Posted on July 17th, 2020 by Zane Cagle
Tuesday, July 14, 2020, the MO Governor signed House Bill 1963, into law which repeals Missouri’s mandatory motorcycle helmet law but only if a rider meets certain criteria. This law is set to go into effect August 28, 2020. The mandatory helmet law was introduced in 1967 and resulted in fewer motorcycle head injuries and deaths across the country. This change in MO law allows motorcyclists not to wear a helmet if they are at least 26 years of age, have proof of medical insurance, and proof of financial responsibility (motorcycle insurance) Cathy Chase, President for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety released a statement saying, “Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety along with coalition of Missouri-based health and safety experts and organizations provided research, facts and figures to try to prevent this outcome, and we are gravely disappointed by the Governor’s ill-advised decisions”. Chase cited the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s finding that in 2018, there were nine (9) times as many fatalities to motorcyclists in states which didn’t require helmets opposed to those states with mandatory helmet laws.
It remains to be seen if this is a step forward or backward for motorcycle safety in Missouri as no state has seen a decrease in injuries and fatalities after weakening helmet laws.
In other states such as Florida and Michigan, weakening universal helmet laws has resulted in increased head injuries, serious injuries, and deaths. In fact, examination of states’ data show that after repeal of mandatory helmet laws, those states saw increased motorcycle crash head injuries and death rates. Likewise, after mandatory helmet laws were enacted in states, those states saw significant decline in head injuries and deaths.
Missouri was one of 19 states with a mandatory helmet law which required all riders to wear a helmet. There are only three states that do not have any helmet laws–New Hampshire, Iowa and Illinois. (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) The remaining states have age requirements and conditions for riders to opt-out of wearing a helmet. There are critics of helmet laws who claim that helmets do not really help in a catastrophic injury crashes and that helmets makes it difficult for riders to observe the roadway. With respect to every rider’s experiences and opinions, we see the real-cost consequences of motorcycle crash injuries and deaths.
In Spite of a Helmet Law, Failure to Wear a Helmet Could Cost
As a motorcycle accident lawyer, I can tell you that wearing a helmet will be critical if you are injured in a crash and filing an injury claim. First and foremost, helmets have been proven to help reduce the number of serious head injuries and deaths. It is your head, thus protecting it is a great idea. Plus, after years of mandatory helmet laws in MO, motorcyclists are accustomed to wearing helmets. This is really similar to mandatory seat belt laws for passenger and commercial vehicles–we all have become accustomed to it and are safer for the habit.
Second, if you are in a motorcycle crash even if it is not your fault, it is possible an attorney for an insurance company may attempt to insinuate you are unsafe because you failed to wear a helmet. In general, if you are injured in a motorcycle crash and failed to wear a helmet, you will meet opposition from the auto insurance carrier and it will make your claim more difficult. We fight for our injured motorcycle crash clients because it is very challenging to get the compensation needed after such a serious crash. Insurance carriers look for reasons to deny or devalue an injured person’s claim. Failure to wear a helmet is an ideal argument for an insurance carrier.
Most motorcyclists do not think about a potential jury trial every time they get on their motorcycle–no one can live their lives that way. In fact, few people ever think they will be in a crash or have to fight an insurance company. Yet, thousands of people have to go to trial every year. However, if you have the choice of whether or not to wear a helmet, do it for yourself, your family and your friends. I represent motorcycle crash victims in Missouri and Illinois, both of which had very different helmet laws. In general, many people perceive those that fail to wear a helmet as less safe and engaging in riskier behavior. Moreover, a small percentage of people think that anyone that rides a motorcycle is less safe. We know that to be false. Thus, if a motorcyclist has ridden for many years, it is evidence that they have managed to be safe.
