Backers say governor pledged to repeal Missouri helmet law

Thursday, May 21, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY— Advocates of repealing Missouri's motorcycle helmet law claim Gov. Jay Nixon has told them he will sign a bill allowing most adults to ride helmet-free on most roads.

The legislation would lift the helmet requirement for those 21 and older on any state highways besides interstates. Legislators tacked the provision onto a bill that also would bar insurance companies from assigning fault for an accident to someone solely for riding a motorcycle.

Nixon has received about 1,000 e-mails and letters on the motorcycle legislation — more than on any other legislative issue, said Nixon spokesman Scott Holste. Those urging Nixon to sign the legislation outnumbered those urging a veto by about 7-to-1, according to analysis of the messages Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Several messages mentioned what their authors described as promises to sign the legislation. One writer, Dean Gunter, told the AP in an interview that Nixon personally told him he would sign the bill. Gunter said the conversation occurred after Nixon delivered a speech in the Capitol, shortly before the House gave final approval to the bill in April.

Gunter, who has worked with a group trying to repeal the helmet requirement, said the governor told him that "as long as we leave it clean where it is, I would sign it."

Holste said the governor's office is reviewing legislation before deciding whether to sign or veto it. Holste said he's not aware of whether Nixon specifically told anyone he would sign or veto the helmet bill.

"The governor promised he would take a hard serious look at this bill and look at it line-by-line," Holste said.

Mark Chapman, chairman of the Freedom of Road Riders of Missouri, which supports the bill, said Wednesday that motorcyclists should be allowed to decide for themselves when conditions warrant wearing a helmet.

"It should be my choice as an adult," Chapman said. "It's not like I'm a 10 year old trying to kill myself."

Missouri lawmakers have debated the motorcycle helmet requirement for the past several years. Previous efforts to revise or repeal the law generally failed in the Senate, but this year's bill moved through relatively easily.

Since then, some opposition has mounted.

Transportation Director Pete Rahn held a news conference Wednesday outside the emergency room of a Jefferson City hospital to urge Nixon to veto the bill.

Joined by two doctors and the survivor of a 2006 motorcycle accident who contends his helmet saved his life, Rahn said repealing the helmet law could lead to about as many highway deaths as are prevented by cables in highway medians.

"This makes as much sense as going out and ripping out median guard cables on our interstates," Rahn said. "It will have the same affect: More people will die on our roads."

The Missouri Department of Transportation released the results of a statewide poll showing 84 percent supported the current helmet law and 9 percent opposed it. The survey was conducted by Abacus Associates and funded by MoDOT using federal safety money. It surveyed 2,050 people statewide by telephone April 16 to 23 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

But it seems those advocating for repealing the helmet law have been more active in sending messages to Nixon.

Those who urged him to sign the bill — some of whom said they regularly wear helmets — mentioned personal freedom and suggested that not requiring helmets could spur tourism.

For example, Tom Zerucha, of Southfield, Mich., said he avoids Missouri on long rides because he generally prefers not to wear a helmet. Repealing the helmet law could lead him to travel to Missouri, Zerucha said.

"I am far safer if I don't fatigue and don't have distractions and don't lose control in the first place, instead of having armor which might or might not be effective in any particular crash," Zerucha said.

Proponents of a veto highlighted personal examples of tragedy on the roadways.

A Kansas City motorcycle rider, who was clipped by a tractor-trailer between Lawrence, Kan., and Kansas City, described himself as a "poster-child" for why helmets should be required. He survived despite losing seven quarts of blood and spending a week in a coma and years in therapy.

In a message to Nixon, N. Patrick Poull, an opponent of the repeal, said: "I am a productive worker, a father and a grandfather, a concerned citizen able to advocate for issues in which I believe ... all this and more BECAUSE I WAS WEARING A HELMET!!"

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Greg Collins May 21, 2009 | 2:47 p.m.

Look ... if you are an adult, and are content to expect no taxpayer subsidized healthcare if you crack your walnut open riding without a helmet, I say go for it.

Freedom comes with risks.

(Report Comment)
Andrew Keightley May 26, 2009 | 9:20 a.m.

HELMETS OBSCURE YOUR SIGHT AND BLOCK YOUR HEARING. Even skullcap style helmets cause wind noise at your ears that obscure your hearing. I have owned more than 30 motorcycles, and had one major accident caused by my failure to hear a truck coming in from a blind alley. If I had not been wearing the helmet, I would have been able to avoid the accident. Ironically, the State I was in allowed ADULTS to choose (under 18yrs, helmet required). My helmet did not have a scratch on it after the accident, because I instinctively protected my head with my arms. This was a 35 mph accident that easily could have been avoided IF I COULD HEAR. THE HELMET CAUSED THE ACCIDENT.

