During the year after Michigan allowed motorcyclists 21 and older to ride without helmets, the fatality rate among the bareheaded riders was double that of their helmeted counterparts, according to a study released Wednesday by the University of Michigan and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
“We still saw an increase in head injuries and that can have a big impact on motorcyclists after the crash and to their families," said Jessica Cicchino, IIHS vice president for research and coauthor of the study.
The research covered the 12 months immediately prior to and after April 2012, when Michigan repealed its universal helmet law.
The study examined police-reported motorcycle crash deaths and head-injury data. For that two-year period there were 7,235 reports of riders who crashed in the state. Of those, 1,094 were hospitalized at trauma centers.
Over the two-year period, the number of motorcycle fatalities overall did not increase significantly, but the fatality rate among unhelmeted riders who crashed was 5.4%, nearly double the 2.8% rate among helmeted riders.
The percentage of the trauma patients with head injuries increased 14% in the year after repeal. They were 17% less likely to suffer concussion-related injuries, but 38% more of them incurred skull fractures.
A separate study of one Michigan trauma center published earlier this year in the Journal of Surgery found the average care given to unhelmeted riders cost about $28,000, or 32% higher than care cost for helmeted riders.
Under the law, those choosing to ride without a helmet must carry at least $20,000 of accident insurance.
If there's a silver lining, Cicchino said it's that 75% of motorcyclists 21 or older still choose to wear a helmet.
"We found from other research, for example, in Texas and Kentucky, that percentage still wearing helmets dropped to about 65%," Cicchino said.
Advocates for repealing the helmet law argued it would boost tourism. If it has, fortunately, those visiting riders aren't getting injured at a very high rate. Of all motorcycle crashes studied by IIHS and U-M, 95% of the bikes were registered in Michigan.
As of today 31 states allow those 21 and older to ride without helmets, while 19 states and the District of Columbia require helmets for all motorcyclists.
(2016 © Detroit Free Press)