The number of Michigan motorcycle fatalities involving those riding without helmets did not follow suit.
As the weather continues to warm up, you may have noticed an increase in the number of motorcycles on the road. Coincidentally, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) recently issued a report containing preliminary data concerning motorcycle traffic fatalities in 2013. The good news is that it appears as though there will be a seven (7) percent decrease in the number of fatalities, approaching the levels seen in 2011. However, per the report, “[m]otorcyclist safety . . . has not changed in fifteen years. In particular, motorcycle helmet use has not increased: it was 64% in 1996 and 60% in 2012.”
The GHSA surveyed all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. States offered some insight into the reason behind the decrease in the number of fatalities; among the factors contributing to the decline were the weather, the economy, motorcycle registration and training initiatives, as well as safety programs. While the decrease in fatalities is something to be celebrated, the GHSA made it clear that there was always more work to be done:
Motorcyclist fatalities in 2013 returned to about the same level as 2011 as temperatures and precipitation returned to normal after 2012’s unusually warm and dry winter and spring. The good news is that motorcyclist fatalities did not increase in two years; the bad news is that they did not decrease. Long-term improvements in motorcyclist safety will not come from consistently bad weather but from long-term and consistent use of proven countermeasures.” (18)
The countermeasures mentioned in the report seem to be straightforward: helmet use/helmet laws, reducing alcohol impairment while operating motorcycles, reducing speeding, providing motorcycle operator training to all who either need it and/or seek it, assuring that motorcyclists are properly licensed, and encouraging all drivers to share the road. That seems reasonable.
How does this apply to Michigan, you ask? First, it’s important to note that the number of Michigan motorcycle fatalities did not decrease in number. As reported by The Detroit News, “Michigan deaths among those confirmed to have been riding without a helmet climbed 9 percent in 2013, to 60 from 55 the previous year.”
Second, remember that in 2012, Michigan repealed its universal helmet law, replacing it with one that allows individuals over 21 years of age to ride without helmets, subject to certain parameters and requirements. While some claim that they enjoy the freedom that comes with riding without a helmet, those who hold that belief might want to keep an eye on recent no-fault discussions taking place; as we’ve discussed, a proposed bill that has been circulating over the past few months would severely limit the no-fault benefits accessible to motorcyclists.
As far as licensing is concerned, Michigan is taking steps to combat the abuse of the system that is currently taking place. A bill was passed in April requiring individuals to apply for a full operating endorsement after possessing temporary permits for two riding seasons. Passage of the bill will close a loophole that allows individuals to continue to apply for the temporary instruction permit without needing to pass the skills test needed in order to be endorsed; under the new law, individuals would only be eligible for two temporary permits within a ten-year period. Studies have shown that unendorsed riders were involved in a significant portion of motorcycle accidents, especially once the universal helmet law had been repealed. However, a question worth asking is still left unanswered: is it the lack of education that is causing fatalities, or the failure to wear proper safety equipment that could otherwise protect an individual involved in a motorcycle accident? Even the most experienced and careful motorcyclists are not immune from becoming involved in a serious accident on the road.
If you have any questions about your rights as a Michigan motorcyclist, or are interested in learning more about how proposals to change Michigan’s auto no-fault system may affect your rights as a motorcyclist in this state, don’t hesitate to contact experienced Lansing or Grand Rapids motorcycle accident lawyers who specialize in this area of law.