Michigan requires motorcyclists to wear protective headgear, but some riders over age 21 are exempt from this requirement. The move to make helmet wearing optional for some motorcyclists began in 2012. While helmets are not mandatory, statistics show that they save lives and prevent serious head injuries.
Michigan motorcycle helmet laws apply to both motorcyclists and their passengers. Riders and passengers under age 21 must wear a helmet; however, exemptions exist for those age 21 or older:
Operators and drivers under age 21 must wear a helmet that’s approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Those who operate a moped must also wear a helmet if they are on public roads and are under age 19. Violations of the Michigan motorcycle helmet law are civil infractions that don’t take points against the operator’s license. Violations also do not prevent motorcyclists from receiving no-fault benefits in the event of an accident.
While helmets aren’t always mandatory, shatter-proof goggles are required for operators who exceed 35 mph on Michigan highways and have motorcycles that don’t have windshields. This requirement protects operators from insects, flying materials, water, and other debris. The goggle requirement applies regardless of whether the operator wears a helmet.
After being required for all motorcycle operators and passengers for about 40 years, the Michigan helmet law was repealed in 2012. The law formerly required helmets regardless of age or insurance. The legislative change was driven in part by out-of-state motorcyclists who weren’t required to wear helmets in other states. Proponents of the change touted increased tourism and related spending, as well as more sales of motorcycles and their accessories.
On the negative side, the repeal makes motorcycle operators and their passengers more likely to sustain severe or fatal injuries. Injured motorcyclists who don’t wear helmets strain the no-fault insurance system since they are about 40% more likely to need ambulance transport; they are also more likely to require hospitalization, suffer extensive injuries, and need long-term care. A total of 18 states and Washington, D.C., require all motorcycle operators and passengers to wear helmets.
Motorcyclists and passengers who wear helmets are safer than those who do not, and the statistics back up that statement. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration believes that helmets saved 1,872 lives nationally in 2017, and if all operators and passengers had worn helmets, another 749 lives could have been saved. For Michigan, the NHTSA believes that 47 lives were saved in 2017, with another 27 lives that could have been saved had the accident victims worn helmets.
Helmets prevent 37% of operator deaths and 41% of passenger deaths, according to the NHTSA. Helmets also protect riders and passengers from traumatic brain injuries, reducing severe injuries by up to 85%. While helmets protect riders and their passengers, another way to be safe on the road is to avoid alcohol use. About 30% of fatalities in motorcycle accidents involve alcohol, according to the Michigan State Police. National statistics are similar, with alcohol playing a contributing role in close to a third of motorcycle fatalities.
Most motorcycle fatalities in Michigan involve males, with about a third of the victims’ age 50 or older. In 2019, 122 motorcycle fatalities were recorded, with only eight of those victims being female. Nationwide, the typical motorcyclist is older than in years past. Motorcyclists age 50 or older made up 3% of fatalities in 1975, but this increased to 37% in 2019, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Fatalities for operators under age 30 decreased from 80% to 27% during that same period.
Motorcycle accidents are more likely to result in serious injuries or fatalities than car accidents, due to limited protection from impacts as well as less visibility and less vehicle stability. Motorcycle operators and passengers are more likely to be thrown from the vehicle after an accident. About 75% of motorcycle accidents involve another vehicle, such as a truck or a car.
As with any vehicle type, certain models and styles are safer than others. Heavier motorcycles, motorcycles that have lower power-to-weight ratios, touring bikes with larger engines and gas tanks, and sport-touring models have the lowest rate of fatal accidents. Motorcycles that have more fatalities include supersport bikes that are lightweight and have powerful engines.
Common accident causes are failure to yield, speeding, and inability to avoid a collision. The majority of accidents happen on roads and city streets, according to the Michigan State Police. State trunklines are the second most common location for accidents, with interstate highways the third most common accident location.
When compared to other motorists on the road, motorcycle operators and passengers are at a higher risk of accidents that lead to injury and death. Statistics show that wearing a helmet reduces serious injuries and death, but not wearing a helmet doesn’t affect Michigan’s no-fault insurance provisions.
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