Repeal of motorcycle helmet requirement stalls

A proposal to exempt adult motorcyclists from current state law requiring them to wear helmets in Nebraska failed to advance March 17.

Under LB900, introduced by Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins, motorcycle and moped riders 21 and older would no longer be required to wear a protective helmet. Instead all riders would be required to use eye protection such as goggles or a windshield.

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. The fee would add an estimated $1.1 million to the fund in fiscal year 2017-18. Up to 2.5 percent of the fund would be used for motorcycle safety awareness and education programs and 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 prohibit anyone under the age of 8 from being a passenger on a motorcycle on public roads.

Bloomfield said the bill would restore the right of adult motorcyclists to choose whether to wear a helmet.

“I think it’s time we give these free men and women back their right to decide whether wearing a helmet is something they want to do,” he said.

A similar bill he introduced last year stalled on the first round of debate but Bloomfield said provisions in LB900—the trust fund and the minimum age limit for passengers—are meant to address opponents’ concerns about safety and possible medical expenses for riders injured while not wearing a helmet.

Sen. David Schnoor of Scribner supported the bill. He said that in addition to restoring personal freedom, giving adult motorcyclists the choice to ride without a helmet would generate revenue through increased tourism. He said many riders making cross-country trips or traveling to the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, now avoid Nebraska because of the helmet requirement.

Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha filed a motion to bracket the bill until April 20, the last day of the session. He said every state that has repealed motorcycle helmet laws has recorded an increase in deaths and severe head injuries for motorcyclists who choose not to wear helmets. Private insurance often cannot cover the costs of head injuries and disabilities caused by motorcycle accidents, Hilkemann added, and those costs are passed on to hospitals and taxpayers through Medicaid expenses.

Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln also opposed the bill, saying that any repeal would have both a human and economic impact. She cited studies showing that riders who do not wear helmets are less likely to have health insurance and have higher medical costs due to accidents than riders who do wear them. The proposed trust fund would not be enough to cover medical expenses for any increase in traumatic head injuries among riders not wearing helmets, Bolz added.

After six hours of debate over two days, Bloomfield filed a motion to invoke cloture, or cease debate and vote on the bill. The motion failed 30-17. Thirty-three votes were needed.

It is unlikely that LB900 will be scheduled for further debate this session.

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