Gov. Mike Parson did the right thing by vetoing a bill that would have repealed Missouri’s mandatory helmet law for adult riders, though he vetoed the measure because of his opposition to an unrelated part of the transportation bill.
It looks unlikely that the bill will be revived in the upcoming veto session. Public safety advocates can count it a win and take a breath — for a minute. But they should be prepared to suit up for the fight again, possibly as soon as the next legislative session.
The effort to rescind the requirement that adult motorcyclists wear helmets to ride on public roadways is a perennial one. It reached the governor’s desk three times in 20 years, in 1999, 2009 and now in 2019. Govs. Mel Carnahan, Jay Nixon and Parson have vetoed the measure, but Parson has long been a supporter of repeal and likely would have signed a clean measure.
Supporters of repeal frame the issue as one of freedom and getting intrusive government control out of riders’ private lives. Yet Missouri has a well-established responsibility for public safety on roads and highways. Roads are funded and built by our government that lawfully regulates and restricts their use. The operation of any vehicle on the state’s roadways is a privilege, not a right.
The helmet requirement has protected generations of Missourians since 1967. If it is repealed, we can expect head injuries and deaths in motorcycle crashes to increase significantly. Helmets reduce the risk of death by 37% and the risk of head injury by 69%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The increase in deaths and head injuries is not simply a personal decision of the individual rider. The trauma carries a big cost for society. The CDC reports that, each year, the United States could save more than $1 billion in economic costs if all motorcyclists wore helmets. Those who survive the crash with traumatic brain injuries face long recovery times and often suffer lasting impairment that requires specialized, long-term care that incurs higher medical costs than other types of injury — a cost that is borne by riders, their families and their communities.
Medical experts and public health and transportation officials all agree that the helmet law protects public safety for riders and other motorists, saving lives and benefiting communities.
Regrettably, the push to repeal the helmet law will not go away. Public safety advocates and lawmakers who understand the importance of the law must be ready to push back. The benefit of riding with the wind in your hair is not worth the cost.