Helmet repeal advances in Senate

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Legislation is further along than ever after clearing committee.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Motorcycle enthusiasts who have tried for years to repeal a Missouri law requiring them to wear helmets saw their effort move forward Wednesday, with a Senate panel's endorsement of the measure.

The Senate Transportation Committee endorsed a bill to repeal the requirement for anyone 21 or older to wear a helmet. Younger riders still would need helmets. The measure cleared the House a couple of weeks ago.

But it traditionally faces greater hurdles in the full Senate, where just one or two opponents can stall a vote. Still, the bill is further along in the legislative process by early April than it has gotten in the past few years.

Supporters of the repeal say it's an issue of personal freedom. The measure cleared the committee on an 8-2 vote, with some Democrats joining all Republicans in support.

Missouri is one of 20 states that currently require helmets for all motorcycle riders. But those who want to repeal the law say most of Missouri's neighboring states don't require adults to wear helmets, and that Missouri's requirement deters motorcycle riders from traveling to Missouri or holding events here.

"Illinois riders will not come into Missouri because they've got to buy a helmet," said Tony Shepherd of St. Louis, a motorcycle rider and chairman of ABATE Missouri, which supports repealing the requirement.

Opponents say helmet use will go down if adults are no longer required to wear them, and deaths and serious injuries from motorcycle crashes will rise -- increasing state taxpayer-funded health care costs. They also say helmet laws are tough to enforce if they depend on the age of the rider.

"Other states have given us very good examples of what will happen," said Leanna Depue, Missouri Department of Transportation highway safety director. "This bill literally will result in people losing their lives."

Shepherd said if the doomsday scenarios of opponents were true, more states that got rid of the helmet requirement would have reinstated it.

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