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Bikers without helmets? Bill in Missouri legislature would OK that for some

Mo. State Trooper on his motorcycle.
Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio
Mo. State Trooper on his motorcycle.

A Missouri House committee is considering yet another proposal to loosen the state’s universal helmet law for motorcyclists. State Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, is sponsoring a bill (HB 1464) that would allow motorcyclists over the age of 21 to opt out of wearing a helmet if they meet certain requirements.

Supporters of the bill say it's time Missouri join the 28 states with optional helmet laws.

“We’ve been fighting this for close to 30 years,” said Bill Kempker of Freedom of Road Riders of Missouri. “You know, it’s not taking away anything from anybody. We’re not telling you you can’t. We are telling you we want our choice whether or not we want to wear a helmet.” 

Burlison, who is a member of Freedom of Road Riders of Missouri, suggests lack of training and experience causes fatalities in motorcycle incidents, not the absence of a helmet. 

“If we were to do anything that would help people be more safe, the data indicate that encouraging people to get training or have more experience is far more beneficial than being a nanny state and telling people what to wear when on the motorcycle,” said Burlison.

Burlison and his supporters say they’ve compromised to get this measure through the General Assembly this session. Instead of proposing an optional helmet law with no strings attached, this bill would require motorcyclists to take a two-day training course and prove they have two years of riding experience, plus vehicle and medical insurance.

Opponents say these regulations will place an unnecessary burden on law enforcement officials. Brad Thielemeier, legislative director of the Missouri State Troopers Association, says the bill’s requirements are too convoluted to put into practice. Even more, enforcing the helmet law for riders under the age of 21 would be nearly impossible.

“If we were pulling someone over just under the suspicion that they weren’t of the right age, that would be unconstitutional,” said Thielemeier. 

The impact of this bill on Missouri’s health-care system was also scrutinized during the hearing. 

Maureen Cunningham, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Missouri, passionately disagreed with Burlison. She said the number of motorcycle deaths in states with optional helmet laws are dramatically higher than in Missouri.

“Motorcycle helmets — they save lives, and they prevent disabling and evident brain injuries,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham also said that riders who suffer from crashed-induced brain injuries can cost the state an average of $2.2 million a year. 

Opponents urged lawmakers to consider the many people affected by motorcycle crashes, not just the motorcyclists themselves.

“Nobody rides alone. There’s a cost to your family. There’s a cost to the public,” said Ray Pierce, director of Missouri Motorcycle Safety Training Program. 

No action was taken on the bill. 

Mallory Daily is an intern at the State Capitol Bureau for St. Louis Public Radio. Follow on Twitter: @malreports

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