Missouri lawmakers are considering measures to repeal most of Missouri’s helmet law for motorcycle riders.

Missouri Capitol

One proposal would allow licensed operators 18 and older to ride without a helmet if they have medical insurance coverage of at least $1 million.

House Republican Shane Roden of Cedar Hill says the insurance requirement isn’t fair to motorcyclists, but is an attempt at compromise.

“We don’t put that burden on anybody else in the state of Missouri, but we do that for motorcycle” said Roden.  “It’s not really fair, but if that’s the compromise that we have to work on to try to make it a little more palatable for the other side, we’ll work with them and try to get it done that way.”

Roden says the proposals, which are all similar, would impose some of the most restrictive measures in the country while still freeing riders to travel without wearing a helmet.

A Senate bill requires anyone under 18 to wear the gear, and makes the same demand of anyone over 18 who is using an instruction permit to operate a motorcycle.

One of the House measures bumps the age restriction up to 21 or calls for the operator to have completed a motorcycle safety education course, and to have possessed a motorcycle license for at least two years.

The bill specifies that a person 21 years of age or older may not be pulled over by a law enforcement officer solely to determine compliance with helmet requirements.

Motorcycle helmet laws vary widely among the states and experienced massive changes in the 50 years since they were first mandated.

Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have universal helmet laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear  protective headgear.  28 states require some motorcyclists to wear a helmet.  Three states, including Missouri neighbors Illinois and Iowa, have no helmet use laws.

Many states adopted helmet laws after the federal government, in 1967, required the statutes as a condition for states to qualify for certain safety programs and highway construction money.

But in 1976, states persuaded Congress to stop the Department of Transportation from assessing financial penalties on states without such laws.  Proponents of the measures currently under consideration contend wearing one is a personal choice issue and shouldn’t involve government interference.

Roden also claims the law is a drain on tourism dollars for the state.  “Right now we have people riding out of our state.  If we have bike rallies in Branson or the St. Louis area, they go down to Arkansas and ride.  They pop over to Illinois and ride, or one of the other many states.”

He says motorcyclists will navigate around Missouri when traveling through the Midwest just to avoid the helmet law.

Maureen Cunningham with the Brain Injury Association of Missouri says the claim that tourism dollars are being lost is unfounded.

“There is no indication that that is really the case” said Cunningham.  “Because with Nebraska and Tennessee also having also an all rider motorcycle helmet law, riders would have to avoid those states also to not have to put on a helmet.”

Statistics say states with laws allowing riders to travel without protective headgear have vastly higher fatality rates.

According to figures compiled by the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration in 2011, the fatality rate for motorcyclists involved in accidents in Missouri is 13%, while it’s 10% in Nebraska and 15% in Tennessee.  Illinois and Iowa have no helmet laws.  In Illinois the fatality rate is 74%, while it’s 94% in Iowa.

Cunningham claims it’s a public safety issue.  She and other opponents of the measures say they would also cost the state in tax dollars because the state ends up paying for people who suffer severe or debilitating injuries when not wearing a motorcycle helmet.

Representative Roden contends the claim that states without helmet laws have high fatality rates from motorcycle accidents is misleading.

“On the realistic side of it is 92% of accidents with fatalities in the state of Missouri, they’re all wearing helmets.”  Proponents’ claim helmets don’t save lives, but are just designed to reduce injury.

Bills to loosen and eliminate Missouri’s protective headgear laws for motorcyclists have been floated for years in the state legislature without success so far.