It’s a perennial favorite at the State Capitol, an issue easily recognized by the swarms of supporters wearing black leather vests, jeans and many with long hair and beards. They are members of Freedom of Road Riders, the issue is whether the legislature should repeal the state’s helmet law, which was enacted nearly 30 years ago.
Supporters in the Senate say if they pass it, the governor’s likely to just veto it again.
Sen. Kevin Engler (R-Farmington) tells Leanna Depue, highway safety director for the Department of Transportation, that he’s tired of the government telling people how to live their lives.
Depue says there are 80 to 100 motorcycle deaths per year in our state (last year there were 80), and that number would climb if a helmet law were not in place. Engler, who says he doesn’t ride anymore, tells her, “I’ll support this, and I’ll vote for it again, but it’ll just get blocked by the Governor, and it just seems like Groundhog’s Day.”
Engler continued to say that “If we wanted to put everybody inside every day and wrap them in bubbles, think about how great your statistics would be … They would never get to go anywhere, but they would never die, think of the zero collisions. Life would suck, but … the statistics would be great.”
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Stauffer (R-Napton) also challenges the law, saying the risk of head trauma exists at every turn in life, yet the state doesn’t mandate helmets in vehicles, or on scooters, or horses, to name a few. Stauffer says he’s no stranger to head trauma, that his wife suffered a serious brain injury from being thrown from a horse. Yet, he says, they have not changed their lifestyle, which was a personal choice.
Stauffer added that he thinks the helmet law is a matter of the majority forcing its will on the minority, which is not the proper function of the government.
Sen. John Lamping (R-St. Louis) also says he supports the legislation, telling Depue that riders without helmets are not hurting other people, so it seems it should be a personal choice. He did, however, tell the Freedom of Road Riders members in attendance that if and when they are injured and become dependent on government services such as Medicaid or Social Security Disability, “You lose a little bit of that freedom.”
Freedom of Road Riders members filled the room in support of the bill. Medical associations and brain injury groups joined MoDOT in opposing the measure, as well as Dr. Gregory Folkert from the Lake Saint Louis Emergency Department.
Folkert tells the committee he sees motorcycle accident victims from both Missouri, which has a helmet law, and Illinois, which does not. He says it makes a compelling case why Missouri’s helmet law should remain intact. Folkert also says he is a victim of a fatal motorcycle accident himself — his father, who was not wearing a helmet at the time, was killed when Folkert was a young boy.
Governor Nixon most recently vetoed a move to repeal the helmet law in 2009, saying keeping the law in place would save numerous lives, and would save the state millions of dollars in increased health care costs.
Sen. Dan Brown (R-Rolla) is proposing the helmet law be repealed for riders 21 and older. He’s also a doctor, a veterinarian. His district includes Fort Leonard Wood, which comprises a large number of motorcycle riders.