Anyone that actually rides a motorcycle knows that there are many times in low to moderate speed riding when wearing a helmet is a BAD idea... You can hear and/or see CHILDREN, DOGS, DEER, and VEHICLES APPROACHING BETTER WITHOUT A HELMET (PARTICULARLY FROM SIDE ROADS OR FROM BEHIND OR IN AN ADJACENT LANE).

To those fear-mongers taunting with stories of "more organ donors" or trying to scare people into supporting helmet laws by overstating cost and risk... it is called natural selection. You wear a helmet if you want to (if you even ride a motorcycle!!). When you are in an accident because the helmet prevented you from hearing or seeing and RESPONDING TO a traffic situation, my condolences to your family. But DON'T pretend to be an expert on when or where it is appropriate for others to wear a helmet.

Missouri needs to join the other 30+ states allowing ADULTS to decide when and where a helmet is appropriate. GOVERNOR NIXON- PLEASE sign the bill!

(Report Comment)
ray richardson May 28, 2009 | 6:41 p.m.

I started riding a motorcycle in 69, I live in the State of Missouri, but do most of my riding out of the state because of the current law. I spend more money out of state for gas and meals than in state. Missouri has great back roads to ride and lots of nice places to see, but because of the helmet law I do not spend much time in state. The helmet does block my sight and hearing, plus to me they are just not comfortable to wear. My wife done some research and found that the helmets caused a lot of broken necks, maybe or maybe not can be argued. It should be my choice to wear or not to wear the helmet. It may sound cold, but I would rather not survive a bad crash, than to break my neck and be vegetable the rest of my life. That is not living and is a burden to my family. I fought in a war to keep this country free. It should be my freedom of choice.

Ray Richardson

(Report Comment)
Rick Becker June 23, 2009 | 11:35 a.m.

I have been riding bikes for over 40 years and feel that riding without a helmet should be up to the rider.If you go to McDonalds you have the right to order what you want and for sure that BIG MAC is gonna kill you or hey, you all remember the butter scare,EAT IT YOU DIE!!! I ride with a bunch of guys and we almost always ride to Arkansas to shed the helmet. 10 guys x $100 each to have a good time just because of the helmet, come on Missouri wise up we are sending money to other states.I wish all you do gooders would quit trying to save everybody else, if you want to wear a helmet, wear it, if you dont up to us

(Report Comment)
Will Fuller June 29, 2009 | 1:24 p.m.

I wear a helmet by choice, regardless of what various state laws require or don't require. I believe it to be an intelligent and safe choice. Being a survivor of a severe motorcycle accident because of wearing a helmet has only solidified my reasons for wearing a helmet. I have heard the stories that riders "avoid Missouri " because of helmet laws and that the helmet law costs Missouri tax revenue and that " I'd rather be dead than injured ", ask a loved one. I would hope the majority of riders have a bit more intellgence than to believe it. Repeal the Helmet law, sure , why not. Get the government out of evolution and natural selection. Soon we will have a more intelligent group of riders due to attrition.

(Report Comment)
John Ponzo June 29, 2009 | 6:46 p.m.

Regarding this antiquated law – Let us NOT forget that many, many other potentially dangerous activities do not require the wearing of a helmet. SURELY I need not list them all! It is not the position of government to protect me from myself.

It is also my understanding the new law, if passed, will still require motorcycle enthusiasts to wear a helmet on Missouri Interstate highways. This proposal makes absolutely no sense at all. What route(s) would we take to other states from our homes? The vast majority of motorcycle accidents do not occur on highways. The number one killer of motorcycle enthusiasts is the motorist turning left at an intersection cutting off the motorcyclist.

Let us also not forget the number one reason for automobile fatalities – Head Injuries! So, should the state require all motorists to wear a helmet? Of course not; that would be equally ridiculous. How would you feel if the state demanded you wear a helmet every time you entered your car??

The problem is the motorist who sadly states, “I did not see him”. Missouri should direct its efforts toward public awareness in lieu of punishing us enthusiasts. Let us also not forget, Missouri is bordered on all sides by helmet-free states and is one of approximately 20 states interfering in private lives.

Mr. Nixon: I, along with many others I know, voted you in hoping common sense would prevail.

John Ponzo

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 29, 2009 | 7:25 p.m.

"The problem is the motorist who sadly states, “I did not see him”."

A big part of the problem is the motorist that "did not see him" because they were doing something else than paying attention to the road. Smaller vehicles are more likely to get missed by a distracted driver.

Penalties for distracted driving should approximate (or exceed) those for drunk driving. It's criminal negligence (or maybe armed criminal action?) to not pay attention when operating a 4000 pound lethal weapon.


(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro June 29, 2009 | 7:39 p.m.

