Nine to one.
That’s the ratio by which Missourians support the state’s current law requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets. A recent telephone survey conducted by Abacus Associates shows 84 percent of Missourians are in favor of the law, with 79 percent strongly supporting it. Despite this and the lives that will be lost, the Missouri General Assembly has passed a bill to allow motorcyclists over the age of 21 to ride without a helmet. Even among those who have ridden a motorcycle in the past year, support for the current law is high: 75 percent.
I’m disappointed the legislature has chosen to change an existing law that has been saving lives for more than 40 years. Changing the law is senseless; it will cause needless deaths. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 42 additional lives were saved in Missouri in 2007 because of motorcycle helmet use. Do we really want to sacrifice 42 people – friends, relatives, neighbors – so that a minority of motorcycle riders can feel the wind whipping through their hair as they cruise Missouri highways?
That’s about the same number of lives we have saved with the guard cable we’ve installed in the medians of our interstates. Repealing the state’s helmet law makes as much sense as ripping out the guard cable.
The passage of Senate Bill 202 couldn’t come at a worse time. Motorcycle crash deaths in Missouri are on the rise, increasing 13 percent last year. While traffic fatalities as a whole are down significantly in Missouri, motorcycle fatalities have nearly doubled since 2004.
Repeal of the helmet law will cause even more senseless losses. A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Study of 10 states found that when the helmet laws were repealed, helmet-use rates dropped from 99 percent to 50 percent and motorcycle fatalities increased significantly.
The final decision on whether this law goes into effect now lies with our governor.
Pete Rahn is the director of the Missouri Department of Transportation. The statistics cited in this column are from Abacus Associates, which interviewed a random sample of 2,050 adult residents of Missouri by telephone between April 16-23.