Motorcycle Deaths and Injuries on the Rise

An insurance industry study reports that the average medical claim from a motorcycle crash rose by more than one-fifth last year in Michigan. What accounts for such a dramatic rise? The state passed a law no longer requiring all riders to wear motorcycle helmets. And many motorists took advantage of their new freedom, hitting the road sans helmet. Across the nation, motorcyclists opposed to mandatory helmet use have been chipping away at state helmet laws for years while crash deaths have been on the rise. According to the study done by the Highway Loss Data Institute, the average insurance payout for a motorcycle injury claim was approximately $5,410 the two years prior to the law being changed, when helmets were mandatory for all riders. After the new law went into effect, the average payment rose to $7,257— a 34 percent jump. The Highway Loss Data Institute is part of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the losses sustained from crashes on the nation’s roads. This includes personal and property losses. The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) supports this mission through scientific studies of insurance data and by publishing insurance loss results. According to HLDI’s chief research officer David Zuby, “The cost per injury claim is significantly higher after the law changed than before, which is consistent with other research that shows riding without a helmet leads to more head injuries.” This particular study is the first one to take a specific look at the consequences repealing helmet laws have on the severity of injuries as measured by medical insurance claims. Although some states have set minimum medical insurance requirements for motorcyclists, “that doesn’t even come close to covering the lifelong care of somebody who is severely brain-injured and who cannot work and who is going to be on Medicaid and a ward of the state,” according to Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. Giving an opposing opinion, Vince Consiglio of American Bikers Aimed Toward Education of Michigan, claimed bikers not taking the required safety courses was the real cause of the increase in injuries. According to Consiglio, bikers without motorcycle licenses make up an increasing share of fatalities and injuries. Nationwide, motorcycle fatalities are on the rise, even as many states are weakening or repealing helmet laws. The fatality rate for riders has gone up for 14 of the past 15 years. The Governors Highway Safety Association reported 5,000 deaths in 2012—14 percent of overall traffic deaths for that year.

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