurance rates.”

AAA of Michigan spokeswoman Nancy Cain said the automobile club was “extremely disappointed” in the repeal.

The law “will increase motorcycle fatalities and injuries,” Cain said.

“The repeal of the motorcycle helmet law will result in at least 30 additional motorcycle fatalities each year, along with 127 more incapacitating injuries and $129 million in added economic costs to Michigan residents. This analysis … is based on the experience of other states where similar measures have been enacted.”

In a memo sent to all posts, Michigan State Police Director Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue clarified for officers how the law will be enforced.

— The law does not require a motorcycle operator to carry or present proof he or she has a motorcycle endorsement for at least two years or has successfully passed the motorcycle safety course.

— The law does not require a motorcycle operator or passenger to carry proof of the $20,000 security required to operate or ride a motorcycle without a helmet.

— Officers may not stop a motorcyclist for not wearing a helmet based on the possibility the operator or passenger may be in violation of the helmet law.

— Operators and passengers who violate the new law are responsible for a civil infraction.

Michigan joins the Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pennsylvania that have repealed or amended helmet-use laws to give riders a choice.

Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm twice vetoed repeals of the motorcycle helmet law.

The bill is supported by motorcyclists and others who believe helmet use should be a matter of personal choice. The bill was pushed through by Republicans, who control the House and Senate and said repealing the requirement will increase tourism in the state.

Republican state Sen. Phil Pavlov of St. Clair, who sponsored the bill, had said there was no reason to tie the highly complex and controversial no-fault issue to the helmet requirement.

Pavlov had noted the helmet bill had broad bipartisan support, passing 24-14 in the Senate. Seven Senate Democrats voted in favor of the change, while nine Republicans were opposed.

In a July EPIC-MRA poll, 68 percent of likely voters said they wanted to keep Michigan’s helmet requirement as is. The live-interview telephone survey included 600 people, and had a 4 percentage point margin of error.

Michigan originally implemented its helmet-use law in 1967 to comply with U.S. Department of Transportation requirements for federal funds. That requirement is no longer in place.

One of the arguments ABATE has made is the state’s mandatory helmet law kept riders from other states from coming to Michigan, which has meant a loss of tourist dollars.

Michigan’s helmet law has never made a difference to Richard “Lightning” Jenkins, president of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club of Cleveland.

“I’ve ridden into Michigan all the way up to Saulte Ste. Marie and it never occurred to me once to think ‘Gee, I wish I didn’t have to wear this helmet,'” said Jenkins, who has been riding for more than 50 years.

Jenkins, who pilots a 2008 Honda Gold Wing, said it has never made a difference to members of his club whether or not they have to wear a helmet in states where they are mandatory.

“We ride state to state and just put on our helmets when it’s required,” Jenkins said.

kbouffard@detnews.com

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