Missouri lawmakers are once again debating whether motorcyclists should be required to wear a safety helmet on the state’s roads and highways.

Hearings were held Tuesday in the House Committee on General Laws to discuss two Missouri House bills that would ease the state’s restriction on operating a motorcycle without a safety helmet.

Missouri is one of 19 states in the country that currently has a “universal” helmet law, which requires motorcyclists of all ages to wear a helmet.

If it passes, House Bill 576 would allow motorcyclists over the age of 21 to drive without a helmet, and the second bill, HB 588, would prohibit a law enforcement officer from stopping a motorist solely to enforce the helmet law.

The issue has been discussed for more than 20 years in Missouri, and individuals on both sides of the issue have their justifications.

Jake Angle, the public information officer for the Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop H, said motorcycles aren’t equipped with the same safety features that automobiles have, like airbags, seat belts, and a frame designed to keep passengers safe.

“Does it keep you safer on a motorcycle if you’re wearing a safety helmet? Obviously,” he said. “Anything that you can have on your body, whether it’d be a helmet, padded jackets, pants and other stuff that people can wear to reduce injury and make themselves safer. The Highway Patrol, we’re going to enforce that law. If it’s a law in the books, we’re going to enforce it and we’re going to see to it that it’s enforced with zero tolerance.”

Large motorcycle rallies that take place in cities like Daytona Beach, Florida, and Sturgis, South Dakota, happen in states that have relaxed helmet laws.

Larry Jackson, who has lived in Missouri his whole life and bought his first motorcycle in 1971, believes that if the two new House Bills pass they will bring in more tourism and money to the state.

“People will travel several hundred miles to stay out of Missouri rather than deal with our helmet laws,” he said. “So Missouri is missing out on a great deal of revenue. You know these guys coming through buying gas, eating, getting motels and possibly stop to play tourist.”

In past years, some repeals of the helmet law have cleared the legislature, only to be vetoed by former Gov. Jay Nixon.

“Most of us agree anyone under 21 years old should be wearing a helmet,” Jackson said. “I am 66 years old with over 40 years of experience. I think it should be my choice.”

Jackson said he plans to ride his bike this weekend when it’s above 60 degrees, and both sides of the helmet issue agree that the traveling public always needs to be on the lookout for motorcycles.

“Your avid motorcycle riders, they take advantage of any chance they get to get on their bikes and ride,” Angle said. “We just encourage people to be safe and watch out for our motorcycle riders, and also that our motorcycle riders take all necessary precautions to make themselves safe.”

Nathan Ellgren can be reached at nathan.ellgren@knpn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @NPNowEllgren.