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!!"