Smaller vehicles are more likely not to be seen, period.
(Especially if they dart in and out of traffic, enter into blind spots and in the case of bicycles, jump into traffic right off of the sidewalks.)
Bicycles, mopeds, scooters and motorcycles are distractions by virtue of their weaving in and out of traffic.
They are much more unpredictable then cars and trucks so anticipating their moves and responding quickly enough to avoid accidents place their presence on the road more hazardous then "real-size" vehicles.
Likewise, 18-wheelers might have difficulty seeing that "Smart Car," as it travels along with truckers.
"Distracted" motorists should not be penalized when an accident with a smaller vehicle happens. The smaller vehicle has put himself at more of a risk, by virtue of his size.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz June 29, 2009 | 8:58 p.m.

Ray, by that logic Chuck or anyone else walking around downtown is at fault if a distracted driver jumps the curb or doesn't see him in a crosswalk. Let's put the blame where it lays - on the driver allowing themselves to be distracted for whatever reason.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro June 29, 2009 | 10:43 p.m.

If you drive a car, you know that you are constantly scanning.
There are constant distractions.
Accidents happen.
All parties involved in that accident have a certain contributing element to that accident.
It all depends on the details of said accident.
I stand by my original post.
(The smaller you are and the more one darts in and out of traffic, the more you are putting yourself at-risk.)

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr June 30, 2009 | 5:02 a.m.

John Schultz what the hell I had not even posted on this thread and you attack me and use my name out of context once again?!


(Report Comment)
John Schultz June 30, 2009 | 8:33 a.m.

Not an attack Chuck, you are a known pedestrian and a supposed friend of Ray. Take a chill pill.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 30, 2009 | 8:45 a.m.

ray wrote:

"There are constant distractions."

Yes. That's why it's important to pay attention to the ones you can't control, like other cars, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, and yes, bicycles and pedestrians, all having an equal right to the road. That's also why it's important to minimize the distractions you can control, like radios, CD players, iPods, cell phones, mobile devices, food, drink, etc.

If I went to Target Masters to shoot, and I was eating a sandwich, talking on a cell phone, and looking at my Blackberry every couple minutes while at the firing line, they'd throw me out and never let me come back again. A car is many times deadlier than a pistol is, and that's why drivers need to be so careful.


(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr June 30, 2009 | 10:54 a.m.

John Schultz no because I had not even posted on this thread yet you include my name out of shear stupidity on your part.


I have not even commented on anything even related to this helmet law if I can remember correctly.

Does not matter who I am a friends of but to include my name where it was not even warranted is just outright ignorant on your part.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz June 30, 2009 | 11:43 a.m.

Chuck, maybe I'll explain it to you at lunch if you're not too afraid to listen.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr June 30, 2009 | 2:51 p.m.

John I was just as happy today that you kept your mouth shut as far as talking to me at lunch. I enjoyed my time just listening to the others talking.

(Report Comment)
Matt Y June 30, 2009 | 3:20 p.m.

You guys are catty.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz June 30, 2009 | 3:37 p.m.

Well Chuck, I saw no need to waste my time educating you if it was going to go in ear and out the other. Not my fault if you can't take constructive criticism. Honey, not vinegar, and try not to insult your fellow online commenters if you want to be taken seriously.

(Report Comment)
Kansas Wiley Stafford June 30, 2009 | 4:13 p.m.

They are being catty because they don't realize it's not a good idea to see one other socially just after breaking up.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock June 30, 2009 | 4:22 p.m.

Getting back on topic.

Lets see government taking away the right to smoke. CHECK. Government taking away the right not to wear a seat belt. CHECK. Government working on taking away the right to own a private enterprise. CHECK. Government taking away the right to use trans fats.(NY) CHECK. Government taking away the right of businesses to decide how much to pay workers. CHECK. Government taking private property, and continues to try to take private property. CHECK

Seems to me the government is better at taking away rights rather than giving them. Land of the free, not so much anymore. Bottom line is that more and more people are OK with the government taking one persons/groups rights away for the "public good." People will continue to stand around and allow it to happen so long as it doesn't affect them. However once it does then they will cry foul and wonder who will help them. The answer is nobody. Apathy is our nations greatest threat and our elected officials greatest asset.

The helmet law is one of the few things I have heard of recently that actually gives people rights. I have listened to people make the claims that insurance premiums will go up because of accidents. As stated far more people die from heart disease from eating too much. So far nobody has passed a law limiting the amount we eat. (note is has been attempted in other states)

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr June 30, 2009 | 4:47 p.m.

>>> Matt Y June 30, 2009 | 3:20 p.m.
You guys are catty. <<<

No in John's terms we are snarky.

John if you were not so anal maybe I might actually listen to you sometime but I have the utmost in confidence that will never ever happen.

(Report Comment)

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