Fewer Helmets, Higher Healthcare Costs

(Photo: Ben Ferenchak)

We’ve written before about an unintended consequences of state repeals of motorcycle helmet laws: more organs available for transplant.  Here’s one more consequence, from Michigan, which stopped requiring helmets last year:

State legislators changed the law last year so that only riders younger than 21 must wear helmets. The average insurance payment on a motorcycle injury claim was $5,410 in the two years before the law was changed, and $7,257 after it was changed – an increase of 34 percent, the study by the Highway Loss Data Institute found.

After adjusting for the age and type of motorcycle, rider age, gender, marital status, weather and other factors, the actual increase was about 22 percent relative to a group of four comparative states, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, the study found.

“The cost per injury claim is significantly higher after the law changed than before, which is consistent with other research that shows riding without a helmet leads to more head injuries,” David Zuby, chief research officer for the data institute and an affiliated organization, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said.

(HT: Kevin Murphy)


This is great. I love hearing these bikers talk so much about their "freedom" to go without a helmet.

This is actually a good result I'd say. Here is your freedom. Is not wearing a helmet worth $2,000 a year to you? I hope so...

Too bad that folks who wear helmets stil end up having to pay more as well, but that's the nature of insurance...


Thats $2k per injury claim, not that they pay. Taxpayer subsidized stupidity. Honestly this is the worst think about Obamacare. Socialize the cost and its easy to make (bad) arguments that the gov't has the right to dictate how you live.


Ahh, yeah, I see what you mean... skimming too fast.

In that case the premium probably haven't gone up a whole lot.

I don't really see you point about "ObamaCare" though. #1) "ObamaCare" doesn't cover motorcycle insurance. #2) All insurance, by definition, "socializes costs", that's the whole point of insurance.

The only thing that ObamaCare does is subsidize insurance for the poor, not for motorcycle riders...

You might like my plan for health insurance reform, however: http://rationalrevolution.net/articles/restore_america.htm

Basically it involves a single payer type system with three major funding sources: individual premiums, a risk adjusted sales tax, and risk adjusted employer fees.

Basically the individual premium charged on a yearly basis would be the exact same for everyone, about $2,000, with subsidies for the poor.

Lifestyle choice based risks would be accounted for via sales taxes, with the sales tax rates being different for different products. The taxes would apply to all products, from food to thinks like sporting equipment, vacations, ski lift tickets, or cars and motorcycles, etc.

This way, people's payment toward health insurance would be heavily based on their lifestyle choices. Things like motorcycles would have high insurance sales taxes associated with them. Things like motorcycle helmets would have a low insurance tax on them, or possibly none, to account for the fact that they reduce risk.

Lastly, employers would pay an insurance fee based on their worker's compensation insurance classifications, so that their health insurance fees would be related to the types of health risks associated with the nature of work that they perform. Thus a coal mining company would presumably pay much more per worker than say a retail store.

This way, the funding for health insurance would be heavily weighted by choices people make, in a way that also isn't intrusive to privacy like trying to collect data on people, etc.



Michigan is an unusual state in that there is no medical cap on the catastrophic claims for those injured in accidents. There are studies saying that the health care costs, especially those related to automobile head injuries, are higher in the state of Michigan as health providers charge more for the services than other states. There is a move within the state to place a cap on the catastrophic claims (1 million is being bandied) about to assist in driving insurance costs down in the state.

Furthermore, as a resident of the state, there are ads for all types of attorneys who help injured folks file claims with the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association...and several of those lawyers focus upon injured motorcycle riders.

This may explain the 22% higher costs in Michigan....

Enter your name...

A long-standing quirk of Michigan law doesn't explain why the costs *in Michigan* this year went up compared to the costs *in Michigan* the previous year.


I truly do not understand the rationale of requiring seat belts to be worn (enforced in Michigan to the point where you can be ticketed solely for that infraction) and yet the law to wear helmets on motorcycles was repealed for adults over the age of 21. Helmets are in place for the exact same reason; they are the best measure of protection possible for a motorcycle rider given that a seat belt is not an option.


For the same reason that we have any regulation of guns. The users of these things do a lot of lobbying against regulation, and the general public generally doesn't care about the helmet issue, and there aren't enough motorcycles for the insurance companies to out lobby the riders.

The insurance companies have a much bigger interest in forcing car drivers to wear seat-belts due to the number of car drivers.


Is effectively socializing health care? More organs available for transplant at the cost of increased premiums for everyone? Since, of course, insurance premium costs are inevitably passed down to the general population.


How about only if you're a registered organ donor you may choose to not wear a helmet.


Wonderful idea!

Melinda Tomalo

If we're going to have publicly funded medical care for all, we need to acknowledge that people who behave recklessly are creating costs for everybody else.

Why should someone have the right to ride without a helmet when the medical costs incurred via his or her selfishness would be enough to build a school or feed many hungry families?

It's assymmetrical - the motorcycle rider without a helmet gets all the fun benefits of a wind-in-the-hair experience, while everyone else assumes the risk.


Unless hospitals can start turning away uninsured or insolvent patients, health-care costs are already socialized.

Try this: if you want the right to be stupid, guarantee that it won't hurt the rest of us: either demonstrate some kind of coverage or wear a helmet. Perhaps a license plate sticker to attest to coverage, with penalties for dishonesty.

Also, if you show up on a stretcher without a helmet or insurance, you have consented to be a donor.


The article does not mention it, but first person coverage is actually part of the conditions of not wearing a helmet in Michigan. From the linked document below:

To legally not wear a
helmet, a motorcycle operator must:

1. Be at least 21 years old.
2. Have at least $20,000 in first party medical benefits.
3. Have held a motorcycle endorsement for at least two years, or have passed an approved
motorcycle safety course.


The problem with all of these conditions is that none of them are visible to the naked eye. A police officer in Michigan can pull an automobile driver over and ticket them for not wearing a seat belt in Michigan because they can see the infraction. The same would hold true for a helmet, were it a universal law to wear one. But that is not the case.


Shouldn't the insurance companies have foreseen this and raised the rider's premiums to cover the cost?

Martin Renaud

So repealing the helmet law makes the Darwin awards a lot more competitive - sounds like a no-brainer!

Caleb B

Odd. I would have thought those without helmets would have much lower medical costs....because they would just die instead of becoming injured.

Jonathan Graehl

"Cost per injury claim". How about the total number of injuries? Too bad. Innumerate reporting strikes again. (I expect that total cost over all injuries is still higher without helmet laws, but I don't *know* that.)