MICHIGAN HELMET LAW IN DISARRAY
MOTORCYCLISTS LEGALLY RIDING ALL OVER
MICHIGAN WITHOUT HELMETS
October 7, 1999-
Today three more District Courts statewide dismissed no helmet tickets on the grounds that the Michigan Department of State Police have not properly implemented the current helmet law. Courts in Westland (18th District Court), Romeo (42-1 District Court), and Caro (Tuscola County - 71-B District Court) today all signed orders dismissing no helmet tickets. Judge Gail McKnight of the 18th District Court, in granting the motion to dismiss filed by A.I.M. and Abate of Michigan attorney Lawrence S. Katkowsky on behalf of Douglas Karpo of Westland, stated from the bench that the Michigan Department of State Police had not done what they were mandated by law to do to properly implement the law and that therefore the case had to be dismissed. Judge McKnight pointed out that her opinion was shared by a number of judges from around the State, judging from a packet of decisions on the matter furnished her by Mr. Katkowsky.
To date judges in Bay, Oceana, Delta, Ogemaw, Tuscola, Ionia, Manistee, the Cities of Westland and St. Clair Shores, and the Village of Romeo, have all signed orders dismissing no helmet tickets on motion by Mr. Katkowsky. Other tickets are pending in many other communities and favorable rulings are expected in those cases as well.
That Michigan helmet law, MCLA §257.658 states, in pertinent part, as follows:
(4) A person operating or riding on a motorcycle, and any person less than 19 years of age operating a moped on a public thoroughfare shall wear a crash helmet on his or her head. Crash helmets shall be approved by the department of state police. The department of state police shall promulgate rules for the implementation of this section pursuant to the administrative procedures act of 1969, Act No. 306 of the Public Acts of 1969, being sections 24.201 to 24.315 of the Michigan Compiled Laws. Rules in effect on June 1, 1970, shall apply to helmets required by this act. This subsection does not apply to a person operating or riding in an autocycle if the vehicle is equipped with a roof which meets or exceeds standards for a crash helmet.
This Act, in its present form, dates back to 1970.
In 1981 the Department of State promulgated rules pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act. These rules, consisted entirely of specifications for the testing of helmets and are largely incomprehensible to a lay person. This regulation has largely been ignored for years.
In August, 1993, the Michigan State Police published a document which stated, in part,
There are many motorcycle helmets currently available that meet Federal standards, however (sic) do not appear on the list of State Police approved motorcycle helmets. Due to the large number of manufacturers and wide variety of models, it is not practical to maintain a current list of approved helmets. (Emphasis added)
The document goes on to state that the position of the Michigan State Police was that helmets meeting the FMVSS 218 are legal for use in Michigan. The document ended by stating, "The above guidelines are intended as an easy reference for enforcement purposes only. Additional standards are specified within FMVSS No. 218."
On July 10, 1997, pursuant to an FOIA request by Mr. Katkowksy, Sgt. Tim Heideman of the Michigan State Police wrote, "MSP does not compile a list of approved crash helmets." He also enclosed an "Official Order No. 49" dated April 6, 1995. That "order" essentially specifies helmets meeting DOT standards satisfy legal requirements in Michigan. But it was not adopted pursuant to the APA.
In 1997-98, largely because of defeats Mr. Katkowsky placed upon the Department through individual court cases, the Michigan Department of State Police began the process of adopting the FMVSS 218 DOT standard as the Michigan Standard according to the Administrative Procedures Act. However, when the Department was alerted by Abate Board member Brian Yinger that it had not properly noticed the matter for a hearing pursuant to the APA, the Department withdrew those rules and has not, as yet, begun the new process of promulgating same.
In 1998, in several cases before the District Court in Tuscola County, the District Judge (Judge Glaspie) ruled that until the State Police properly incorporated the FMVSS 218 into law via the APA, the helmet law was not enforceable. However, it must be noted that none of those cases involved the non-wearing of a helmet, only the alleged wearing of an illegal helmet. He issued no written opinions.
Then on March 9, 1999, the District Court for the 74th Judicial District in Bay County, Judge Craig D. Alston, in the matter of People v Scott Patrick Kuehne, Case no. 98-ST-211337-A, a matter involving the non-wearing of any helmet, issued an opinion stating:
1. The State Police were required, pursuant to statute, to create regulations to approve which helmets were required to be worn when operating a motorcycle.
2. Prior to this incident date, the police failed to promulgate the regulations.
Therefore the ticket was dismissed. That is where we are today with every District Court passing on the subject dismissing the action.
The law offices of Lawrence S. Katkowsky have been responsible for the series of victories in this fight and they will continue to represent Abate and A.I.M. members in this process pro bono during this calendar year.
Detroit News article - 3/17/00