Statistically, helmets have been found to reduce the risk of death by 37-42 percent. Additionally, motorcyclists without helmets are three (3) times more likely than helmeted riders to suffer traumatic brain injuries (NHTSA, 2008)
States with mandatory helmet laws have been effective in reducing the number of motorcycle crash fatalities and serious injuries. In 2019, 99% of motorcyclists observed in states with mandatory helmet laws were wearing helmets. In states without such laws, helmet use was about 71 % (NHTSA, 2020). They have also found that helmet laws that apply only to young riders are virtually impossible to enforce. In 2000, Florida’s mandatory helmet law was weakened to exempt riders 21 and older who have at least $10,000 in medical coverage. A research institute found that the motorcycle death rate in Florida increased by 25% after the state weakened its helmet law. Hospital admissions of motorcyclists with head injuries increased by 82% during the 30 months following the law change (NHTSA, 2005). Michigan experienced must the same in 2012 when they weakened their helmet law to exempt riders 21 and older who have at least $20,000 in medical insurance. Obviously, if you are seriously injured, your medical charges may far exceed $20,000.
Motorcycles are Still the Most Dangerous Form of Transportation
Motorcycles are less stable than passenger vehicles during maneuvers such as emergency braking and swerving, plus they are less visible on the roadway.
When motorcyclists crash, they lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle, so they are more likely to be seriously injured or killed. Per mile traveling in 2017, the number of deaths on motorcycles in the U.S. was nearly 27 times the number of deaths in cars.
We continue to ride motorcycles for a couple of good reasons. They are fun to ride, and they are often a much cheaper mode of transportation than a passenger vehicle.
Problems Associated with Weakening Helmet Laws
I have had two major objections to weakening mandatory helmet laws. First, when states weaken mandatory helmet laws, we see statistical results of increased injuries and deaths for motorcyclists. Second, the fact remains that most motorcyclists are not adequately insured. The costs of serious injuries often result in financial disaster for the injured even if they have health insurance. Due to the severity of injuries, the motorcycle rider is underinsured even if all parties have auto insurance. Meaning, if a passenger car driver turns left striking a motorcyclist, thus failing to yield, the motorcyclist can be seriously injured. If both are parties are insured for the state minimum of $25,00, there is an under insurance problem. People who are seriously injured far exceed a minimum policy of $25,000 and the co-payments for their health coverage can still be devastating.
While proof of medical insurance and auto insurance seems like a great idea, there are considerations. While we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis, a record number of people are losing their jobs and their health insurance. During this economic crisis, there are many of us having to make difficult choices about budgeting. While auto insurance is legally required to operate a motor vehicle, we are finding a great number of people have had to let their insurance lapse in order to buy food and pay rent. Thus, it puts individuals in a very difficult spot. How do they travel to work and pay for the auto insurance if they cannot get to their job because they cannot legally drive an uninsured vehicle? Needless to say, there are a growing number of people that have health insurance cards and auto insurance cards, but the coverage has expired. If they have a card showing insurance, then they meet the helmet exception criteria when asked by an officer. However, when it comes to actually getting medical treatment and recovery, lack of both types of insurance make it impossible to make a claim.
It will be very difficult for patrol officers to enforce these requirements as many states have found it impossible to monitor the riders 18 years of age and younger.
We do have to implement some common sense as participants in civil society when it comes to health and safety of people. A safe society requires that we all follow some basic rules in order to protect one another. There are some rules and mandates we engage in for the common good such as traffic lights, speed limits and seat belts. These rules help protect not only us, but other motorists. We drive in lanes of traffic and obey traffic signals in order to keep all of us safe.
Motorcycle Crash Victims
We are in the midst of motorcycle season. By now, we certainly hope that all drivers have become accustomed to keeping a lookout for motorcycles. When motorcycle crashes occur, they are usually very serious in nature and sadly, often fatal. We know the uphill battle of a life-changing injury that comes with a serious motorcycle crash. Each case is as unique as the individual. If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle crash, you will need legal help.
Consultations are always free at The Cagle Law Firm as we want you to have all of the information in order to make the best decisions. After a serious injury crash, there are many questions about the future and probably many things that you have never considered. Give us the opportunity to talk with you and give you the information that you need critical to your future and compensation.