Michigan Gov. Approves Motorcycle Helmet Law Repeal

Legislation signed by the governor last week repealed a decades-old law requiring motorcycle riders over 21 in Michigan to wear a helmet.

Gov. Rick Snyder gave his approval on April 12 to SB 291, making the bill Public Act 98 of 2012. The law, effective immediately, allows motorcyclists over 21 to ride helmetless if they have $20,000 in medical insurance on their auto policy and have either passed a motorcycle safety program or had their motorcycle endorsement for at least two years.

Snyder framed his approval around giving motorcyclists the choice to ride with or without a helmet while emphasizing roadway safety. Michigan is the 31st state to give motorcyclists the option of wearing a helmet, joining nearby states Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pennsylvania that have changed or repealed helmet-use laws in similar ways, according to Snyder’s statement.

“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 statement. “There is no substitute for proper training, education and awareness when it comes to operating any motor vehicle.”

The legislation saw passage in the state House by a 69-39 vote in November 2011 and in the state Senate by a 24-14 vote in March.

Some insurance groups, including the Insurance Institute of Michigan, said approval of the bill would further weigh down an already burdened no-fault system in Michigan that pays out lifetime medical care for crash-related injuries. The Great Lakes State is the only state to have such a system.

During the debate in the state House, representatives said repealing the helmet law would muddle discussions about reform that have since stalled.

“I think that to eliminate the helmet requirement is to throw one more variable into the auto insurance reform discussion currently under way in the House,” Rep. Earl Poleski (R-Jackson) said in November. “Since motorcyclists who have accidents with autos draw medical coverage from the auto’s insurer, I think it unwise to make the helmet change at this stage.”

Supporters of reform say a cheap auto insurance rate is hard to find in Michigan because insurers incur huge costs that are passed on to drivers as a result of the no-fault structure.

The charge, paid to the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA), a state fund that reimburses insurers for no-fault claims above a certain threshold, was upped to $175 from $104.58 in 2008. The fee has ballooned to meet the increasing number and costs of claims that MCAA funds as well as an estimated $2 billion deficit incurred since it was created in 1979.

Motorcyclists have been getting more out of the MCCA than they’ve been putting in. Between 1978 and 2011, motorcyclists paid about 2.3 percent of the total fees that have funded the MCCA, but nearly 8 percent of the number of claims paid and 5.4 percent of the amount the MCCA has paid on all of those claims were for motorcyclists’ injuries.

About Matthew Morisset
Matthew Morisset is a proud alumnus of the University of Redlands, where he obtained a degree in English Literature. Utilizing his passion for analysis and writing, Matthew looks for important trends in the auto insurance industry and their implications for consumers and the market as a whole.

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