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Published: Friday, 3/25/2005

Michigan House poised to act on helmet law

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A bill that would repeal Michigan's 36-year-old motorcycle helmet law has passed the Senate and is expected to pass the House.

But the state's governor is opposed to the bill and could veto it.

The Senate bill, which passed on March 17, was sponsored by Sen. Alan Cropsey (R., DeWitt). It seeks to repeal the helmet law for bikers who are at least 21 years old, have had a motorcycle license for two years, and have taken a motorcycle safety course.

"It has been shown that helmets are of absolutely of no use if a person is going [even] 15 mph. If you're going much faster, it's useless," Mr. Cropsey said. "[Also], when you have [one] on, you are in your own environment. When you have it off, you realize how vulnerable you are."

Opponents of the repeal say serious injuries and deaths will increase and the use of helmets will decreases dramatically if the law is repealed.

"It is the single piece of safety equipment available to motorcyclists," said Jim Rink, spokesman for AAA Michigan. Vehicles have a wide variety of safety features, from safety belts, to air bags, and child restraints, so it just makes sense to protect yourself when riding a motorcycle."

Michigan's border states do not have a helmet law. Since 1997, six states - Arkansas, Texas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Florida, and Pennsylvania - have repealed helmet laws.

Vince Consiglio, president of the Michigan chapter of American Bikers Aiming Toward Education, has been lobbying against the law since 1976. He feels confident the bill will pass the House, where it was introduced on March 16 and has 46 co-sponsors, but is nervous about what Gov. Jennifer Granholm will do.

The governor's spokesman, Liz Boyd, said yesterday that "the governor is opposed to repealing the helmet law for safety and health reasons."

She would not say whether the governor will veto the bill, should it pass the House.

Mr. Consiglio of Milford, Mich., a Detroit public school teacher, noted that Ms. Granholm cut motorcycle safety from her 2004 budget.

"[So] obviously she's not that concerned about motorcyclists," he said.

Mr. Rink said that in the six states where the law has been repealed, usage has dropped by an average of 42 percent.

"Another thing that concerns us is that it sends a bad message to young people, especially ones who ride bicycles and have to wear helmets," he said.

He said Michigan's catastrophic claims insurance premiums - at $141.70 a year per vehicle or motorcycle - will likely go higher. A $14.40 increase per vehicle and motorcycle is scheduled for July, he said.

Mr. Consiglio said that the rates are going up anyway and that motorcyclists are unfairly treated by the state's catastrophic insurance laws since bikers who are injured in an accident that doesn't involve another vehicle are not covered.

"I'm paying for three motorcycles," he said.

Another pro-repeal argument, Mr. Consiglio said, is that tourism to Michigan will increase and motorcycle sales will increase. Presently, Ohio bikers who don't have helmets stay away from Michigan, he said.

"Our thing always has been that the best way to prevent accidents from happening is safety awareness and tougher licensing," Mr. Consiglio said.

Area motorcyclists have mixed feeling about the legislation.

"Every adult should have the right to make his own decision," said Chuck Meyer of Lambertville, an ABATE member.

However, Mr. Meyer said that despite his support for the law's demise, he will continue to wear his helmet no matter the outcome in Lansing. He survived two serious accidents last year while riding his bike.

"I wouldn't be here if I hadn't been wearing a helmet," he said.

Wayne Hayner of Monroe favors the helmet law.

"I think it ought to be mandatory because if it's not people won't wear them," he said.

Like Mr. Meyer, Mr. Hayner has survived two accidents in the 37 years he has been riding bikes, once cracking up while traveling 70 mph.

"The helmet saved me," he said.

Contact George Tanber at:

gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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