Motorcyclists 21 and older would no longer be required to wear a helmet in Nebraska under a bill heard by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee Feb. 1.
LB900, introduced by Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins, would repeal current state law requiring all motorcycle or moped riders to wear a protective helmet. It instead would give riders 21 and older the option to wear eye protection. Bloomfield made LB900 his priority bill for the session.
The bill would increase the motorcycle registration fee by $19 to fund a new Motorcycle Safety and Brain Injury Trust Fund, which would be used to assist Nebraskans with brain injuries. Up to 2.5 percent of the fund would be used for motorcycle safety awareness and education programs. No more than 10 percent would be used to administer the fund.
The bill also would increase the fine for operating a motorcycle without a license, and anyone under the age of 8 would be prohibited from being a passenger on a motorcycle on a Nebraska highway.
Bloomfield said the bill represents a compromise between motorcyclists who want to choose whether to wear a helmet and those who say repealing the current law would result in additional motorcycle injuries and fatalities.
“Remember that this is a compromise,” Bloomfield said, “a compromise being offered, backed and funded by the motorcycle riders of the state of Nebraska.”
Mike McHale, a motorcyclist from Bellevue, supported the bill, saying that many riders want a choice whether to wear a helmet. He said helmets are essential equipment in motorsports but have drawbacks for those riding on the street or highway. Helmets can cause fatigue on long rides, are uncomfortable in the heat and can restrict a rider’s vision, McHale said.
“If you’re on an 800-pound machine and a 4,000-pound machine is coming at you, you definitely want to be able to see it,” he said.
Lori Terryberry-Spohr, a clinical neuropsychologist and brain injury program manager at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, opposed the bill. She cited National Highway Traffic Safety Administration findings that all states that weakened or repealed laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets saw an increase in injuries and fatalities. She said riders who do not wear helmets are three times more likely to suffer serious brain injuries than those who do wear them.
“Why then would we want to pass a law that we know without a doubt will increase the number of brain injuries in our state, resulting in increased economic burden and more pain and suffering?” she said. “The facts tell us this will be costly and deadly.”
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.