JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri motorcyclists would benefit from several bills awaiting the governor's signature this year, but a top-tier priority to waive the state's helmet law for most adults didn't make it out of the proposal parking lot.
Under a measure passed this session, law enforcement wouldn't be able to set up checkpoints targeted to pull over motorcycles, which supporters said will protect riders at motorcycle rallies from being singled out.
Another measure declares May as motorcycle awareness month, something Katherine Fox, legislative director for the motorcycle advocacy group Freedom for Road Riders, said would promote road safety. And she also lauded one that allows the vehicles to have brake lights that change brightness as long as the visual effect is not more than 5 seconds, saying it will help drivers to identify motorcycles on the road faster.
Despite these successes, a longstanding effort to change the state's motorcycle helmet law stalled again this year. The bill would have let motorcycle riders over age 21 and older to ride without a helmet; under current law, no helmet garners a maximum $25 fine.
The House passed the helmet measure 94-63 earlier this month, but it didn't reach the Senate floor before lawmakers adjourned last week.
Supporters argued adults should have the freedom to decide whether to wear a helmet on the road.
"If we can remove the fallacy that it is only the helmet that is protecting our lives, we might be able to focus on awareness and avoiding the crash rather than the safety of the crash," Fox said.
One opponent agreed that it was a freedom issue, but questioned whose freedom was at stake. Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, said during House debate that allowing adults to ride without a helmet could cost the state in medical bills if they suffer serious injuries.
"It is a freedom issue for the rider, but it is not that they get to choose how safe they want to be. It's that they get to choose how much money that the taxpayers are going to have to pay for them to have this option," he said.
In 2011, there were 634 serious injuries and 81 fatalities in crashes involving motorcycles, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation. Eight of the fatalities and 59 of the serious injuries were riders who did not have a helmet.
Nixon vetoed a legislation in 2009 that would have lifted the helmet requirement for motorcycle riders ages 21 and older except on interstates, saying it would make riders less safe and increase the state's medical care costs.
Even without the helmet law changes, Fox said the legislature's session was "absolutely a success" for riders, noting the bills passed could help other drivers be more cognizant of sharing the roadway.
"We like to educate our fellow neighbors that we are not the greasy bikers of yesteryear. We are professionals," she said.