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Motorcycle Helmets

Before adjourning for the summer, the Missouri Legislature approved a bill that would require only motorcycle riders under the age of 18 to wear protective headgear. 

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

Gov. Mike Parson has the opportunity to save lives, prevent brain injuries and save Missouri tax dollars. A veto of Senate Bill 147 would accomplish this.

The Missouri Legislature voted to repeal our all-rider motorcycle helmet law during the last hours of session on May 17. SB 147 started as common-sense legislation about vehicle registration deadlines. Then the House of Representatives made it a “Christmas tree” bill by hanging more than 12 amendments on it. Parts of the bill are good. Some are not. And some parts are simply wrong for Missouri.

Unrelated amendments include: setting the renewal month of license plates for recreational vehicles, removing some vehicle inspections, allowing left-on-red turns onto one-way streets, creating a “Towing Task Force,” and increasing fees on motor vehicle registrations.

There is also an amendment to repeal the Missouri all-rider motorcycle helmet law.

SB 147 does not value life. If the current Missouri all-rider motorcycle helmet law is repealed, there will be more deaths, and there will be more brain injuries. Motorcycle helmets save lives.

With the all-rider motorcycle helmet law, Missouri has a fatality rate of 13% of motorcyclists not wearing a helmet. By comparison, that number is 74% in Illinois and 94% in Iowa, which have no motorcycle helmet laws.

The 17-and-younger motorcycle helmet law in Kansas has a 70% fatality rate for unhelmeted riders. Arkansas has a 20-and-younger motorcycle helmet law and that state’s unhelmeted rider fatality rate is 59%. Our much lower fatality rate in Missouri is not accidental — motorcycle helmets save lives.

Consider Eric. On his way to work, he entered a roadway when a truck and flatbed trailer backed out onto the road. He hit the trailer and went head first over the handlebars, over the trailer and landed on the pavement. He had multiple broken bones in his legs and had compression fractures in his back. His head was uninjured because he wore a motorcycle helmet. He is able to tell his story because he survived this horrible crash.

Motorcycle helmets prevent brain injuries. The Missouri Highway Patrol reports that 2,174 motorcyclists were injured in 2017.

When a motorcycle helmet is not worn, injuries sustained by the individual are classified as disabling or evident in 75% of the cases. If the Missouri all-rider motorcycle helmet law is repealed there would likely be an additional 330 motorcyclists who sustain a brain injury — many severe enough to require extended critical care, hospitalization, rehabilitation or life in a nursing home.

Consider Mike. He always wore his motorcycle helmet — until one night. It was raining, so he offered a friend a ride. The friend accepted only after Mike offered his motorcycle helmet. That short, quarter-mile ride changed Mike’s life. His friend walked away with a sprained wrist. Mike sustained a severe brain injury and spent weeks in the hospital, months in rehabilitation and years in job retraining. For 25-plus years, Mike has been witness to the fact that motorcycle helmets can prevent brain injuries.

SB 147 does not consider costs to taxpayers. The fiscal note for the bill, issued by the Committee on Legislative Research Oversight Division, outlines an additional $3 million needed for various state services. Costs for these services increase each year. The additional number of individuals needing services significantly increase waiting lists and wait times for the services that are desperately needed for individuals to have the opportunity to rejoin the workforce and live independently within the community.

There is likely to be a $9.9 million economic loss for Missouri from each motorcycle crash fatality. Loss of family income, emergency services, medical costs and loss of workforce productivity, in addition to the loss of life and impact on families, can be avoided.

The solution is a veto of SB 147 to save lives, prevent brain injuries and save tax dollars. Gov. Parson needs to hear from Missourians that the dangerous parts of this bill outweigh its initial good intent. Contact Gov. Parson at 573-751-3222 to request he veto SB 147 and maintain the Missouri all-rider motorcycle helmet law.

Maureen Cunningham has served since 2008 as executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Missouri, which provides support, education and recreation for persons with brain injury and family members. She can be reached at 314-426-4024 or MCunningham@biamo.org.