“Motorcycle helmet could become optional for adult riders in TN”

February 27, 2013

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Older motorcyclists would have the option of riding without a helmet under a bill Tennessee lawmakers plan to take up this week.

The legislation, dubbed the “Motorcyclist Liberty Restoration Act,” would allow riders 21 and older to ride without a helmet. The bill goes before key House and Senate committees starting today.

Currently, Tennessee is one of 19 states nationwide, including most southern states, that require a helmet for all motorcycle riders. Twenty-eight states require helmets for only younger riders. Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire have no helmet laws, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

But a group of the state’s leading health care providers has lined up in opposition, arguing that relaxing the law will lead to more injuries and deaths and burden taxpayers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that states with the strictest helmet laws save three times as many lives as states with partial helmet laws.

Last year, there were 139 motorcycle fatalities on Tennessee roadways, according to the Department of Safety. In eight of those deaths, the rider was not wearing a helmet. In one death, it was not known whether a helmet was used.

“Multiple studies of states that have weakened their motorcycle helmet laws show marked increases in both human tragedy and financial costs,” AAA’s chief spokesman Kevin Bakewell said in a statement. “Tennessee and its taxpaying citizens simply cannot afford to weaken the helmet law.”

AAA is working with a number of organizations to voice opposition to the bill, including Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the University of Tennessee Medical Center, the Tennessee Medical Association and the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police.

Many riders, though, think the decision should be up to them, even if they choose to wear a helmet.

At Boswell’s Motorcycles, a 63-year-old Harley-Davidson dealership on Fessler’s Lane in Nashville, there was no shortage of opinions Monday.

“I think it is a good idea, but I would still wear one,” Scott Fowlkes, 51, of Brentwood, said of the proposed legislation.

Terry Manlove, 68, of Antioch, said he thinks it’s a good idea to require younger riders to wear helmets but not for older motorcyclists like himself. Jerry Merrell, 51, of Inglewood, said he would like to be able to ride around the block or down his own street without a helmet. He said he wouldn’t have to worry about getting a ticket.

For Willy Clark, a 67-year-old Mt. Juliet rider, the helmet laws are simply a bad idea.

“I think it ought to be a man’s choice,” he said.

The House Transportation Committee is expected to hear testimony on the bill today, while the House Transportation subcommittee plans to take up the issue Wednesday, as does the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee.

Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, is the primary House sponsor, while state Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, has backed the Senate version.