At stake for many motorcycle riders is the freedom to choose whether or not to wear a helmet. But for those involved in traffic safety research, individual freedom pales in comparison to the safety benefits that motorcycle helmets provide.

In a recent letter to Michigan senators, UMTRI director Peter Sweatman and Rebecca Cunningham, director of the U-M Injury Center, urged Michigan's leadership to keep the state's universal helmet law (covering all riders) intact.

UMTRI has assisted the state's leadership in tracking and evaluating motor vehicle crashes in Michigan for almost twenty years and assisting Michigan's safety professionals by managing the Michigan Traffic Crash Facts website. These data show that while roadway fatalities have been decreasing, from 1,159 in 2004 to 937 in 2010, Michigan motorcycle fatalities have increased from 79 fatalities in 2004 to 125 fatalities in 2010. The letter notes that the proposed repeal would produce an even greater increase in fatalities involving Michigan's motorcycle riders and passengers and undermine the significant safety performance efforts by Michigan's leadership.

As a safety measure, motorcycle helmets are estimated to prevent 37 percent of fatal motorcycle injuries for motorcycle riders (operators) nationally and 41 percent of fatal injuries for motorcycle passengers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Further, according to the CDC, motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69 percent. In a motorcycle crash, an unhelmeted rider is 40 percent more likely to die from a head injury than someone wearing a helmet. It is estimated that helmets saved over 1,800 riders' lives in 2008.

Each state decides its respective helmet law. As of 2010, 20 states including Michigan and the District of Columbia had universal helmet laws (covering all riders), 27 states had a partial helmet law (covering some riders), and three states had no helmet law.