Governor's veto will save lives

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I applaud Governor Jay Nixon's decision to veto a bill that would have repealed Missouri's helmet law. In my opinion, Nixon used his veto wisely and his action will ultimately save lives.

I was dumbfounded when the helmet law repeal made it through both the House and the Senate. Wearing a helmet when riding a motorcycle is no different than wearing a seat belt when driving a car. Many of the legislators said they supported a repeal of the law to give motorcyclists a choice. Will these same legislators now try to repeal the state's seat belt law because drivers find the devices restrictive and uncomfortable?

I feel physically sick when I travel in Arkansas and see all the motorcyclists riding around without helmets. Do they not understand what happens when a skull connects with the hard pavement of a highway? I must admit that I am often tempted to roll down my window at a stoplight and ask the helmetless rider if they have a brain at all, because if they did, I would think they'd want to protect it with a helmet. I have the same response when I see bicycle riders cruising along the sides of roads and highways without helmets.

Brain injuries are devastating and costly to individuals and taxpayers. When Florida repealed its universal helmet law in 2002, it cost a total of $44 million to treat patients who suffered brain injuries as a result of motorcycle accidents. According to statistics gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), this amount was twice what it was before the law was repealed. One academic study estimated that the cost to treat motorcycle accident victims who were not wearing a helmet is $250 million a year more than the cost of treating victims who were wearing helmets. A good percentage of those who suffer catastrophic injuries as a result of motorcycle crashes do not have insurance and their care is ultimately billed to charitable or public sources, such as Medicaid.

Crash statistics compiled by the NHTSA prove that wearing a helmet can save a motorcycle rider's life. According to the NHTSA, helmets reduce the likelihood of a motorcycle fatality by 37 percent. When states repeal universal helmet laws, motorcycle fatalities do not just increase, they skyrocket. When Arkansas repealed its helmet law in 1997, motorcycle fatalities increased by 21 percent. In Texas, fatalities rose by a whopping 31 percent the year following the repeal of its helmet law.

We have no doubt that the same trends would have occurred in Missouri if the helmet repeal law was allowed to stand. The governor can sleep a little easier knowing he saved lives by vetoing the repeal. We hope the governor's veto will lay to rest any future efforts to repeal this life-saving law. We will continue to oppose any efforts to put personal choice over public safety.

Lisa Schlichtman