Massachusetts Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Massachusetts State Senator Stephen Brewer, of Barre, the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, has introduced a bill before the Massachusetts Senate, removing the current helmet law and allowing all motorcyclists over the age of 21 to have the right to refrain from wearing a helmet. The bill was the subject of hearings in the Senate Transportation Committee this week. The Massachusetts Motorcycle Association sees this as a “freedom” type of law which would promote tourism.

Even if they are right, is this the kind of tourism we want to promote? Wouldn’t this simply bring in out of state riders who may or may not have health insurance dramatically increasing their odds of serious personal injury while in Massachusetts? Further, the helmetless advocates point to the casino law: the pendulum swung in favor of casinos when tourism dollars fleeing the state was used as the argument.
One senator, Anne Gobi, of Spensor, sponsored a bill that would allow all motorcyclists over the age of 18 to forgo a helmet. Senator Gobi wants those riders to take a safety course. Ms. Gobi, who may or may not practice personal injury law in Massachusetts, should know that all of the injured victims of motorcycle accidents in Massachusetts that we have represented were not responsible for the accidents. So what would a safety course really do?
The current law, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90, Section 7, requires that “every person operating a motorcycle or riding as a passenger on a motorcycle…shall wear a protective head gear…” The statute goes on to require “eye glasses, goggles or a protective face shield” if there is no windshield.
Motorcycle accident lawyer Neil Burns points to the facts about motorcycle helmet use. We last wrote about Massachusetts motorcycle accidents noting that the fatality rate went down over the last decade. Part of that decrease is because of the increased use of helmets. In our April 4, 2011 article about motorcycle accidents, we noted that Massachusetts has a 97% helmet use while the national average is 59%.
This is not news to Commonwealth law enforcement officials. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission, motorcyclists are 37 times more likely than car drivers to die in a crash and 9 times more likely to be injured; riders who neglect to use helmets are 3 times more likely to receive traumatic brain injuries in Massachusetts and throughout the country.
Finally, a word about motorcycle and insurance. Most motor vehicle policies in Massachusetts have Personal Injury Protection insurance. This is essentially “no fault medical insurance up to $8,000. With Med Pay insurance, many Massachusetts vehicles have an additional $10,000 in medical coverage. Motorcycles do not have PIP insurance. Wherefore, if you are injured on a motorcycle and you don’t have medical insurance, you are subjecting yourself, and possibly your family, to significant medical bills. Further, most insurance agents do not sell sufficient Massachusetts under insurance policies to motorcyclists. If you are seriously injured, and the driver of the vehicle that caused the accident is insufficiently insured, you could help yourself significantly by having a substantial underinsured policy.
For information , click on our Massachusetts underinsurance article.