Unlike their counterparts in Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas, Missouri motorcyclists won't be allowed to feel the wind in their hair anytime soon.
Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday vetoed a bill that would have allowed motorcycle riders older than 21 to ride without a helmet on all roads except interstates. It was the second time the measure has reached the governor's desk in the 24-year effort to repeal the requirement and the second time it has been vetoed.
"I think that the bottom line is that we need to have safety out there on the roads," Nixon said. "It is a very difficult decision on safety and also the costs."
Nixon spoke about his decision during a stop in Cape Girardeau at the Missouri Veterans Home. The bill, which would have repealed a requirement in place since 1967, was passed with strong Senate support but with substantial opposition in the Missouri House.
Despite the odds, supporters said they would seek to override Nixon's veto. Greg Mullanix, legislative coordinator for the motorcycle rights group Freedom of Road Riders, also said the veto would spark a political fight that he intends to take right up to the 2012 election.
"He's already gotten my response," Mullanix said. "We will not be backing him for governor, and we will do everything possible to remove him as our governor because he broke an agreement he had with us. We take a man's word as the truth until proven otherwise."
The agreement, Mullanix said, was that Nixon would neither sign nor veto a repeal bill, allowing it to become law.
The bill had drawn opposition from highway safety advocates, including Pete Rahn, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation.
In a news release announcing his decision, Nixon cited statistics on the death of motorcyclists in states that have repealed their helmet law. Missouri is one of 20 states with a full restriction. Four are like Illinois, with no helmet requirements, while the rest have requirements based either on age, motorcycle experience, the road being used or insurance.
Using Florida as an example, Nixon's statement said fatalities per 10,000 motorcycle riders increased 21 percent after its helmet law was repealed, compared to a 13 percent increase nationwide. And he cited National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures to say that motorcycle helmets reduce the likelihood of a fatal accident by 37 percent.
"I met with a lot of folks about it and talked about it out there," Nixon said in Cape Girardeau. "I don't think it is time for us to have additional insurance costs or take a step back when it came to safety concerns."
Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said the veto is intended to save lives and reduce health-care costs. "He made the veto based on those concerns, and it is certainly not a matter of looking at this as a political issue," Holste said.
2400 Veterans Memorial Drive, Cape Girardeau, MO