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WA Lege Day 18: Helmet law bashed, defended

OLYMPIA -- Motorcyclists lobby the Senate Transportation Committee in support of a bill that would let them ride without helmets. (Jim Camden)
OLYMPIA -- Motorcyclists lobby the Senate Transportation Committee in support of a bill that would let them ride without helmets. (Jim Camden)

Not your usual attire for lobbyists at a bill hearing, motorcyclists lobby for a bill to let them ride helmet free.

OLYMPIA – Motorcyclists made their annual plea to the Legislature to let them ride without helmets in Washington state, citing everything from accident statistics to the Constitution in an effort to overturn what they view as an infringement on their personal liberty.

If the NFL can’t design a helmet to protect their players from traumatic brain injury, asked Rich Bright of Yakima, how can anyone believe a motorcycle helmet built to decades-old standards protects a rider.

Insurance, health and law enforcement officials made what has become the annual rebuttal, that helmets save lives or lessen injuries and save overall medical costs.

But the argument for helmets is really about compassion, said Susan Tracy of the state Medical Association, for saving some motorcycle riders and their families from more serious injuries, or death.  . . 


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Senate Bill 5143 would remove the mandatory helmet requirement on motorcycles for anyone 18 or older.

David Devereaux of the Outsiders Motorcycle Club argued wearing a helmet should be a choice, just as Washington gives its residents a choice on many other things, from smoking and drinking alcohol, and more recently same-sex marriage and personal marijuana use.

“I don’t think that’s consistent,” Devereaux said. “It should be in the arena of choice rather than paternalism.”

He and other supporters had statistics to show that motorcycle accidents are a small fraction of all traffic accidents, and deaths from head injuries a small fraction of those accidents, and deaths from head injuries by unhelmeted motorcyclists a fraction of that fraction.

Donnie Landsman, a lobbyist for the motorcycle rights group ABATE, said helmets aren’t effective at speeds above 25 mph, and give some riders “a false sense of security.”

But Steve Lind of the Traffic Safety Council had statistics from the Centers for Disease Control that show helmets use lowers injuries, fatalities and medical costs. “This is the wrong time to be repealing our law,” he said.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, the bill’s sponsor asked Lind if making automobile drivers where helmets wouldn’t reduce injuries, fatalities and medical costs from car accidents, too, but the committee chairmen cut off any answer.

Tather than requiring adults to wear helmets, Bright said, the state could save more lives with better training for motorcyclists and car drivers. The Army veteran said he’s been lobbying to change the mandatory helmet law for about 20 years because he believes “we’re just regulating ourselves to death.”

But he doubts the current bill has any better chance of becoming law than in previous years.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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