JEFFERSON CITY — Motorcycle riders will have to keep wearing their helmets in Missouri.
In action Friday, Gov. Mike Parson vetoed legislation that would have lifted the requirement.
As a former member of the House and Senate, Parson supported legislation that would have allowed riders to go helmetless as they cruise through the Show-Me State.
In dumping the proposal, however, the governor cited a separate, unrelated provision in the law as the reason he is rejecting it.
In his veto message, the Republican focused his decision on a part of an omnibus transportation bill that would change 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.
Parson said the legislation “significantly undermines” that 2015 legislation.
“The community of people who support this are going to be heartbroken and rightly so,” said Sen. Eric Burlison, a Republican from Springfield who sponsored the Senate version of the legislation.
Although the measure could be resurrected by lawmakers in the annual fall veto session, Rep. Shane Roden, R-Cedar Hill, said it is doubtful the Republican-led Legislature would try to nix the governor’s decision.
“It is not going to be overridden,” said Roden, who sponsored a similar helmet bill in the House.
He called the governor’s move disappointing and said it could lead to more people simply ignoring the helmet requirement.
“I think more people are just going to break the law,” Roden said.
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 legislation has been on the wish list of motorcycle rights groups for years. In 2009, former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, also vetoed a helmet bill, citing the danger and cost of an increase in head injuries.
Supporters, including Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, said the government shouldn’t require riders to wear helmets, even though they do provide protection in accidents.
More than 5,000 motorcyclists died in 2017 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA, a branch of the Federal Department of Transportation, found the crashes result in billions of dollars in hospital bills each year, costs that are lower in states that require all motorcyclists to wear helmets.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, states that have approved similar laws have seen fatalities increase by more than a third.
According to National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 1,859 motorcyclist lives were saved in 2016 because they were wearing helmets. Moreover, if all riders had worn helmets, an additional 802 lives would have been saved, the report notes.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, helmets reduce the risk of head injuries from motorcycle crashes by 69% and deaths by 37%.
Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have universal helmet laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Twenty-eight states require only some motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Three states — Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire — do not have a motorcycle helmet law.
According to the institute, when California imposed a helmet law covering all riders in 1992, the number of motorcyclist fatalities dropped by 37%.
When Texas changed its law in 1977 to require helmets only for riders younger than 18, the state saw a 35% increase in motorcycle fatalities. The Lone Star State reinstated its helmet law in 1989 and saw serious injury crashes decrease by 11%.
In 1997, Texas again weakened its helmet law, requiring helmets only for riders younger than 21. Operator fatalities increased 31% in the first full year following the repeal.
The legislation is Senate Bill 147.