Helmet debate back on at the Capitol


February 16th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – The debate over Nebraska’s helmet laws continues at the Capitol. It’s a long-standing argument over personal freedoms and safety concerns. And in a hearing Monday, both sides of the debate tried to enlist current economic conditions to argue their point of view.

Nebraska's 23-year-old motorcycle helmet law is back on the debate table at the Capitol (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

The proposal by Omaha Senator Bob Krist is the latest in a long line of proposals to weaken or repeal Nebraska’s 23-year-old law requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets. Krist’s proposal would repeal the requirement for riders 21 and over. Those from 15 to 21 would also be exempt if they took a safety class, but riders would still have to wear eye protection.

The bill before the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee drew support from Todd Miller, president of ABATE, or American Bikers Aiming Towards Education. Miller said it should be up to individual riders to decide whether or not to wear a helmet.

“I have to ask you, and I ask myself, is it the responsibility of government to protect its citizens from themselves? Is it really even possible?” he asked. “I think not. Moreover, if an attempt by government is made to do so, where will it stop? Helmets on pedestrians, while crossing streets?”

Several federal government officials were among those opposing the bill. A representative of the National Transportation Safety Board cited six states that have repealed or weakened helmet laws in recent years, and said they have seen an increase in deaths and injuries. Senator Deb Fischer of Valentine, chairwoman of the Committee, asked Romell Cooks of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about why the federal government recommends, but doesn’t require, helmet laws.

“I’m from the federal government and I know what’s best?” she asked ironically. Cooks responded to laughter in the hearing room. “Right. I’m trying not to say that… Because what we think is, Nebraska does know best, ‘cause you’ve had your law for a very long time, and you’ve saved lives over a lot of years.”

Opponents of repeal also cited the need to avoid increased Medicaid costs of caring for accident victims in tough economic times. Meanwhile, supporters of the bill predicted increased tourism revenue from motorcyclists traveling through the state if the helmet law is repealed.

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