AAI Says Pa. Motorcycle Helmet Legislation Headed for Wrong Turn

July 2, 2003

A bill sent to the governor on Tuesday repealing Pennsylvania’s 35-year-old mandatory motorcycle helmet law is ill-advised and should be vetoed, according to a long-time advocate of vehicular safety.

The bill (SB 259), which would remove the helmet requirement for riders over the age of 21 with at least two years of motorcycling experience, passed the House by a 118-79 vote. It now goes to Gov. Ed Rendell (D).

“The legislature has knowingly passed a measure that will result in increased injuries and fatalities, and we urge the governor not to sign this bill into law,” said Neil Malady, manager of the Alliance of American Insurers’ Mid-Atlantic Region.

“I believe it is a huge mistake to repeal mandatory helmet laws. The ‘freedom of choice’ argument that advocates of this bill use is short-sighted,” added Lynn Knauf, Alliance personal lines policy manager. “A bill intended to provide freedom of choice should not become law where that choice includes the increased probability of serious or fatal injury, and the resulting increased taxpayer burden.”

Citing statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Knauf noted that:

· A motorcyclist is 16 times more likely to die in a crash than an automobile driver. Head injuries are the leading cause of death in motorcycle accidents, and riders without helmets are 40 percent more likely to sustain a fatal head injury.
· Helmet laws that apply only to young or inexperienced drivers are not effective in reducing death rates. Research has shown that, in those states where helmet laws apply only to young drivers, death rates from head injuries remain twice as high as in states where laws are universal – applying to all drivers.
· Unhelmeted crash victims have higher health care costs compared to helmeted drivers and, studies have shown, are more likely to be uninsured, adding an additional burden for taxpayers. Studies from various hospitals in Nebraska, Washington, Massachusetts and Texas have illustrated how public funds have paid for trauma care for injured motorcyclists.
· Helmet laws are constitutional. Courts have repeatedly affirmed that helmet laws are in the interest of the general public as they may reduce taxpayer resources expended to care for injured drivers. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that helmet laws are constitutional.
· Helmet laws serve as effective reminders to wear protective gear, even among those who support helmet usage. Without helmet laws, only about 50 percent of motorcyclists wear helmets. Where helmet laws exist, between 80 and 100 percent of motorcyclists wear helmets.
· A NHTSA study cited Pennsylvania as a state with a high percentage of helmet use and a lower frequency of fatal head injuries than states without comprehensive helmet laws.
· Helmet use is a public safety issue. Maintaining the universal helmet law is consistent with other state safety initiatives such as Pennsylvania’s seat belt and child restraint laws.

If approved, the bill would make Pennsylvania the sixth state since 1995 to reportedly weaken its universal helmet law, joining Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky and Texas, where the law now applies only to riders under age 21, as well as Louisiana, where the law applies only to riders under age 18.

Nineteen other states require helmets for riders under 18, and two other states, Rhode Island and South Carolina, require it of riders under 21. Twenty states require helmets for all motorcycle riders, while Colorado, Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire are the only states that have no helmet laws at all.

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