Motorcyclists in Nebraska no longer would be required to wear helmets under a bill heard by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee Feb. 9.
LB31, introduced by Hoskins Sen. Dave Bloomfield, would repeal the law that requires a motorcycle or moped operator or passenger to wear a helmet. Violation of the law is an infraction punishable by a $50 fine.
Nebraska’s helmet law has both an economic and moral impact on the state, Bloomfield said. The state loses millions of dollars annually because motorcyclists avoid traveling through Nebraska, he said, and the right of citizens to make decisions for themselves is infringed upon.
“We as a state … have a duty and an obligation to protect, and not infringe, on the principles of liberty and pursuit of happiness,” he said.
Todd Miller, a Nebraska motorcyclist, testified in favor of the bill, saying 31 states let riders decide how to protect themselves. Miller said helmets, especially full-face models, give riders a false sense of security, impair peripheral vision and insulate them from traffic noise that can benefit their safety.
Robert Ailor, a motorcyclist from York, said he doesn’t oppose helmets, just the law that mandates their use. Speaking in favor of the bill, he said accidents involving motorcyclists contribute to health care costs far less than automobile accidents and disease. Since 2005, he said, motorcycle accident fatality rates have fallen 20 percent nationally.
Scott Hoffman, a motorcyclist from Nebraska, also spoke in favor of the bill. Nebraska is a direct conduit to the world’s largest motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D., he said, but thousands of riders avoid the Nebraska route because of the helmet law. With an estimated 700,000 riders expected to attend the event this year, Hoffman said, Nebraska businesses could generate $15 to $25 million in revenue from gas and lodging purchased by motorcyclists.
Hoffman added that riding without a helmet enhances the motorcycling experience and that everyone who rides knows the risks.
“Motorcycles are dangerous,” he said. “Always have been, always will be.”
Motorcyclist Patrick Lange testified in opposition to the bill, saying he was involved in a motorcycle accident that killed his wife, left him permanently disabled and cost $1.7 million in medical expenses. He said the current helmet law is needed to help prevent others from experiencing similar trauma.
“Every day, for the rest of my life, I have to live with the disabilities sustained from choosing to not wear a helmet,” he said.
Nicholas Worrell of the National Transportation Safety Board also spoke in opposition to the bill. Because helmets are proven effective in low- and high-speed crashes, he said, they are the best way to avoid injury.
In 2012, states without helmet laws had 10 times the number of riders die in accidents than states with laws similar to Nebraska, he said. Additionally, he said, deaths, injuries and medical costs increase whenever a state abolishes a helmet law.
“When helmet laws are repealed, we all pay the price,” Worrell said.
Lori Terryberry-Spohr, brain injury program manager at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, testified in opposition to the bill. She said the estimated cost for treatment of a life-long brain injury is $4.4 million. Brain injuries often require two years of recovery, she said, but the traumatic effects on the families of victims, such as loss of income and becoming caregivers, never end.
“Helmet laws help reduce the number of people that suffer these injuries,” she said.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.