Michigan’s year-old law allowing motorcyclists to go without helmets appears to be leading to more injuries — and more severe injuries — when measured by insurance claims, according to a new study.
The Arlington-based Highway Loss Data Institute compared medical payment losses from the 2010 and 2011 riding seasons with the 2012 season. Overall, there were about 12% more claims, while the average claim — a measure of injury severity — rose from $5,410 to $7,247, according to the institute, which compiles claims data with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
After adjusting for several variables, including that helmetless riders must carry an extra $20,000 in coverage, the data showed a 22% jump in “claim severity” after the law change, according to the report.
“By allowing some motorcyclists to ride without helmets, this data suggests when they crash, they are more severely injured,” said David Zuby, chief research officer at the institutes.
Claims data don’t include injury details and are limited only to claims for injuries for motorcycle operators.
In April 2012, a new law allowed motorcyclists 21 and older to ride without a helmet. That made Michigan one of 28 states with helmet laws covering only some riders, usually those under 18.
A jump in insurance claims isn’t surprising, and it reflects previous studies that have linked weakened helmet requirements to an increase in fatalities and hospital admissions, according to the study’s authors.
“The life-saving effect of helmets is well documented,” Zuby said.
By looking at neighboring states, study authors said they were able to sort out variables such as the weather and the economy, both of which could affect the number of miles by motorcyclists in a season.
As the economy picks up, it is important that researchers recognize its impact on motorcycle use.
With an upswing in the economy, Zuby said, “people are driving further and there are more crashes.”
What is not clear is whether some riders who prefer not to wear a helmet were on the road more often as a result of the law change, resulting in the increase in claims, he added.