A decades-long fight to eliminate Michigan's helmet law roared into the victory lane Friday when Gov. Rick Snyder announced he signed the repeal into law.
The repeal took effect immediately, making Michigan the 31st state to give adult riders a choice over whether they want to wear protective headgear, a move welcomed by supporters who say the change was long overdue after 46 years. They say the change will draw more motorcycle riders to Michigan and increase tourism revenue.
But insurance companies and safety advocates warned it will raise other motorists' insurance premiums and lead to more motorcycle fatalities and injuries. A Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning analysis estimated that the law's repeal will result in 30 additional fatalities, 127 more incapacitating injuries and $129 million in additional economic costs.
"It is disappointing that a law that saved lives and reduced injuries in the Great Lakes State has been repealed," Insurance Institute of Michigan executive director Pete Kuhnmuench said in a statement. He added that he hopes riders "make the safe choice" and continue to wear helmets.
Vince Consiglio, president of American Bikers Aiming Toward Education of Michigan, called the law a useless holdover from bygone days.
"Helmet laws have done nothing to improve safety or reduce fatalities or the cost of insurance," Consiglio said in a statement. "I want to extend our gratitude to all the legislative officials and Governor Rick Snyder, who courageously supported freedom in the face of an onslaught of baseless and emotional arguments perpetuated by our opponents."
The law allows people age 21 and older to ride without helmets if they have been licensed to operate a motorcycle for at least two years or have passed a safety course. Motorcyclists would be required to buy additional insurance -- at least $20,000 of first party medical benefits coverage -- in case they are involved in an accident.
Insurer AAA Michigan said the extra insurance won't be enough to cover motorcycle accident victims' medical costs if they're severely injured. It noted that motorcyclists represent less than 2 percent of the insurance premiums paid into the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association, which covers vehicle insurance claims over $250,000, but account for 5 percent of the money paid out and 7 percent of the claims reported.
All motorists pay into the MCCA fund, so if claims increase because of a larger number of seriously injured motorcyclists, all annual assessments could rise.
Concerns over safety and financial issues stymied ABATE's efforts to repeal the helmet requirement for decades. Riders used to ring the streets surrounding the Capitol each year with rumbling, highly polished motorcycles of every type and burn a pile of helmets to express their displeasure, but opposition to lifting the law remained.
Repeal measures passed twice while Democrat Jennifer Granholm was governor, but she vetoed the bill both times. This year, with Republicans in control of the House and Senate and a Republican governor, the helmet requirement was finally lifted.
"While many motorcyclists will continue to wear helmets, those who choose not to deserve the latitude to make their own informed judgments as long as they meet the requirements of this new law," Snyder said in a statement.
The governor had wanted to address the helmet law in the context of broader auto insurance reform. But proposals for more sweeping reforms appear stalled in the Michigan Legislature, leaving the helmet law to pass on its own.
The measure is Senate Bill 291.