Michigan Awaits Governor on Motorcycle Helmet Law Repeal

A proposal to loosen Michigan’s law requiring all motorcycle riders to wear helmets is stoking arguments over auto insurance reform and the no-fault system the state uses to compensate motorists for post-crash medical care.

SB 291, which would require helmets for only certain adult motorcyclists and all motorcyclists under 21, was passed by the state House and Senate and awaits final approval from Gov. Rick Snyder. A state listing of the bill shows that it was “presented to governor” the afternoon of April 2, leaving motorcycle enthusiasts and other motorists in anticipation of his decision.

After senators approved the measure in late March, The Associated Press reported that Synder “has said he only wants to tackle the helmet law in the context of broader auto insurance reform.”

​Hard Road for No-Fault Reform

But lawmakers have had trouble getting reform bills through the state Legislature. Such proposals have aimed to overhaul Michigan’s no-fault insurance system, which currently pays out unlimited medical care under personal injury protection coverage (PIP), by capping benefits and offering motorists three levels of PIP coverage to choose from.

Reform supporters have said that an auto insurance quotes comparison will show higher rates and premiums in no-fault states than others because the system is vulnerable to a higher number of phony claims and various crimes. The crisis is doubly serious in Michigan due to its having unlimited reimbursement for crash-related medical care. HB 4926, one of the more popular reform measures, was introduced to the state House but has not seen action since October.

Safety Considerations and MCCA Implications

The Insurance Institute of Michigan (IIM) predicts that repealing the helmet law will lead to higher fees for the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA), a fund that reimburses insurance providers for no-fault claims over $500,000 and is supported by surcharges for each vehicle in the state.

“If the mandatory helmet law is repealed, serious injuries to motorcyclists will rise,” IIM stated in a policy letter dated last April. “Since Michigan’s no-fault law allows lifetime benefits for all ‘reasonable and necessary’ medical costs, the number of claims and the amount paid by the MCCA to reimburse insurance companies will increase, causing all policyholders in Michigan to pay more.”

Insurers have cited statistics in testimony saying that unhelmeted riders are 40 percent more likely than helmeted riders to suffer a fatal head injury.

A House summary of SB 291 showed that motorcyclists dispute many points made by the bill’s opponents, including the perception that the rolling back of helmet laws are linked to higher rates of fatalities and injuries.

“Many feel that a better approach is to reduce the number of accidents through rider education, tougher motorcycle licensing laws, and motorcycle awareness for drivers of cars and trucks,” the summary read. “Reducing accidents will save lives and reduce the number and severity of injuries, not relying on the protection of helmets.”

SB 291’s supporters also dispute the impact that the law would have on insurance rates and highlight the fact that motorcyclists also pitch into the MCCA themselves.

“They note that they pay in to the MCCA (often many times over, since it is a per vehicle charge),” the summary stated about the stance of supporters. “They argue that historically insurance rates do not go down when helmet laws are enacted or go up when they are repealed or modified.”

But, historically, 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 fund 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 its claims were for motorcyclists’ injuries.

Still, supporters of SB 291 say that its financial impact is irrelevant and their argument to repeal the law is based on notions of liberty and freedom. Similar proposals have been discussed for decades, with the state Legislature passing bills in its 2005-06 and 2007-08 sessions to loosen the helmet mandate before then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm vetoed them.

“[W]earing a helmet or not wearing one should be a matter of personal choice and not a legal mandate,” the bill’s supporters stated in the state House summary.

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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