LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Seventy-three percent of Michigan motorcyclists wear helmets, down from seven years ago when almost all riders used them, according to a state report released Monday.
Michigan ended mandatory universal helmet use in 2012, letting riders opt out under certain circumstances.
Helmet use varies widely among types of riders, with chopper and custom bike riders less likely to wear helmets and sport bikers more likely, according to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety. Female riders and those under 30 and over 60 also wear helmets more frequently.
Wayne State University’s Transportation Research Group conducted a visual check of motorcyclists this summer. Researchers observed 2,584 riders on 2,157 motorcycles at 176 states statewide.
The report says Michigan helmet use is down from 99.4 percent in 2006, the last year there was a comprehensive survey.
Michigan loosened its helmet law April 1, 2012. Until then, all drivers and passengers had to wear helmets. Since then, riders can go bareheaded if they are 21 or older, carry $20,000 in additional health insurance and have two years of riding experience or pass a safety test. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia still have universal helmet laws.
“While Michigan’s helmet law has been modified, riders are strongly encouraged to always wear safety gear and be seen by wearing high-visibility gear or clothing,” Michael L. Prince, director of the safety office said in a statement. The office is part of the Michigan State Police.
Seventy-nine percent of female motorcyclists wear helmets, compared with 70.6 percent of males, the report said. It said the use rate is 76.9 percent for those ages 16-29, 65.5 percent for ages 30-59 and 73.5 percent for ages 60 and older.
Nationwide, 4,612 motorcyclists were killed and about 81,000 injured in 2011, according to the latest figures available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The estimated rate of helmet use nationally was 60 percent in 2012.
The drop in helmet use in Michigan is starting to show up in accident statistics, the researchers said. There were 109 deaths in 2011 and 129 in 2012.
“As preliminary crash statistics from the 2012 riding season show significant increases in fatal and serious injuries, it appears that changes to the helmet use legislation has resulted in more severe injury outcomes,” they wrote. “Based upon these findings, continued efforts are warranted to encourage the use of both motorcycle helmets and high-visibility gear.”