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Motorcycle Helmets


Thirty years ago, I lived next door to a family with a twenty-something son, whose main pleasure in life seemed to be riding his motorcycle, at all hours and, mostly, without a helmet.

One summer night he was speeding and the police started chasing him. He panicked and fled, eventually hitting a tree at a high rate of speed. At the funeral home, his parents said he might have survived had he been wearing a helmet.

For years, it has been illegal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet in Michigan. But that may be about to change. There is a large faction of bikers who don’t like riding with a helmet, think it is an infringement on their freedom, and want the law repealed.

What’s more, they have the support of many legislators. A bill to repeal the helmet law is now moving through the state senate and is quite likely to pass both houses. In fact, such a bill has been passed before. Governor Granholm vetoed it. But what will Governor Snyder do if this one reaches his desk? For now, he’s not saying, which is politically wise. But there is absolutely nothing wise at all about repealing the helmet law.

If we are going to do that, we might as well repeal the seat belt law, allow kindergarten teachers to smoke on the job, and discourage safe sex. If the helmet law is repealed, there will be more deaths. There will also be more severely brain-injured people, which will cost every taxpayer, and everyone who has health insurance.

The Insurance Institute of Michigan yesterday cited a highway safety study that estimates that repealing the helmet law would result in an additional 30 deaths and 127 incapacitating injuries each year.

That would cost the state $129 million dollars a year, they calculate. The insurance institute’s opposition is significant. They don’t want to have to pay out any more catastrophic claims, and they believe that’s what repeal of the helmet law would mean.

Motorcyclists who are against helmets have their own arguments. They contend that our helmet law costs the state a lot of money, since bikers can ride helmet-less in the other states that surround us. A spokesman for the liquor interests claimed this has a $1.2 billion dollar impact on Michigan, a figure I find impossible to believe. That’s an awful lot of six-packs at an awful lot of convenience stores. And, do we really want to be invaded by hordes of helmetless bikers coming to Michigan to drink?

To be fair, the proposed helmet law does have some conditions. Riders would have to be at least twenty-one, have had a license for two years and have completed a safety course.

But I have grave doubts if our overburdened police would bother checking. I understand the desire for freedom. I wish I didn’t have to wear a helmet riding my bicycle. But I don’t have a right to unnecessarily create a health hazard that may cost society.

An element of common sense is needed here. I think the Doonesbury character Joanie Caucus may have put it best.

“The world needs grownups,” she once told Zonker, the guy who perpetually refuses to grow up. She was right about that.

Those making our laws need to be grownups too.

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