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Helmet Law Happenings - Missouri's proposed Motorcyle Helmet Law Change in 2009 and the Governor's Veto - The Helmet Law Debate Continues

In Missouri, all motorcycle drivers and their passengers are required to wear helmets on state roadways. Missouri has had a universal helmet law in effect since 1967, requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet at all times.

On April 2009, the Missouri House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 202 that would have relaxed the helmet law to allow persons 21 years of age and older to operate or ride motorcycles or motortricycles without helmets on all highways in the state, with the exception of interstates. The proposed law included a provision to impose a $25 fine on those who chose to violate the new law and operate or ride a motorcycle on an interstate without a helmet. The bill also had a provision prohibiting insurance companies from automatically placing fault with motorcyclists involved in an accident simply because they were not wearing a helmet, even if their actions did not contribute to the collision.

Thereafter, the Missouri Department of Transportation spent $33,000 to conduct a public opinion poll, which found that a mojority of the respondents favored the existing Missouri law requiring motorcycle helmets.

On July 2, 2009, Governor Jay Nixon vetoed the Senate Bill 202 that would have repealed the Missouri motorcycle helmet law. His main reasons for vetoing the bill here safety and cost. The governor issued a news release stating two concerns that led to the veto: 1) the increased healthcare costs due to increased injury that would have resulted from the repeal, and 2) Missouri motorcycle rider safety. The governor's office cited National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) data reflecting the negative consequences of repealing a helmet law, such as Florida's repeal in 2002 that resulted in a cost to treat motorcycle accident head injury victims of $44 million. One study estimated the cost to treat motorcycle accident victims who were not wearing helmets to be $250 million a year more than riders involved in motorcycle accidents while wearing helmets. Likewise, studies show that motorcycle rider fatalities skyrocket with helmet repeal. Helmets reduce the likelihood of fatality by 37%. He noted that s
tudies suggest that 50% of motorcyclists riders have no health insurance, and Missouri and its taxpayers foot the medical bills when those motorcyclist are involved in an accident. The Governor’s office noted that "head injuries are the leading cause of death in motorcycle accidents" and that helmets have saved the lives of 20,000 motorcyclists over the past two decades.

Helmet law has long been debated, both in Missouri and nationally, and the reasons for those supporting and those against helmet laws are well known:

Reasons Against A Helmet law:


Civil Liberty
 

For those who oppose the helmet law, it is about choice. Simply, they believe they should have the freedom to choose whether or not to wear a helmet.State Revenue

 

State Revenue
Those against the helmet law argue that Missouri is losing revenue to bordering states with more relaxed or nonexistent helmet laws when motorcycle riders move from Missouri to those states.


Driver and Rider Education More Important Than Helmet Regulation
Those who oppose the helmet law believe that motorcycle driver and rider education is more important than passing and maintaining helmet laws. Rider education reduces accidents whereas helmet laws do not. E.g., The Freedom of Road Riders of Missouri, Inc. group.


Reasons In Support of A Helmet law:


Motorcycle Driver and Rider Safety

Studies and experience show that helmet laws reduce serious motorcycle driver and rider injuries and fatalities.

Cost

Studies and experience show that a significant portion of the increase in serious injuries and resulting medical costs due to helmet law repeal are borne by the state and its taxpayers.


The Larger Argument - The Helmet Debate Continues

Whether or not there should be a helmet law is part of a much larger argument about whether it is appropriate for states to regulate relatively high risk activities for the protection of their citizens and for costs savings or whether a citizen should have the right to make his or her own cost benefit analysis and arrive at his or her own decision whether or not to wear a helmet. Governor Nixon’s veto of the 2009 bill passed by the Missouri House of Representatives to repeal the Missouri helmet law that has been in effect since 1967 is not going to make this issue go away any time soon. Additional efforts are certainly anticipated.

 

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