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MMA Facts vs Fiction: HLDI Claim that Michigan Helmet-Choice Law increases insurance losses

Published on 6/6/2013

MMA Facts vs Fiction: HLDI Claim that Michigan Helmet-Choice Law increases insurance losses

In April of 2013, the Highway Loss Data Institute released a bulletin (The effects of Michigan's weakened motorcycle helmet use law on insurance losses, HLDI Bulletin Vol. 30, No. 9: April 2013) intimating that the decision by Michigan Legislators to allow Helmet Choice in April, 2012 caused a significant increase in Medical Insurance Losses. This report has been circulated in the press as if the report resulted in significant proof that helmet choice laws are bad. In fact, the Massachusetts Motorcycle Association (MMA) obtained a copy of the detailed bulletin and disagrees with the assertion, based on facts cited in the bulletin itself.

The bulletin claims to study the impact of the Michigan Law Change on Insurance Losses, and spends an inordinate amount of time talking about helmets and helmet effectiveness, citing National Highway Transportation Safety Authority (NHTSA) studies. However, there are 2 aspects to the law that need to be highlighted: the obvious (and they part they want us to focus on) is Adult Choice, and the other is that it requires a minimum of $20,000 in Medical Payments Coverage.

Payments from 2012 were compared with the prior 2 years only, including effects of weather patterns and insurance payments in adjacent states. Based on this, the bulletin claims that that insurance payments were 50% higher after the law change, although they admit that it is likely only 22% taking into account adjustments for the change in the minimum medical coverage. Yet the details contained int he report are very telling… The report introduction spends time citing NHTSA 2008 statistics claiming that helmet use reduces the likelihood of a crash fatality by 37%; it also alludes to "research" claiming large fluctuations in fatal crashes when states change helmet laws, but they only cite Florida (Ulmer & Northrup, 2005) as evidence. Further, although adjacent states are also referenced, there is neither a change in their Helmet Choice status, nor discussion about incident and crash rates.

More critically, although total payments did increase as stated in the report, insurance payments in the $20,000-$25,000 band increased, while payments in the $0-$10,000 bands DECREASED. This should be expected since it's very likely that many riders increased their minimum coverage due to the new law. Yet, while payments at the minimum level of the new insurance requirements increased, payment in the $25,000 and over bands did not show a statistically relevant increase, in fact, graphically they appear flat. It's reasonable to assume that from all other allegorical and research studies quoted by NHTSA, GAO, and CDC, that the costs with head injuries would NOT be in the $20,000 to $25,000 band which is the only band to show a statistically significant increase.

Also, the study was limited to medical payments to focus on personal injury losses and not property, the assumption being that motorcycle crashes always result in personal injury and that other statistics are not relevant. That said, however, the report does cite a 12% increase in overall collision losses, likely suggesting that total losses increased due to an increase in incidents, not a change in the helmet law. 

Most telling, the report itself uses the HLDI database, and admits at the very END of the report that the HLDI database does not indicate the type of injury or whether a rider was wearing a helmet or not at the time of crash. In fact, they go on to state that "observational studies indicate that about half of motorcyclists wear helmets even when not required" (per NHTSA 2012).

At the end of the day, the issue is about Adult CHOICE, not statistical risk, but the report does nothing to prove Helmet Effectiveness, only loosely citing NHTSA statistics, and the bottom line here is that the only thing this study proves is that the change in the minimum medical coverage requirements, not the helmet choice component of the law, caused the increase in incidents and payouts. There is nothing indicating that helmets or the lack thereof caused the increase in incidents, that riders involved in the crashes were not wearing helmets, or that head injuries were the result of the increased payments.

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