With a change to Michigan’s motorcycle helmet law does it mean that these are ... going out of style?

Nearly a year after being introduced in the state Senate, motorcycle riders in the state of Michigan will now have the choice to wear a helmet on the road.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed Senate bill 291 into law on April 12 making it Public Act 98 of 2012.

The bill, which was sponsored by state Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, allows riders to ride without a helmet if they are at least 21-years-old, have purchased a minimum of $20,000 in additional medical insurance, have had their motorcycle endorsement for two years or have passed a motorcycle safety course.

The law also allows passengers to ride without a helmet if they are also 21-years-old and are carrying at least $20,000 in additional medical insurance, which can be provided by the motorcycle owner or the passenger.

The new law makes Michigan the 31st state in the country to make wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle optional.

Lake County Sheriff Robert Hilts said that the provisions in the new law will make it difficult to enforce.

“They have to show they have had the motorcycle endorsement they don’t have to prove, and that they have $20,000 additional medical coverage that they don’t have to show,” he said. “I don’t know, I guess we’re supposed to take their word for it.”

“We’ll do what we can.”

The bill passed with wide bi-partisan support in both chambers of the Michigan legislature, passing by a final count of 24-14 in the Senate and 69-39 in the House.

One of the ‘no’ votes in the state Senate was Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart. Booher is a big opponent of the law and noted he has voted against the bill a total of five times.

Booher said he voted against the bill both as a result of personal life experience, (having a friend who was saved in a motorcycle accident thanks to his wearing of a helmet), and also as a result of simple empirical evidence.

“Evidence shows that both seat belts and motorcycle helmets save lives in accidents,” he said. “Absolutely everything we’ve been shown demonstrates that not only do these two devices saves lives, they also tremendously reduce hospitalization, rehabilitation, recovery costs following an accident.”

Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm vetoed similair legislation twice during her eight years as governor.

The American Bikers Aiming Toward Education of Michigan (ABATE) is a motorcycle advocacy group that lobbied heavily for the bill’s passage. The group is happy that riders in Michigan now have the choice.

“We want everyone to know we are not anti-helmet,” said Fred Sherman, regional coordinator for ABATE’s region five, which consists of Lake, Muskegon, Mason, Oceana and Newaygo counties. “We are thankful for the freedom of choice we now have.”

Many posters on Internet forums dedicated to motorcycle enthusiasts were celebrating the repeal and a common message was that they were going to check with their insurance agent to see if they had the required coverage.

Mark Cole, owner of Cole Insurance Agency in Baldwin said that is a step that all motorcycle riders should take, because many do not have the required insurance.

“The vast majority don’t carry medical coverage,” he said. “Most motorcycle policies only cover if you lay down the bike yourself.”

Cole said that most accidents on motorcycles are covered through automobile policies and motorcycle riders usually tend to look for savings in coverage.

“Motorcycle policies can be fairly expensive,” he said. “So people tend to try to go ‘on-the-cheap’ for them.”

Many in the insurance industry have reacted negatively to the new law.

“It is disappointing that a law that saved lives and reduced injuries in the Great Lake states has been repealed,” said Pete Kuhnmuench, executive director of the Insurance Institute of Michigan in a statement.

Cole said he likes the freedom of choice the law will provide riders.

“It seems to be the public will,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of forcing people to do what they don’t want to do.”

Sherman said he has found that most riders he knows will continue to wear helmets, but like the option of not having to wear one.

“There are times when helmets come in handy and time when they’re a hinderance,” he said. “For local riding, I will most likely not wear (a helmet). On the highway though, I will still most likely wear my helmet.”

Cole said that he thinks the law will work because the riders he insures are pretty safe.

“Rarely, if ever do we have a motorcycle claim.”

Hilts said that some of his deputies have seen riders without helmets in Lake County and hopes that riders use cautions when riding without a helmet.

“Please use a little more care and caution and drive a little slower,” he said.

Lake County Star Editor Jim Crees contributed to this report.