by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
Senate Bill 202 is awaiting signature on Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk. Introduced by our local senator, Kurt Schaefer, the original intent of the bill was to prevent insurance companies from assigning blame to motorcycle riders involved in an accident simply because they were riding a motorcycle. SB202 started out as a good measure to provide more equitable settlements after an accident occurs.
However, during its travels through the General Assembly, Sen. Schaefer’s bill was amended so that it would also repeal Missouri’s law requiring all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet while on public roads; only those under 21 or riding interstate highways would still have to wear a helmet if SB 202 is signed into law.
For those concerned with public safety, this bill has caused much ado. The public safety reasons for the governor to veto this bill are numerous and compelling. Here are just a few statistics about helmet use:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently found that in 10 of the states where helmet requirements were lifted, helmet-use rates dropped from 99 percent to 50 percent and motorcycle accident fatalities dramatically increased. For example, within two years of Florida rolling back its helmet requirement, motorcycle fatalities increased by 81 percent and hospital admissions for riders with head injuries increased by 82 percent. And the cost for treating motorcycle injuries in Florida has doubled.
The same organization estimates that 42 lives were saved in Missouri in 2007 because of motorcycle helmet use.
A Missouri Department of Health study of motorcycle crashes found that 7.7 percent of the riders without helmets died compared to 2.5 percent of those wearing helmets. Thirty percent of riders without helmets had to be admitted to a hospital compared to 20 percent of those with helmets. The same study estimated a savings to Missouri’s health care system of $2.7 million due to helmet use alone.
Evidence that helmet use prevents death and injury has been around for decades — that is why the helmet requirement was implemented in the first place. But for decades there has also been a small and very vocal minority of Missourians — less than 10 percent, according to a recent poll — calling for repeal of the helmet law. This group frames its argument as a call for freedom: Yes, motorcyclists are more…