House considers changing helmet law

Amy Oslica / Graphic Designer

Fatality rates have increased with the repeal of helmet laws, according to a study conducted by a professor from MU’s Harry S Truman School of Public Affairs.

Lillard Richardson studied the effects the changes made in motorcycle helmet laws had on motorcycle fatalities.

Richardson said he did the study as part of a larger research study, wherein he is studying the effects of traffic laws, such as seat belts and speed limits, on traffic safety.

“We’re trying to see which policies are effective and which ones aren’t,” Richardson said.

There is a bill in the Missouri House of Representatives that would repeal Missouri’s universal helmet law and change it to a partial helmet law, Richardson said. The bill passed in the House on Thursday.

The bill would only require motorcycle drivers and passengers 21 years and younger to wear helmets. It would be effective Aug. 28.

In the 1970s, the federal government gave financial incentive for states to adopt helmet laws.

In the mid-1990s, six states changed from a universal helmet law to a partial helmet law. Texas, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky and Louisiana began requiring only riders under the age of 21 to wear a helmet.

“In partial law states, the law is not enforced as much as it is in universal law states, and helmet usage declined in partial law states,” Richardson said.

His research shows helmet usage affects the accident and fatality rate.

Between 1997 and 2004, there were 61 fatalities more than average in motorcycle accidents in Missouri.

In 2006, there were 2,327 motorcycle accidents and 93 fatalities, Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Tim Hull said.

In 2006, 22 motorcycle drivers and 45 passengers who were not wearing helmets were killed in motorcycle accidents.

“Helmets can increase someone’s chances of not being injured or killed in a motorcycle accident,” Hull said.

While Missouri has a universal helmet law, it is difficult for police officers to catch every rider not wearing a helmet.

Accident fatalities are categorized by age group in the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s system. In 2006, drivers between 46 and 50 years old were killed the most.

“More older drivers than younger drivers are killed,” Hull said.

National motorcycle accident fatalities have been increasing each year. In 2005, there were 4,576 fatalities and in 2006, that number rose to 4,810 fatalities, stated the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Web site.

“You can certainly say that the research is clear that helmet use is beneficial,” said Eric Bolton, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“NHTSA estimates that helmets saved 1,658 motorcyclists’ lives in 2006, and that 752 more could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets,” stated the NHTSA Web site.

NHTSA is an independent research resource that provides information to states when asked.

“It’s the state’s responsibility to make their own rules of the road,” Bolton said.

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