It happened that same day a year ago when, all of a sudden, motorcycle drivers in Michigan could legally ride without a helmet.
Jim Lumley was on his way to work on his Kawasaki Ninja 650. He had selected that model because it offers a more upright stance to see the road better.
It was about 7:30 a.m., and even though the sun was up, Lumley had his lights on -- not so he could see the road, but so other drivers could see him. Lumley considered himself a safe, experienced driver.
He approached the intersection of Parsons and Hastings roads in Traverse City, heading east, at around 25 miles an hour, and there was a car there facing him, waiting to make a left turn.
As he reached the intersection, Lumley believed the driver had seen him. He proceeded through.
“I saw him sitting there. There was no indication that he didn’t see me,” Lumley said.
STRAIGHT INTO THE WINDSHIELD
That other driver, however, didn’t see the motorcycle coming his way. He started to make a left turn into Lumley’s path.
Lumley hit the car just as it began its turn. He struck the right front side, and went over his bike and onto the hood. His leg caught his handlebars and his head crashed into the windshield.
“I’ve ridden a motorcycle for a long time,” he said. “I always thought that I could lay it down if something was going to happen.”
The low-speed crash turned out to be high-stakes for Lumley, who suffered a serious injury to his knee. He also believes he owes his life to the helmet that cracked when it hit the windshield.
It was a high-end, $350 helmet, with an air cushion that inflated to further protect his head. The helmet was destroyed in the crash.
“Literally, I could have legally been riding without a helmet, but I chose to wear a helmet,” he said.
The Michigan law that repealed the helmet requirement for bikers took effect April 13, 2012, the day of Lumley’s crash.
The law allows riders age 21 and over to ride without a helmet if they have had a motorcycle endorsement for over two years or pass a safety test, and if they carry at least $20,000 in first-party medical benefits insurance.
A University of Michigan study estimates that since the law took effect, helmetless motorcycle riding has led to 26 more deaths and 49 more serious injuries in the state, according to an Associated Press report.
The U-M study has prompted a call from insurance and medical groups to reestablish the state’s helmet law, but proponents of the repeal argue it’s too early to draw any conclusions about the data and note that last year’s remarkably long period of warm weather led to more motorcycles on the roads.
Lumley believes helmetless motorcyclists in Michigan have a disadvantage compared to drivers without helmets in many other states.
In Michigan, motorcyclists can typically get out on the road for only four or five months of the year.
This means drivers of other vehicles in Michigan have much less time to get used to motorcyclists sharing the roads and are less likely to stay on the alert for the presence of bikers.
ON HIS PHONE, A BLOODY REMINDER
Now, on his phone, Lumley carries a gruesome photo of his leg, which was slashed open at the knee as he went over the handlebars.
He carries it to show people how serious the crash was and how lucky he is that he was wearing a helmet that day.
A witness later told Lumley what she saw at the intersection that morning and it gave Lumley a better understanding of how the crash occurred.
The woman explained that she was driving a late model Chevy Camaro, painted bright bumble bee yellow with black stripes.
She told Lumley that the driver who turned in front of him was looking at her car instead of the road.
The ordeal left Lumley an outspoken opponent of the helmet law repeal.
“I think it’s ridiculous, personally,” he said. “They’re saying (helmet laws) take away our choice, but the burden this accident has put on people...”
There is the time spent away from work and family, the cost of medical treatment, the cost of lost lives.
Lumley said he also feels bad for the guy who hit him and cites him as one example of what the repercussions of a crash can be.
That driver felt so bad about causing the crash, Lumley said, he couldn’t go to work for several days. Imagine how bad that guy would feel if he would have killed someone?
LOTS OF REASONS FOR HELMETS
There are so many reasons to wear a helmet, Lumley said.
Think of all of the distraction drivers have today -- phones, text messages, navigation systems.
He recently passed someone -- in his car -- and looked over and saw the driver typing a text message. That person could easily swerve into another lane and cause a motorcycle to crash.
There are so many ways for drivers to take their eyes off the road, to swerve for a second into another lane.
“If it’s a car (hitting a car), we bump and we exchange phone numbers,” he said.
It’s been a little over a year since the crash.
For the past eight months, Lumley has been in physical therapy to get back the use of his leg.
He’s rehabbed at Superior Physical Therapy in Traverse City and after spending the first couple of months after the crash laid up, he’s made a lot of progress.
The 54-year-old used to play basketball three times a week and raced mountain bikes. He’s just recently gotten back in the court.
Lumley, a CAD tech for Gosling Czubak Engineering in Traverse City, has married his girlfriend since the crash. In addition to his 25-year-old twin daughters, he is now also the father of three step children, ages 11, 14, and 17.
LIFE IS COMING BACK
Along with his leg, his old life is coming back.
Back in February, when registration for Mud Sweat and Beers mountain bike race was still open, Lumley decided he wasn’t sure whether he would be ready for the May 4 event.
Now, a few days before the race, he wished he would have signed up.
“I actually probably could have done it this year,” he said. “I hesitated, and I wish I would have just done it.”
But there is one thing he won’t do. He won’t ride a motorcycle again. “My wife says no,” he said. Besides, he believes the odds are stacked against motorcycle riders in Michigan because of the lack of attention drivers pay them.
“I’d love to (ride again), but I don’t know if I trust the drivers,” he said.