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Motorcycle accident involving off-duty police officer

A police officer looks over a wrecked motorcycle at the scene of an crash at Goodfellow Boulevard and Natural Bridge Avenue on Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — Doctors, nurses and insurers are among those who strongly urged Gov. Mike Parson to veto a plan that would have allowed motorcyclists to ride without helmets in Missouri.

According to a series of letters obtained by the Post-Dispatch, medical experts and highway safety groups all called on the Republican to veto a wide-ranging transportation bill that included a repeal of the Show-Me State’s helmet requirement.

“On behalf of the physicians, residents and medical students who comprise the Missouri State Medical Association, I urge you to veto SB 147, which would repeal Missouri’s motorcycle helmet law,” wrote association president Dr. James DiRenna Jr. in a May 24 letter.

In vetoing the legislation last month, however, Parson focused his decision on a provision in the bill that would have changed the process for stripping drivers of their licenses if they don’t pay fines for minor traffic offenses.

Parson said allowing such suspensions would go against many of the changes in the criminal justice system that were enacted after the events in Ferguson in 2014 following the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Lawmakers could attempt to override the veto when they return to the Capitol next month, but the sponsor of the helmet law said it was doubtful the GOP-led House and Senate would try to reverse the Republican chief executive.

Under the helmet law change, riders under the age of 18 would still have been required to wear a helmet. Those over 18 could go without if they had health insurance.

The letters panned the idea as an invitation to more death and expensive-to-treat head injuries.

“States that have repealed their all-rider motorcycle helmet law always experience an increase in rider deaths, serious and disabling brain injuries and medical costs usually borne by taxpayers and the state,” wrote Catherine Chase, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Dr. Jim Blaine of Springfield wrote that repealing the law could potentially affect anyone who drives on Missouri highways.

“When I see the victim of a motorcycle versus vehicle crash in the emergency department, I often also see the non-injured driver of the vehicle that collided with the motorcycle, and that person is almost always emotionally traumatized,” Blaine wrote.

Michael Right, vice president of AAA St. Louis pointed to increases in motorcycle fatalities in the year after helmet laws were repealed in Arkansas and Texas.

“We only have to look to other states that foolishly repealed their helmet law to understand the consequences of repealing an all-rider helmet law,” Right said.

“The best way to treat trauma is to prevent it from occurring in the first place,” added Dr. David Hoyt, executive director of the American College of Surgeons.

Hilary Segura of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association told Parson that the helmet law saved more than $670 million in costs.

“Missouri’s all-rider motorcycle helmet law is saving lives, preventing life-long brain and bodily injuries and containing associated crash costs,” Segura wrote.

The legislation has been on the wish list of motorcycle rights groups for years, but it has rarely gained traction.

In 2009, former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, also vetoed a helmet bill, citing the danger and cost of an increase in head injuries.

Joe Widmer of Napolean, who belongs to an anti-helmet group known as Freedom of the Road Riders, said he has heard rumors about a possible veto override attempt, but is unsure that will happen.

He downplayed concerns about injuries and fatalities, saying he believes many would still wear helmets, regardless of the law.

“It’s a freedom of choice issue for us,” Widmer said.

The legislation is Senate Bill 147.

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