GUEST VIEW: Time to review state’s relaxed helmet law

The following editorial was published in the April 3 edition of the Grand Haven Tribune:

A couple of West Michigan doctors say the decision six years ago to relax the state’s motorcycle helmet law needs to be seriously re-examined.

We think we should listen to the doctors.

In 2012, state legislators changed the requirement to wear protective headgear (read: a helmet) while driving or riding on a motorcycle. They decided to allow motorcyclists ages 21 and older to decide for themselves, as long as they carried an additional $20,000 on their insurance policy and complete a safety course.

Six years later, there is enough data to confirm what many health professionals feared.

“We recognize that even people who ride bicycles need to wear helmets to avoid injuries,” Dr. John Girotto, pediatric craniofacial plastic surgeon at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, was quoted for a story on the Spectrum Health Health Beat website (“Big downsides to law helmet law,” Feb. 15). “How come we decided people don’t need helmets when they ride motorcycles?”

Girotto and a colleague, Dr. Nicholas Adams, a plastic surgeon resident with Spectrum Health and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, would like to see the law requiring motorcyclists to wear a helmet reinstated. At the least, they continue to push for awareness about the increased risk that accompanies a biker’s decision to ride without a helmet.

The Health Beat article points out that two recent scientific studies indicate that there have been “notable increases in the types of injuries that result from not wearing a helmet.”

The June 2017 issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, says researchers have found the proportion of trauma patients who were not wearing helmets has jumped from 20 percent to 44 percent. Furthermore, a helmet-less biker was about twice as likely to suffer facial injuries in a crash, according to the report.

This past September, a report in the American Journal of Surgery says researchers believe Michigan’s weakened helmet law coincides with a massive spike in traumatic brain injuries. Plus, there is a significant increase in the cost of caring for patients with such injuries, the report notes. …

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation stresses the importance of wearing a Department of Transportation-certified helmet: “Helmet effectiveness has been confirmed by scientific studies, while helmet myths — ‘helmets break necks, block vision and impair hearing’ — have been consistently disproved. Safety-conscious riders wear helmets as a sensible, responsible choice every time they ride.”

Is anyone listening? It doesn’t look like anyone in the state Legislature. Dr. Girotto said he’s “reached out to a multiple number of my representatives without much traction.” …

There are currently 19 states and the District of Columbia with laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Laws requiring only some motorcyclists to wear a helmet are in place in 28 states, including Michigan. There is no motorcycle helmet use law in three states: Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire.

Michigan needs to return to the first list.

In the meantime, if you ride a motorcycle, remember that doctors say you are much less likely to have a facial injury or traumatic brain injury when you wear a helmet. So why wouldn’t you?

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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