The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee heard testimony March 5 on a bill that would repeal the state’s current law requiring motorcyclists to wear protective helmets.
Under LB393, introduced by Hoskins Sen. Dave Bloomfield, motorcycle operators and passengers younger than 21 would continue to be required to wear a protective helmet, but those 21 and older would no longer be required to do so. All motorcyclists would be required to wear eye protection.
Bloomfield said many motorcyclists want the freedom to choose whether or not to wear a helmet and avoid riding through Nebraska because of its helmet requirement.
Kent Rogert, representing ABATE of Nebraska, testified in support of the bill, saying that universal helmet legislation imposes on individual rights and is ineffective.
“Individual choice, awareness promotion, education, training and eye protection are far more effective and proactive than mandating that all [motorcycle] riders wear a helmet,” he said. “Helmets do not prevent accidents, but education and awareness will.”
Robert Ailor, a motorcyclist from York, testified in support of the bill, saying that two of the states with the highest per capita health care costs have mandated helmet laws. If reducing health care costs is an argument for requiring motorcycle helmets, he said, then states with such requirements should have the lowest per capita cost.
Scott Lucey, a motorcyclist from Omaha, also testified in support of the bill, saying the current helmet requirement has resulted in a loss of Nebraska tourism revenue. The annual motorcycle rally held in Iowa attracts over 8,000 motorcyclists and generates over $3 million in revenue, he said, but many riders avoid traveling through Nebraska or attending rallies here because of the state’s motorcycle helmet requirement.
Patrick Lange, a Nebraska motorcyclist, testified in opposition to the bill. Lange said he was in a motorcycle accident in South Dakota—a state that does not require use of motorcycle helmets—that permanently injured him and killed his wife. Lange said his medical expenses from the accident totaled $1.7 million.
“I have to question if someone would have required us to wear helmets if I would have had to suffer through all of that,” Lange said. “We should not think about the [tourism] money we could gain with this bill, but how many kids could lose a mom or a dad.”
Joseph Stothert, a trauma surgeon at the University Nebraska Medical Center, testified in opposition to the bill, saying it sends the wrong message to children.
“Our children watch what we do as adults,” he said. “Promoting dangerous behavior as a rite of passage encourages our young not to wear eye protection or use helmets to prove that they are adults.”
Jason Kruger, a Lincoln doctor, also testified in opposition, saying that $1.4 billion in health care costs could be saved if universal helmet laws were passed. States with helmet requirements have only 12 percent motorcyclist fatality rates, he said, while the motorcycle fatality rate in states not requiring helmets is 79 percent.
“This bill is a giant leap in the wrong direction,” Kruger said.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.