CHARLESTON, W.Va — The state Senate Wednesday defeated a bill that would have eliminated the state’s motorcycle helmet law. SB 549 failed 15-19 following a lengthy debate about safety and individual rights.
The bill would have allowed motorists 21 and older to operate a motorcycle without a helmet as long as they had a license for at least five years, had $15,000 in medical payments insurance coverage and health insurance.
Supporters of the bill argued that it should be up to the motorcyclist whether to wear a helmet. “This bill is about adults making the decision to ride without a helmet,” said Senator Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson), “and if they choose to make that decision I don’t think it’s my position to deny them that.”
However, opponents argued that use of the public highways is a privilege, not a right and safety rules apply. “Why should we have speed limits? Isn’t it my right to get on the road and drive as fast as I can? Why? Because I’m putting other people at risk for my conduct,” said Senator John Unger (D-Berkeley).
Other opponents cited statistics showing that riding a motorcycle without a helmet increases the risk of serious injury and death and burdens the public with expenses associated with those injuries.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,669 motorcyclists in 2014. The agency also estimates that helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries.
A University of Michigan study found that during the year following that state’s 2012 repeal of the motorcycle helmet law the fatality rate among bareheaded riders was twice that of those wearing helmets.