Nebraska Motorcycle Helmet Bill Will Get Another Ride

By GRANT SCHULTE | May 14, 2013

An effort to repeal Nebraska’s motorcycle helmet law will get another ride in the Legislature, this time with a new crop of state lawmakers.

Opponents who have tried for two decades to repeal the helmet law are pushing for it again, with hopes that they can find enough votes among the 10 freshmen senators who came to Lincoln because of term limits. The closest they came was in 2010, when supporters secured a 27-vote majority but failed to hit the 33 needed to end a filibuster.

The sponsor, Sen. Dave Bloomfield, said LB393 could still go through a first-round vote before lawmakers adjourn on June 5. If the session ends before the bill clears a final vote, lawmakers will hold it over until next year. Bloomfield – who rode a dirt bike around his farm in the 1970s – picked the measure as his priority bill, increasing the odds that it will see debate.

“I always wore a helmet,” said Bloomfield, of Hoskins. “It makes good sense to wear a helmet. But the government should not be requiring it. We have to do something to protect ourselves.”

The Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee advanced the bill in March on a 5-3 vote. The committee proposed an amendment to the bill that would require riders to wear eye protection on highways, and only allow bikers old than 21 to ride without helmets. It also would apply to moped operators.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia require all motorcyclists to wear helmets, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. As of January, three states – Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire – imposed no helmet requirement.

Bloomfield said he agreed to a change in the Nebraska bill that helped secure the fifth vote to move it out of committee. The bill would ban passengers who are less than 4 feet tall, unless the passenger was at least 16 years old.

Supporters of repealing the helmet requirement argue that the state is losing tax revenue and tourism because riders often bypass the state. Omaha motorcyclist Scott Lucey said many riders avoid Nebraska because it requires helmets, while all of its border states except for Missouri do not.

“It should be a choice for people to wear or not to wear a helmet,” Lucey said. “It’s discouraging to people who want to come through Nebraska, but choose not to. People are getting tired, truly tired, of being micromanaged all the time.”

Lucey said motorcyclists ride almost every weekend in charity fundraising events for birth defects, religious groups and other causes, in both Iowa and Nebraska. Both events draw out-of-state bikers, he said, but Iowa – which has no helmet law – usually attracts at least twice as many. An annual rally in Iowa attracts more than 8,000 motorcyclists and generates more than $3 million in revenue, he said.

Medical and traffic safety groups remain opposed to the bill. Nebraska already lacks services for residents with brain injuries, and eliminating the helmet requirement would only worsen the problem, said Kate Kulesher Jarecke, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Nebraska.

Kulesher Jarecke said motorcyclists without helmets are three times more likely to suffer brain injuries in a crash. Half of all motorcyclists do not carry health insurance, she said, and many who are severely injured end up in state-fund care programs. She said many crashes are caused not by motorcyclists, but other motorists or things like blown tires.

“Wearing a helmet is the number one preventative measure,” to avoid brain injuries, she said. “As the Brain Injury Association, we’re not looking for new members.”

Patrick Lange, a Nebraska motorcyclist, told lawmakers in March about a crash in South Dakota that killed his wife and left him with permanent brain injuries. Neither was wearing a helmet, and Lange said his medical expenses totaled $1.7 million.

“I have to question if someone would have required us to wear helmets, if I would have had to suffer through all of that,” he said.

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