A prominent advocate for the rights of motorcyclists not to wear helmets has died while riding his motorcycle. Rep. Peter Pettalia, a Michigan state lawmaker since 2010, was wearing a helmet when a pickup truck entered his lane, killing him in the resulting crash earlier this month.
Pettalia, 61, voted in 2012 to repeal universal helmet laws for all Michigan riders older than 20. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety notes that Michigan is among 28 states not requiring helmets for all motorcycle riders.
Florida, which has the nation’s highest number of motorcycle fatalities, is another one of those states.
Deadliest State for Motorcyclists
Florida’s motorcycle riders account for only about 7 percent of licensed motorists in the state but constitute nearly a fifth of traffic fatalities. And since lawmakers repealed the state’s mandatory helmet law in 2000, motorcycle helmet statistics and numbers of resulting deaths have grown significantly.
Motorcycle deaths have more than doubled since the repeal of the law, and they increased by more than 23 percent — from 449 to 554 — between 2014 and 2015. Prior to dropping the mandatory helmet law, the state averaged about 160 motorcyclist deaths annually.
The year after the law changed, the number of deaths climbed to 246 as helmet use significantly dropped, and deaths reached 550 by 2006. The numbers briefly improved for three years — between 2008 and 2010 — after lawmakers passed a law requiring motorcycle training. Fatalities have been on the increase ever since.
Almost a third of Florida motorcycle riders feel that they should not be required to wear a helmet, and state law complies with their wishes. Riders age 21 or older may ride without helmets if they have at least $10,000 in personal injury insurance coverage.
Riders under 21 and those without the proper insurance must wear helmets that comply with U.S. Department of Transportation safety standards. All riders, regardless of age and insurance status, are required to wear approved eye protection unless they’re riding in an enclosed cab.
Do Helmets Reduce Motorcycle Deaths?
Motorcyclist advocacy group ABATE of Florida argues that motorcycle helmets do not save lives to the extent that government agencies would have people believe. The group says it is not anti-helmet but believes that the use of protective equipment should be left to individual choice.
Riding a motorcycle carries some level of risk that riders accept, the group notes, adding that two activities — speeding and being impaired while riding — account for half of the deaths in motorcycle-only crashes.
The group also urges riders to wear the safety gear that individuals feel is necessary and to be aware of other motorists on the roads. And they encourage the state legislature to promote motorcycle awareness among all motorists.
But safety advocates point out that motorcycle fatalities in Florida have more than doubled since the repeal of the mandatory helmet law. Helmets save lives, they say.
In 2015, researchers observed that more than half of riders in the state were not wearing helmets, which have been shown to be 37-percent effective in preventing fatalities in motorcycle crashes.
Lowering the Risk While Riding
Officials and safety advocates urge motorcyclists to be as visible as possible to other drivers while riding. To increase visibility, motorcyclists can ride with headlights and tail lights on at night or in foggy or rainy weather, and they can add reflective strips and other equipment. In addition, motorcycle riders should consider:
- Wearing brightly colored clothing.
- Following other vehicles by three to four seconds and avoiding being in the blind spots of trucks and cars.
- Avoiding sudden moves and weaving among lanes.
- Using turn signals.
- Driving at the posted speed limit.
- Getting appropriate training such as a motorcycle safety course.
- Wearing safety items, including federally approved helmets and eye gear, along with closed-toe shoes or boots and protective clothing.
Other motorists also play a role in motorcycle safety. Those driving cars and trucks should:
- Be aware of motorcycles and give them plenty of room.
- Use sufficient caution when turning left, since most crashes between cars and motorcycles happen during left-hand turns.
- Pay attention and not drive distracted.
- Leave enough room behind a motorcycle.
Despite the lack of a requirement in Florida for most motorcyclists to wear helmets and other safety gear, many say they choose to do so. In fact, 86 percent of riders report wearing helmets. More than half say they wear a vest or jacket that contains protective armor, while more than 60 percent wear boots and gloves. More than 80 percent report wearing glasses or a face shield.
Work with Experienced Motorcycle Accident Attorneys
Have you been in a motorcycle accident? Even if you believe you were not injured, it’s important to consult with an experienced attorney; in some cases, painful and costly injuries can manifest later, leaving you with significant medical bills and lost time from work. For a free consultation with an attorney in Miami, contact Kaire & Heffernan, LLC.