It’s tempting to laud Gov. Mike Parson for vetoing a bill that would have let motorcyclists in Missouri ride without helmets. The veto made it appear that Parson was turning his back on an unwise proposal that he supported while he was in the Legislature. Alas, Parson’s stated reasoning for the veto wasn’t about helmet safety at all, but about his objection to unrelated provisions of the bill.
The result, for now, is the same: Hundreds of motorcyclists who would have died or sustained brain injuries won’t. But the roundabout way in which this bad idea was stopped could give its proponents hope for another attempt. Safety advocates must be ready to fight it.
Missouri is one of 19 states that require all motorcycle riders to wear helmets. It’s why the fatality rate for motorcycle accidents in Missouri is 13%, while the rates for Illinois and Iowa, which both allow helmet-less riding, are 74% and 94% respectively. The cause-and-effect isn’t terribly hard to figure out.
Even those riders who survive accidents while not wearing helmets are far more likely to sustain brain injuries and face lifetimes of difficulty. As Maureen Cunningham, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Missouri, noted in a Post-Dispatch op-ed earlier this month, injuries sustained in motorcycle accidents without helmets are classified as disabling in some 75% of cases.
Those injuries create societal costs — higher insurance rates, loss of productivity, publicly funded long-term medical care — that we all have to pay. Against all that is the no-helmet lobby’s demand for riders to be able to feel the wind in their hair.
Parson supported repeal of the helmet law when he was in the House and Senate, and there’s no indication his views have changed. According to his veto message, he rejected this bill over several unrelated changes it made to transportation-related laws in Missouri.
Among them was a change in procedures for revoking licenses when drivers fail to pay fines for minor traffic offenses. Municipal court reforms instituted after the unrest in Ferguson in 2014 were supposed to end that kind of abusive leveraging of fines. Parson was right to prevent those reforms from being rolled back.
But repeal of the helmet requirement would be, in itself, at least as problematic. At a time when the dangers of drunk driving and failing to wear seat belts are almost universally understood, it’s unsettling that some people are still determined to allow a danger as great or greater.
Unfortunately, those who want to repeal the helmet law are likely to look at this near-victory as an indication that a stand-alone repeal would work. Opponents shouldn’t wait for that to hit the floor in Jefferson City. They should begin aggressively educating the Missouri public, now, about what an awful mistake that would be.