A classic clash between freedom, safety

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Motorcyclists love the feeling of freedom they get when they take to the open road, and naturally resist anything that takes away from it.

There are stories about helmets littering the roadsides every summer, when riders no longer need their headgear when leaving the Cornhusker state on their way to the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally.

Sen. John Lowe of Kearney is sponsoring a bill to repeal the helmet law this year, saying he rode a motorcycle in college and gave it up in part because he said wearing a helmet made it harder to hear and limited his peripheral vision.

Missouri is the only adjoining state to require helmets for all riders; Iowa has no requirements and South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and Kansas only require helmets for riders younger than 18.

Lowe says his bill is "pro-freedom and pro-tourism" and would return up to $1.7 million in annual tourism revenue lost when motorcyclists avoid the state.

That benefit would be quickly eaten up by costs to the state for uninsured motorcyclists involved in accidents, say opponents. Gary Hausmann testified against the bill, saying the average cost of medical bills for motorcyclists who sustain brain injuries is $1.41 million. Hausmann said experts told him he would have died had he not been wearing a helmet in his motorcycle accident 10 years ago, and another man recounted how the motorcycle wreck that killed his wife and left him in a coma for 50 days might have turned out had they both been wearing helmets.

A study released in 2004 showed that while motorcycle helmets have improved over the years, the number of motorcycle fatalities continues to climb as state helmet laws are relaxed.

While improving technology has reduced the number of people killed in car wrecks, motorcycle accidents claim a disproportionate number of lives.

While motorcycles comprise less than 3 percent of all registered passenger vehicles, they account for 9 percent of all fatalities.

The study concluded that helmets saved 7,808 lives in 1993 through 2002, and another 4,000 riders could have lived had they been wearing helmets.

Read the original study here.

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