News Story

Since Motorcycle Helmet Law Repeal, Deaths Up, Injuries Down

Worst fears of repeal opponents appear unrealized

Since the 2012 repeal of Michigan’s motorcycle helmet law went into effect, there has been a drumbeat from media and other voices claiming there will be sharp increases in motorcyclist deaths and injuries.

But data on motorcycle-related injuries and deaths compiled by the Michigan State Police tells a much different story. Although the number of fatalities has increased 23% overall, the number of motorcyclists injured in crashes actually decreased.

That is not the picture painted by many media and journal reports. 

In 2016, the American Journal of Surgery said that the number of riders who died at the scene of a crash “more than quadrupled” while the number of riders who died at the hospital had tripled, Reuters reported.

The number of motorcycle crash patients brought to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids who were not wearing helmets at the time of their collision also quadrupled, Bridge Magazine reported in 2016.

“These are the kinds of things that we wanted to look at to hopefully make legislators see that this was a mistake,” said Dr. Carlos Rodriguez, a Spectrum Health trauma unit physician who authored the 2016 study, according to Reuters.

Richard Retting, one of the co-authors of the Governors Highway Safety Association’s annual report, said that making helmets optional contributed to a 23% increase in fatal motorcycle crashes between 2014 and 2015, according to Michigan Radio.

The Michigan State Police collect and assemble state crash and injury reports. Its data shows that before the helmet mandate was repealed in 2012, a total of 109 people died in motorcycle crashes in Michigan. In 2018, the number of fatalities was 134.

The number of riders injured in motorcycle crashes in 2011 was 2,556. In 2018, the number was 2,160.

Last April, an MLive analysis concluded that more than half of the motorcyclists who were involved in crashes were also not legally licensed to ride a motorcycle.

According to state data, the number of riders with motorcycle endorsements has decreased since the helmet law was repealed. There were 553,728 people with an endorsement in 2011. In 2017, only 495,410 individuals held an endorsement, which requires completing a motorcycle safety course. Alternately, a rider seeking an endorsement may pass a road sign test, a written test and a road test.

The number of registered motorcycles in the state increased slightly from 241,310 in 2011 to 242,476 in 2017.