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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Bill exempts adult riders from mandatory helmet wearing

Chad Sokol Murrow News Service

OLYMPIA – If adults don’t want to wear helmets while riding motorcycles, they shouldn’t have to, said supporters of a bill to lift Washington’s helmet requirement for riders 18 and older.

Washington is one of 19 states that require a helmet for anyone riding a motorcycle or moped on state highways, county roads and city streets. The bill, SB 5198, which got a hearing Monday before the Senate Transportation Committee, would allow adults to forgo protective headgear.

“The fact of the matter is that for most fatal crashes where the rider wasn’t wearing a helmet, they probably would have died anyway, even if they were wearing a helmet,” said Sen. Don Benton, the bill’s prime sponsor.

State agencies testified against the bill, citing dozens of studies. “These laws are shown to increase helmet use, save lives and save money,” said Shelly Baldwin of the Traffic Safety Commission.

But David Devereux, the chairman of the Washington Confederation of Clubs, a motorcyclists’ organization, said he didn’t believe those studies were correct. He claimed helmets do not decrease collision fatalities, and that riders are more careful when riding without them.

Capt. Rob Huss, of the Washington State Patrol, said the law would be difficult to enforce: “How are we supposed to know who’s 18 years old, not wearing a helmet?”

Twenty-eight states have laws requiring only some riders to wear a helmet, usually riders under a certain age. Three states have no helmet requirement.

“This is America, a land of liberty and choice,” said Benton, R-Vancouver. “I believe this is a liberty and choice issue.”

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