The Motorcycle Helmets, Educate not Legislate Choice or Law? Freedom of choice' is not about the thrill of feeling the wind in our hair any more than a young man's choice to serve in the armed forces of this country during a time of war is about the thrill of being shot at. The issue is about returning personal responsibility to trained and experienced adult motorcyclists. It is about rejecting the proposition that the government should be allowed to impose upon the personal decisions of free men. Helmets are not the universal remedy many claim them to be.

Training riders and educating the motoring public to share the road while being aware of motorcycles are among the most effective ways to prevent accidents, injuries and deaths. The evidence for mandatory helmet use is more often narrow-minded than fact. People who have never ridden claim to know more about the pros and cons of helmet use than those of us who have been riding for decades. The scare tactics, known as the 'Public Burden Theory,' have not proven to be the case in the 30 states allowing adults the right to make their own decisions. Had this legal decision cost those states the millions of dollars in public funds and the radical insurance premium increases our opponents criticize about, it is unlikely their laws would remain unchanged. The truth is that those severe predictions do not occur.

Just as an increase in the national speed limit did not cause the carnage predicted, the modification of helmet laws to allow adults to exercise their personal responsibility has not led to a fulfillment of the doomsayers' prophecies. The special interest groups to government forcing some bureaucrat's unenlightened vision of a safe and proper lifestyle, riding on public have attempted to misdirect the intent of modifying the helmet law by preaching in a way that suggests motorcyclists would no longer be allowed to wear a helmet. Legislators in opposition to the modification who ride proclaim they would never ride without a helmet as if the absence of a mandatory law could somehow affect their judgment.' Why would a helmet less motorcyclist be more likely to inflict greater damage in an accident than a helmeted motorcyclist?' asked AMA Washington Representative Rob Ding man, after testifying in opposition to the bill. 'There is absolutely no logical explanation for this legislation. This is simply one legislator's attempt to use any means available to discourage motorcyclists from riding without helmets. The New Hampshire Motorcyclist Rights Organization has done a great job of letting legislators in Concord know their views, and AMA members have flooded the capitol with letters in opposition.' The federal government is unable to set a national helmet law policy because it is Constitutionally considered an issue under the jurisdiction of individual states.

The Federal Government attempted to influence state policy with the federal Highway Safety Act of 1966, however, when the Department of Transportation was authorized to withhold portions of federal highway safety and road construction funds from any states that failed to enact motorcycle helmet laws for all riders. By the end of the following year, 38 states had enacted a universal helmet law, and by 1975, 47 states had complied. That same year, Congress withdrew the federal requirement, and within three years, half the states had repealed their statutes. Since then, additional states have repealed the law, but some states that had initially repealed the law have re-enacted it. Many states have passed modified versions of the law, such as requiring helmets to be worn only by minors, although these laws have proven extremely difficult to enforce. The variations in helmet laws have allowed for extensive research to be performed comparing effects of the helmet law on injury statistics both within states both before and after repeal acts and between states with and without helmet laws.

State Rep. Sherman Packard (R-Rockingham), a longtime motorcyclist rights activist and the chairman of the House Transportation Committee that voted 16-0 in opposition to HB 1216, agrees. 'The bill was just poorly drafted,' noted Packard. 'The sponsor wanted to enact a law similar to the helmet modification legislation approved in Texas last year.' Texas modified their mandatory helmet law requirement to exclude riders who had either passed a motorcycle safety course or had purchased a $10, 000 health insurance policy to cover the cost of any injuries they might sustain in a motorcycle accident. Some motorcycle rights groups in the state supported the legislation. Critics at the time pointed out that accepting additional insurance requirements as a prerequisite for operating a motorcycle would suggest incorrectly that motorcyclists are a social burden of some sort and that society should be protected from the costs associated with their allegedly risky behavior.

This argument that has been advanced by many individuals and groups promoting an anti-motorcycling political agenda. 'I am 100 percent convinced that if they hadn't done what they did in Texas we wouldn't be facing these bills right now,' explained Packard. 'I don't think it's a coincidence. Some of the main testimony in support of HB 1216 came from the New Hampshire Medical Society and the New Hampshire Brain Injury Association. The sponsor of the bill was a past president of that foundation, he's on the board of directors of that foundation, and he's involved nationally with the foundation.

What they didn't realize in Texas is that organizations like the Head Injury Foundation and the Medical Society have a national network just like every interest group does. And the minute they win in one state, it's general knowledge across the country.' 'If this law had passed in New Hampshire, in essence, unless you put your helmet on you wouldn't be allowed to ride your motorcycle because the insurance required by the bill isn't even available,' Packard added. 'We " re going to see more legislation like this, and the bottom line is that you can ride your bike with a helmet on, but you can't ride your bike if they require an insurance provision that you can't comply with.' Similar legislation to require motorcyclists to purchase additional insurance in exchange for modifying existing helmet laws has been introduced in Florida and California. 47 of 50 states have some type of motorcycle helmet legislation. Only Iowa, Illinois and Colorado have no motorcycle helmet law. Twenty states require helmet use for all riders and passengers while 27 others require helmets only for riders under age 18.

Some arguments to support the law are The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that riders that are not helmeted are three times more likely to suffer a fatal head injury and twice as likely to suffer serious head injuries compared with riders wearing helmets. National figures indicate that nearly 2/3 of all motorcycle / passenger vehicle crashes involve passenger vehicle operator error. Rep. Teresa Fortier, the Crawford County Republican who sponsored the bill, said, 'We have a unique opportunity to restore the right of individual adult motorcyclists... Let's educate, not legislate.' Cited work sheet Chris Kallfelz. American Motorcyclist Association/ Legal Affairs Editor.

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