Arkansas Motorcycle Helmet Bill Stalls

February 25, 2009

A proposal requiring motorcyclists to make a choice between wearing a helmet or carrying thousands of dollars in health insurance has been thwarted by a state Senate panel.

The bill, which would have required motorcyclists to carry $10,000 in health insurance if they decide against wearing a helmet, failed to get a motion recommending its passage from the Senate Transportation, Technology and Legislative Affairs Committee.

It was the latest defeat helmet advocates have faced since the state repealed its motorcycle helmet law in 1997.

“I believe the time is going to come where we’re eventually going to make this decision as a Legislature because I believe it’s the right thing to do,” Sen. Kim Hendren said. “I think Arkansas does a pretty good job of doing what’s right in the long run.”

Motorcyclists said Hendren’s measure would unfairly target them and would also drive business away from the state’s motorcycle dealers.

“You’re killing an entire industry,” said Rodney Roberts, a Little Rock motorcycle dealer who spoke against Hendren’s proposal.

For 20 years, motorcyclists in Arkansas were required to wear protective headgear while riding. But after the federal government relaxed its own helmet requirements, the Arkansas Legislature repealed the helmet law in 1997. Twenty states, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee, require helmets for all motorcycle riders.

Lawmakers have discussed reinstating the law since 1997, but it’s gained little traction. In the meantime, hospital officials warned that not having a helmet law put more people at risk and leaves the state covering hospital treatments from preventable traumatic injuries.

Hendren, R-Gravette, in 2007 proposed requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets but the measure was rejected by the same Senate panel. Hendren said he didn’t know if he would try again with the measure.

State law currently requires motorcyclists under 21 to wear helmets, but a measure pending in the House would change that to 25 or younger. That proposal will go before the House Public Transportation Committee next week.

Another proposal by Hendren to require all trucks on the road use tarps also failed to get a motion recommending its passage before the committee. The Legislature in 2001 passed a law that required motor vehicles and trailers with open beds constructed after Sept. 30 of that year to cover their loads of sand, gravel or rock to prevent spillage.

Hendren’s proposal would have required all trucks to use a tarp and would have removed a provision in state law that allowed vehicles built prior to Sept. 30, 2001, the option of using either a tarp or installing 6 inches of freeboard around the perimeter of the load.

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