Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Motorcycle deaths drop despite changes to helmet law

HOLLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WZZM) -- The number of motorcycle deaths in 2014 was the second-lowest in a decade, according to new data from Michigan State Police. Surprisingly, the numbers also show more people were injured and died with helmets than without them.

WZZM 13 got reaction from motorcyclists about how the numbers relate to recent changes to Michigan's helmet law.

A motorcycle's revving up sounds like freedom for Shane Sake.

"I enjoy the open space," says Sake, general manager of Village Motorsports in Holland Township.

On his motorcycle, Sake's now allowed to make important safety choices for himself.

"I personally ride without a helmet, whether that's right, wrong, or indifferent -- [it's] just what I do," said Sake.

Even with others taking the same risk, new numbers show fewer motorcyclists died last year. In fact, 2014 had the second-lowest number of fatalities in the past decade, with 107 cases, according to Michigan State Police.

"Anytime you have a decrease in fatalities, that's a good thing for the industry and the people riding motorcycles," Sake said.

Perhaps more surprising is that the numbers show more motorcyclists died last year wearing helmets, with 50 cases, compared to the number of fatalities among riders not wearing helmets, with 48 cases. In nine cases, it was not known whether the person was wearing a helmet.

The same was true with serious injuries. There were more than 308 cases among those wearing helmets, and 172 cases among those who weren't.

"When you put on safety gear, you may create that false sense of security that, 'I'm bullet proof, I have a bunch of gear on, and if I crash I'm going to be OK,' and maybe not pay attention the way you should be paying attention," said Sake.

There was a heated debate over helmets in Michigan in 2012, when state lawmakers decided not to require motorcyclists to use them.

The MSP Office of Highway Safety Planning encourages riders to wear safety gear, including helmets, but it does not take a stance on the law itself.

Despite his personal choice, Shake recommends that his customers wear a helmet.

"Ideally, you should wear a helmet; if you fall and hit your head, it's not a good thing," Sake said.

However, he's glad riders can make the final decision on their own.

The MSP Office of Highway Safety Planning says there are several other important factors, including weather, that impact the number of motorcycle deaths in a particular year. They look at trends over a five-year period to get the most accurate assessment.

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