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Helmets should be optional, motorcyclists tell Washington senators

OLYMPIA -- Joe Sullivan (left), Keith Parkison and Rachel Ahola, Members of the motorcyclists' rights group ABATE ask the Senate Transportation Committee to make wearing a helmet optional. (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)
OLYMPIA -- Joe Sullivan (left), Keith Parkison and Rachel Ahola, Members of the motorcyclists' rights group ABATE ask the Senate Transportation Committee to make wearing a helmet optional. (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Washington lawmakers were asked to let motorcyclists decide for themselves whether they should wear a helmet and allow them to maneuver around cars in traffic jams.

Members of A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments of ABATE – a motorcycle riders’ rights group that goes by ABATE – argued that wearing a helmet should be up to them, not state law. The sponsor of a bill to make helmets optional for anyone 18 or older agreed. 

“I’m a big advocate of freedom of choice,” Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, said. Motorcyclists riding without helmets would have to have liability insurance, a certificate of deposit or a liability bond.

ABATE member Micki Robinson said helmets she has a neck injury from wearing a motorcycle helmet, which are usually designed for men. “Not everybody that rides a motorcycle is a big burly guy,” she said. 

A separate bill would set up a pilot program to allow motorcyclists to pass a car in the same lane in traffic jams, moving no more than 10 mph than the car. After two years, the Legislature would decide whether to make the law permanent.

The Senate Transportation Committee could vote on the bills in the coming weeks.

Both concepts have been proposed in the past with limited success. The lane-passing bill helmet law managed to pass the Senate last year but died in the House. Bills that would make helmets optional have been introduced every session since 2011 but have yet to get enough support to pass both chambers. 




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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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