auto Insurance Article

Don’t Be an Underinsured Motorcyclist

Usually around this time of year we start hearing about children’s toys being recalled, and parents begin dragging their children to toy stores, promising their crying children that another Barbie doll or G.I. Joe will be just as good as the toy they may turn purple from.

But one of the first recalls this year doesn’t affect children’s toys; instead, it affects a favorite “toy” for grown-ups — motorcycles.

Vega Helmet Corp is recalling more than 30K specific brands of helmets after further testing found that some of them didn’t meet the crash protection safety standards their other helmets were subjected to. The recalls will start in January and will be primarily focused on riders who have a large, extra-large, or extra-extra-large helmet. If riders bring the helmets in to the dealer, they will replace them free of charge. Vega was notified of the discrepancies that were pointed out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) after it found that four extra-large helmets didn’t meet safety standards. Vega wasn’t able to pinpoint exactly how many failed the safety tests so they recalled the entire design and will rework it as soon as they can. Obviously, riding a motorcycle means anyone on it will face substantially more exposure than someone riding in a car, so having a helmet that meets safety regulations can mean life or death.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Surprisingly, though, not all states require that motorcyclists wear helmets. Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire do not require riders to have helmets when operating their bikes on the road.

However, these states are not the norm. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia require all riders to wear a helmet and in 28 other states, the law requires that some rides wear a helmet.

It wasn’t always like this. Well into the 1960s, motorcycle helmet use wasn’t required, but to qualify for certain federal safety programs, the government began enacting safety laws. Eventually, it became a state’s decision whether or not to allow riders the choice of wearing a helmet. However, it’s always important to remember that if you live in one of these states, or simply ride through one of them, it doesn’t mean you don’t need a helmet. The sad truth is even people in cars could probably benefit from wearing helmets considering the way people drive, so “open heads” on open roads often means severe open wounds. In some cases, it even means an open door to heaven.

The Safety of Wearing a Helmet

Yet, in a vehicle, a driver has a number of built in safety options that can cushion the blow of an accident. Seat belts, air bags, and roll cages protect the body during a high-impact collision. When a motorcycle is involved, it’s your helmet, maybe your leather chaps, and your jeans. According to the NHTSA, for every 100 motorcyclists killed in a crash that weren’t wearing helmets, 37 of them could have survived if they were wearing a helmet — and those are only people who died. Many people that are involved in a motorcycle crash without a helmet retain lifelong brain injuries or are paralyzed. Using a helmet could have helped to prevent those injuries as well.

While helmet laws may not have originally been developed for rider safety, that’s what they’ve morphed into.While it’s true that wearing helmets isn’t going to prevent a crash, it can most certainly prevent any serious injury sustained in a crash.

The Costs of Not Wearing a Helmet

It turns out that boo-boo fixers charge a lot if you’re injured in a motorcycle accident. According to the NHTSA, the average medical costs of non-helmeted riders is $17,704. How is that usually paid for and by whom though?

Personal Health Insurance

If you shrug that off or feel it should be your call as to whether you wear a helmet and/or think your health insurance will cover you, think again.

The majority of helmet-free riders in accidents are hospitalized because of brain injuries, racking up thousands in insurance claims. Medical bills are high enough, but according to the NHTSA, the average cost of hospitalization for un-helmeted riders was a third greater ($7,208) than helmeted riders ($5,852). The average cost of inpatient care for those with brain injuries is more than twice the amount of motorcyclists who have other injuries. When insurance stops paying , you’re facing those bills on your own. This takes a toll on society as a whole and especially on your insurance policy.

The problem is that not only does it obviously end up causing other policyholders to pay more in insurance because of high insurance claims, but it also comes back on everyone else in the form of health care costs and taxes too. That’s if you even have insurance — the NHSTA reports 46% of motorcycle crash victims are uninsured, their bills paid by generous taxpayers.

