CADILLAC — More people are dying in motorcycle crashes in Michigan, especially crashes where the occupants weren’t wearing helmets.
From 2014 to 2018, the average number of motorcycle fatalities in Michigan per year was around 131, which is an increase of 13 people compared to the previous five years, according to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.
Michigan State Police statistics indicate that the average number of fatalities involving helmetless occupants also has been on the rise.
Prior to 2012, when the state Legislature repealed the mandatory helmet law, there were an average of five fatal crashes per year involving those not wearing a helmet. After the law was repealed, that number rose to an average of 56 people per year.
Data collected in Wexford, Missaukee, Osceola and Lake counties didn’t show a noticeable trend one way or the other on motorcycle fatalities since the helmet law was repealed.
Without a comprehensive analysis of the data, Michigan State Police Lt. Travis House said it’s very difficult to make a conclusion one way or the other about whether the helmet law repeal has contributed to more fatalities.
One of the issues that complicates the data is that not wearing a helmet may not necessarily be the cause of the death, House said.
Regardless of what the data shows, House said you don’t have to be an expert to surmise that someone wearing a helmet has a greater chance of not being injured or killed if they are involved in a crash.
“If someone not wearing a helmet gets in a crash and there’s contact with their head, there’s little doubt it will cause injury,‘ House said. “If you are wearing a helmet, there is some chance it will be protected.‘
Seven years after the repeal, opinions are mixed about whether people should have the right to choose to wear a helmet or not.
“My brother lost control of his motorcycle at 70 mph,‘ commented one person in an online Cadillac News readers poll. “He’s alive because of his helmet and safety gear, with only broken bones and abrasions. They’ll heal. A broken head does not heal.‘
The unscientific Cadillac News poll found that about 65% of respondents feel that wearing a helmet shouldn’t be a choice in Michigan.
“If we gotta wear a seat belt, I think they need to wear a helmet too,‘ said Northern Michigan resident Joanne Lillian.
“Seatbelts and airbags are mandatory,‘ said one survey respondent. “Helmets? That’s a no brainer (pardon the pun).‘
“If you don’t ride, you shouldn’t have an opinion on the subject,‘ said Cadillac resident Ryan Chapman.
“Let those who ride decide,‘ one survey respondent said. “Most of the people who are for the helmet law don’t even ride a motorcycle. Why should the ones who do not ride have an opinion on what my personal preferences are?‘
Of those who said they ride motorcycles, 78% reported they still wear a helmet even though it’s not legally required to do so.
While the motorcycle helmet law is still somewhat contentious, initial data from roads where speeds have been increased for all motorists is a bit less controversial.
In 2017, the Michigan Legislature approved speed limit increases on roadways throughout Michigan, including several in this area.
Those roadways are U.S. 131 starting at M-57 and ending north of Manton, which increased from 70 to 75 mph; M-37 starting at U.S. 10 North Junction and ending in Mesick, which increased from 55 to 65 mph; M-55 starting at Cadillac West and ending at U.S. 31 in Manistee, which increased from 55 to 65 mph; and M-115 starting at Mesick and ending at Benzonia, which increased from 55 to 65 mph.
Other than one fatality on U.S. 131 in 2017, there have been no other deadly crashes on any of the local roads where speed limits were raised, which isn’t too surprising when compared to historical data.
While 2017 saw a slight increase in crashes overall after limits were raised, data from 2018 shows a decrease in crashes on two of the roadways where speed limits were raised.
On U.S. 131, there were 254 crashes, compared to the five-year average of 272.8; on M-55, there were 33 crashes, compared to the five-year average of 35.4
There was a slight increase in number of crashes on M-115, from a five-year average of 60 to 66 in 2018.
Michigan Department of Transportation North Region Operating Engineer Garrett Dawe said determining the impact that the speed limit increase is having on the area is one of their long-term goals.
It will be at least another year before they have enough data to determine the impact of the speed increase but Dawe said the initial routes they chose were “probably good routes‘ based on anecdotal information they have collected, so far.
Until they finish a formal study of the impact that the speed increases are having, Dawe said they aren’t considering raising limits on any other roadway.