Unlike auto insurance laws, motorcycle insurance laws in many states do not require the carrier’s insurance to cover medical costs. Florida and Michigan, among others, have repealed their mandatory helmet laws, instead mandating riders to carry additional medical insurance – pushing premiums in those states to higher levels.
But medical costs aside, do you get a cheaper insurance rate if you wear a helmet?
Interestingly, despite evidence that shows that helmeted riders typically suffer less severe injuries, wearing a helmet doesn’t make a motorcyclist any more insurable. (There are those who remark it’s because if you don’t wear a helmet, you’re more likely to die on impact. But that’s morbidly flippant.) Premiums are sometimes more affordable in those states with mandatory helmet laws, but there is currently no data that supports that notion.
But let’s dig deeper. Last year’s much-ballyhooed study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) concluded that for riders injured in a motorcycle crash, helmets reduce the cost of medical treatment, length of hospital stay and probability of long-term disability. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concurred, saying unhelmeted riders have higher health care costs as a result of brain injuries.
Both studies garnered significant traction in the motorcycle and mainstream press, and turned up the volume on the helmet debate. Lost in the clamor were two other facts pointed out by these studies: an unhelmeted rider is more likely to be uninsured; and only about half of injured riders carry private, separate health insurance coverage.
The prevailing wisdom says insurance company payouts eventually translate into increased insurance rates – so everyone winds up paying. This explains why the insurance industry has taken such a strong position in favor of helmet laws.
Further detail can be found by visiting the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website, as it points out several other ways helmets affect insurance costs:
– After California introduced a helmet use law in 1992, a UCLA study showed a decline in health care costs associated with head-injured motorcyclists.
– A study of Nebraska’s reinstated helmet law found the total acute medical charges for injured motorcyclists declined 38 percent.
– The weakening of Florida’s universal helmet law in 2000 to exclude riders 21 and older who have at least $10,000 of medical insurance coverage resulted in an 82% increase in hospital admissions of motorcyclists with head injuries, and less than one-quarter of the injured motorcyclists’ hospital bills would have been covered by the $10,000 medical insurance requirement for riders who chose not to use helmets.
– 41% of motorcyclists injured in Nebraska from 1988-90 lacked health insurance or received Medicaid or Medicare.
– In Seattle, 63% of trauma care for injured motorcyclists in 1985 was paid by public funds.
– 46% of motorcyclists treated at Massachusetts General Hospital during 1982-83 were uninsured.
This sounds like a debate about health care, and in a way, it is. Bottom line: If your state does not require you to wear a helmet, but you do, your motorcycle insurance premium probably won’t be affected. However, studies clearly show that every uninsured motorcyclist who goes to the emergency room drives the rates up for everybody.
– If you receive a ticket for not wearing a helmet, your premiums will likely go up.
– Ensure your health insurance covers you in case of a motorcycle accident – some policies do not.
– If you live in a no-helmet-law state and plan to ride without a helmet, you should probably carry extra medical coverage, even if you’re not required to.
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