Let’s not mince words with our motorcycle-riding friends. You shouldn’t hit the road without wearing a helmet.
What’s more, you shouldn’t text while you drive any vehicle. You shouldn’t smoke a pack of cigarettes every day. You shouldn’t eat your weight in bacon, listen to music above a certain decibel or stand on the roof with binoculars when the tornado sirens sound.
Guess which one is expressly forbidden in the state of Missouri?
At least for now, Missouri is one of 19 states where it’s illegal to ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet. That could change in late August, if Gov. Mike Parson signs a bill, passed late in the legislative session, that eliminates the helmet requirement for adult motorcyclists in Missouri.
This legislation also loosens the vehicle inspection law in the state. If signed into law, vehicle owners would no longer play the game of pretending a cursory inspection guarantees your vehicle is road safe for the next year or two. Lawmakers reached a reasonable conclusion that a government-mandated inspection is most needed as the car or truck ages past 10 years or 150,000 miles.
On the surface, repeal of the motorcycle helmet law might be harder to justify. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that motorcycle helmets saved 1,859 lives in 2016.
Missouri recorded 120 motorcycle deaths in 2017. Indiana, a state of comparable population, no helmet law for adults and a similar climate, saw 144 motorcycle deaths the same year, indicating that head protection plays a role but an accident can be devastating with or without a helmet. We mention climate because many of the states with mandatory helmet laws are in the southeastern United States — hardly an area of government overreach — signifying that the number of warm days also plays a role in motorcycle safety.
In Missouri, where cold weather keeps the motorcycle in the garage for a chunk of the year, riders have advocated for the repeal of the helmet law for years.
Maybe they’re foolish, but maybe they understand better than the rest of us that there’s a difference between good common sense and good legislation.
If someone wants to ride without a helmet, it isn’t necessarily the state’s business. Unlike drinking and driving or texting and driving, a motorcyclist riding without a helmet only endangers a motorcyclist riding without a helmet. Remember, too, that texting while driving isn’t specifically prohibited for adult motorists.
As a matter of personal safety, we urge motorcyclists to make a personal choice to wear a helmet. As a matter of public policy, they should be able to do what they want.