Motorcycle Helmet Laws in Missouri Relaxed

By  //  November 20, 2020

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On August 30th, Columbia resident Ricky Reeves was traveling down I-70 on his motorcycle when he was involved in a fatal four-vehicle crash. Reeves, who was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, was struck multiple times by two different cars and a tractor-trailer.

Tragic motorcycle accidents like that of Ricky Reeves are, unfortunately, not uncommon in Missouri or the rest of the United States. What makes his accident stand out, however, is that Reeves was lawfully not wearing a helmet in accordance with a new bill that took effect in Missouri two days prior to the accident.

Bill HB 1963, signed by Gov. Mike Parson, allows riders the choice of not wearing a helmet when riding their motorcycle under certain conditions. Missouri is now the 32nd state to relax helmet requirements for motorcyclists.

Elements and History of HB 1963

Not all motorcyclists meet the conditions to ride helmetless. Bill HB 1963 stipulates that a motorcyclist must be 26 years of age or older and must have proof of medical insurance and liability insurance. However, the bill also prevents law enforcement from conducting a traffic stop, inspecting, or detaining a motorcyclist just to ensure they are complying with the conditions.

Similar bills attempting to relax helmet laws have reached the governor’s office before. In 1999, Governor Mel Carnahan vetoed a repeal to the helmet law, and in 2009 Governor Jay Nixon also vetoed another similar repeal.

It was not until 2020 that the universal helmet requirement was eliminated when Mike Parson signed what is being referred to as a megabill for transportation. The bill also contains other provisions including funding for a Hyperloop testing track project and the launch of a digital driver’s license program.

Controversy Over the Bill

There is much debate over the repeal of the universal helmet requirement that had been a part of Missouri law for 52 years. Groups from both sides of the aisle have voiced their opinions about the law, which essentially comes down to the argument over freedom versus safety.

Conservative lawmakers and motorcyclist advocate groups are rejoicing over the repeal of the universal helmet requirement. A Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education for Missouri, a rider’s rights group, gave a statement after the signing of the bill.

Legislative director of the group, Tony Shepherd, asserted that the choice to wear a helmet should come down to the individual rider. Although ABATE for Missouri does not disagree with data showing the effectiveness of helmets in accidents, they believe the freedom of riders to choose is more important.

On the other hand, safety advocacy groups, such as Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, warn of the dangers of weakened helmet laws. The group cited data from Michigan in 2012, where fatalities nearly quadrupled in non-helmet crashes after the state loosened its helmet requirements.

Tara Gill, senior director of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, also stated that the impact of helmetless riding does not just affect the individual rider. Family and friends are affected when a loved one is gone, and all Missouri taxpayers are potentially affected. Health care costs will increase across the board, affecting even non-riders, she says.

The debate over helmet requirements, and more broadly freedom versus safety, is highly contested. Although neither side refutes the life-saving potential of helmets, it comes down to the reach of government intervention in individual lives.

Riders would rather have the choice to wear a helmet than have a government body require them to. Safety groups look beyond the individual rider to others who may be affected by their choices. Debate over this bill will most certainly continue for years to come.