Health board passes on bike helmet bill
Although several resolutions circulating the state are aimed at killing a bill that would offer some adult motorcycle riders the choice of riding without a helmet, Guilford health officials have not yet taken a stance.
The N.C. Association of Local Health Directors is one group opposed to a change. The Guilford County Board of Health recently discussed a resolution the group offered, but took no action. Several other medical groups also oppose a change.
“All agreed that the helmet law saves lives, and it would be a step backward to weaken it,” said Health Director Merle Green.
Helmets have been required for all motorcyclists since 1968. North Carolina is one of 19 states where safety helmets are mandatory. But riders older than 21 with a motorcycle license for at least a year could ride without a helmet if they also complete a motorcycle safety course and have proper insurance that would cover at least $10,000 in medical benefits, according to HB 109. The bill also would decrease the fine from $135.50 to only $25.50 for riders who violate the law. Four states — Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and New Hampshire — have no helmet law, and 28 states have partial laws that apply to certain riders, such as those under age 21. If passed, the bill would make North Carolina only the third state to require additional insurance for riders.
Last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that universal helmet laws resulted in more than $3 billion in cost savings in crash-related deaths and injuries. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, another $1.4 billion could have been saved.
And in states without a helmet mandate, motorcyclists who die are six times more likely to have been riding with a helmet than in states with helmet laws.
Despite the opposition, many groups support the bill, including North Carolina’s Concerned Bikers Association, also known as “A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments.”
“We favor repeal to give riders a choice,” said Kenneth Moon, president of the Davidson County CBA/ABATE. “Keeping helmets for riders under 21 would be good. Experience counts for riders. We want to give people the right to decide.”
South Carolina and Florida are models for those who want to relax helmet laws.
“It can be a boost to the economy in those states when riders go to the beaches and know they don’t have to wear a helmet,” Moon said.
Fatality statistics can be misleading, Moon said.
“States without so many restrictions have more riders, so when you look at the statistics, it looks like more fatalities until you look at the deaths compared to registrations,” said Moon, who has ridden motorcycles since he was 15. “In many accidents, a helmet does not protect you anyway if somebody hits you.”
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Risks: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that helmets reduce the risk of a fatal motorcycle accident by 37 percent. And 78 percent of motorcycle riders support the North Carolina mandatory law, according to a recent survey by the Governor’s Highway Safety Program.
Fatalities: North Carolina is consistently ranked in the top 10 states with the most motorcycle fatalities, according to data collected by the Governors Highway Safety Association and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Through the first nine months of 2011, there were 116 fatalities on motorcycles in North Carolina, compared to 147 in 2010, according to the governors association.