As Sen. John Cullteron from the Illinois State Senate once said, “On behalf of all the taxpayers I represent, I must ask: is it worth spending these millions of dollars to pay for the wind in the hair of motorcyclists? My answer is no.”

Even if insured, similarly to the way health insurance works in the event of at-fault car accidents, personal health insurance works the same for motorcycle accidents. If you cause an accident in a vehicle or motorcycle, your insurance will pay for the other party’s medical bills up to your bodily injury liability limits if you’re found at fault.

However, if you’re injured, and you seek health care using personal health insurance, you’ll probably receive a letter in the mail one day saying your personal health insurance has determined that because your injuries were a result of a motorcycle accident, the health insurer has taken back every single penny paid to health care providers. After months — sometimes even a year or more — of receiving bills reflecting payments from personal health insurance, you’ll start to receive new ones. Those new bills will show any past payments from health insurance reversed. At that point, any medical bills you incurred are 100% your responsibility. Obviously, a good portion of those go unpaid, and medical bills are even one of the leading results of bankruptcy and foreclosures in this country. Is it worth it to lose your home to be a rebel without a cause?

Medical Coverage from Motorcycle Insurance

But you may be saying, “I have bodily injury coverage on my auto or motorcycle insurance. That will cover me, right?”

One of the most common mistakes I’ve ever heard from auto insurance and motorcycle insurance policyholders is that they’re covered under bodily injury. This isn’t true at all — that’s a liability coverage, meaning it pays only for the medical bills and losses of whomever you caused an accident with. It will not pay one penny towards your medical bills.

Now you may be thinking, “But I have medical coverage on my auto/motorcycle policy to cover me.”

This may be true, but the amount is usually small compared to the high costs of motorcycle injuries. Medical payments for the policyholder usually offers about $500 to (rarely) around $5K.

If you don’t have medical payments coverage, you need it — like yesterday. It’s one of the cheapest medical reimbursement coverage options available; $5K in medical payments coverage costs on average about 16 cents a day for a year. Best of all, using it won’t raise your rates — no “negative” points are accrued, regardless of whether you’re using it for an at-fault accident or not. Even in a not-at-fault accident, you can use the medical payments to cover incidental expenses or expenses while waiting for the other company to pay.

If you have passengers regularly, you definitely need medical payments coverage. You can use it to help pay for their medical bills. Numbers reflect that motorcycle owners often have passengers, and those passengers are definitely ones drivers should want to protect. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 89% of passengers killed in motorcycle accidents were women — presumably a lot of wives and girlfriends. (Note that this coverage is a “one use per accident” coverage). This can help prevent a lawsuit against you — and if you think your friend (or family) wouldn’t sue you, you’re wrong. They can and do — just watch Judge Judy or Judge Joe Brown. That’s not just for good television (or bad television, depending on how you look at it).

Don’t Be an Organ Donor for the Wrong Reasons

Motorcycles usually mean higher insurance premiums, whether you wear a helmet or not. While you could have the best motorcycle insurance available, it may not be enough though. If you sustain a serious head injury from riding without a helmet, your insurance isn’t meant to cover the long-term costs of rehabilitation or a constant nurse and hospital bed at home.

Insurance companies repeatedly present an array of information proving that riding with helmets significantly reduces head injuries, but there are still riders ignoring these warnings as expected. If you’re in an accident and an adjustor believes your injuries could have been lessened by wearing a helmet, you may not get as much of a settlement. If you get a significant payout and are lucky enough to get a full payout, that means higher premiums overall for all bikes — especially for you.

David Perry, a motorcycle artist, once told the following joke: “What do you call a cyclist who doesn’t wear a helmet? An organ donor.”

Don’t let yourself be the butt of that joke and the victim of a horrible accident. Wear your helmet, carry enough insurance, and it will keep us all from being organ donors, as well as donors paying for the costs of motorcycle crashes.

Follow Desiree on Twitter @DesireeBaughman.