Biker Injuries And Deaths Soar After Michigan Repeals Helmet Law

By Madeline Kennedy

In the three years after Michigan repealed a mandatory motorcycle helmet law, deaths and head injuries among bikers rose sharply, according to a recent study.

Deaths at the scene of the crash more than quadrupled, while deaths in the hospital tripled for motorcyclists. Head injuries have increased overall, and more of them are severe, the researchers report in the American Journal of Surgery.

Senior author Dr. Carlos Rodriguez decided to do the study after noticing an abrupt change in the trauma unit at Spectrum Health Hospital in Grand Rapids, where he works.

The first week after the law was repealed in April 2012, he told Reuters Health, “I just could not help but notice the number of patients that had been in motorcycle crashes with no helmet on, which was enormously different in number and volume than we had experienced the weekend before.”

The study team looked at records for patients admitted to Spectrum Health Hospital and at state transportation department records of fatalities at crash scenes for the seven-month motorcycleseason (April to November) in 2011, before the law was repealed, and for the same period in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Among the accident victims brought to the hospital, the proportion of riders who had not been wearing a helmet rose four-fold, from 7 percent to 28 percent, the researchers found.

About 10 percent of non-helmeted riders brought to the hospital died there, compared to 3 percent of those who had been wearing helmets.

Among riders who died at the crash scene, the proportion not wearing helmets rose from 14 percent before the law was repealed to 68 percent afterward.

“These are the kinds of things that we wanted to look at to hopefully make legislators see that this was a mistake,” Rodriguez said in an email.

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