JEFFERSON CITY • Backers of a bill that would get rid of Missouri's helmet requirement for motorcyclists say they want bikers to have the freedom to feel the wind in their hair. But opponents say a heavier consequence would be more cracked skulls on Missouri roads.
Though the bill attracted bipartisan criticism on the floor of the Missouri House Tuesday, it won initial approval by a voice vote. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, still has to receive final approval before heading to the Senate.
Burlison and others said the proposal promotes freedom, which should resonate with the Republican majority.
"If our goal was to put bubble wrap around everyone and to keep everyone from living their lives, we would probably not let anyone get on a motorcycle altogether," Burlison said. "Helmet or not wearing a helmet, there's injuries that occur."
Proponents also said that traveling motorcyclists avoid Missouri because of the state's helmet requirement.
But some Republicans didn't buy Burlison's pro-freedom argument. State Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, said that even though the bill requires that people have health insurance, he said no policy would cover the lifetime costs of a traumatic brain injury. Those people would end up on government assistance, he said.
"We are going to pay for this," White said. "You know, your freedom ends when it encroaches on the rest of us.
"As everyone knows, my wife is a neurosurgeon," he said. "As far as freedom goes, she's never had someone who has not had a helmet on, who she's taken care of, whose family members come and say 'boy, we're glad he or she had the freedom to ride without that helmet so they now have a brain injury.'"
Under the bill, motorcyclists under the age of 21 would still have to wear helmets. If the motorcyclist is older than 21 and passes a safety course or has had a license for at least two years, they wouldn't have to wear a helmet on state highways.
Riders without a helmet would also have to have health insurance.
The helmet bill is a mainstay in the Missouri Legislature, but it's never become law.
"I would say, that in terms of support for this bill — this wind-in-your-hair, freedom-loving, brain-splattering, taxpayer-punishing helmet law, I'll be a 'no' again this year," said state Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla.
Burlison's bill is House Bill 1464.