April 2, 2007 – Little headway made on push to require more helmet laws

While the federal government has brought motorcycle safety concerns to the forefront with a push to encourage helmet use, state governments thus far this legislative season are showing little interest in forcing the issue.
A member of President Bush’s cabinet, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, recently spoke before an audience of motorcycle company executives in Indianapolis, asking the industry to look “at what you might be able to do” to improve rider safety.
Peters, a relatively new cabinet member, cited several national statistics that showed motorcycle accidents on the rise, with the rate of accidents outpacing the growth of new unit sales. Peters said the number of motorcycle fatalities has been going up steadily for almost a decade, with the total number having doubled since 1997.
Peters suggested improving the rate of helmet use in particular as one key to reducing fatalities, noting that helmet usage has decreased 13 percent in the past four years.
While she asked the industry for its help in getting more riders to wear helmets, she did not address the fight for requiring helmets at the state level. This legislative season, more than 20 states have either considered or are currently considering helmet use by street motorcycle riders.
That number is fairly consistent with past years, according to a Motorcycle Industry Council official.
While the number of bills is similar, there appears to be little headway being made by parties that are seeking to make helmets a requirement for street riders.
In fact, the state bill that has made the most progress thus far is in Missouri, and it seeks to repeal the mandatory helmet law for adults. That bill, in the state’s House, received initial approval March 14. A second approval would send it to the state Senate.
Other states have considered and already rejected bills that would require helmet use. Some of those include:

  • Arkansas, where a Senate bill failed to get out of the transportation committee, meeting the fate other similar bills have faced since the state repealed its helmet law in 1997.
  • Colorado: A House bill to require children to wear helmets when riding motorcycles was sent back to committee.
    Of course, several states are still looking at such bills, including Hawaii, Montana and Oklahoma.
    Currently, 20 states require motorcycle riders to wear helmets. Some of those states have fought off recent legislative attempts to repeal those laws, including Nevada, Mississippi and Virginia. The latter state also had a bill — sponsored by a motorcyclist — that would cut the state’s fine for not wearing a helmet from $250 to $25. That bill, which news reports gave a fair chance at passing, wound up dying in committee.
    Other states, including New York, Washington and Texas, are considering legislation that would repeal all or parts of existing state helmet laws.
    Probably with the state political climate in mind, Peters said the federal government was working on its own in a number of ways to improve motorcycle safety. Besides approaching the motorcycle industry, Peters said the government is conducting studies and funding grants in hoping to get a better grasp of how to improve rider safety. One of those initiatives includes the National Traffic Safety Administration bringing representatives of the motorcycle community together to discuss ways to improve motorcycle training.
    “We really want to listen and learn on what’s currently being done” in rider training, Peters said.
    Part of the training currently funded by the industry centers on the importance of helmet use, an issue that continues to be debated at the state level. PSB

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