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House lawmakers debate repeal of motorcycle helmet law

Posted March 12, 2013

The state House Transportation Committee heard debate Tuesday on a proposal to do away with the mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists 21 and older. 

The measure, House Bill 109, is sponsored by Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, a motorcyclist himself.  

"I wear a helmet because I’m in North Carolina," Torbett told the committee. But as soon as he crosses the South Carolina border, he said, he pulls over and takes it off. "It’s a choice for me." 

Torbett suggested that, if the purpose of the helmet law is truly safety, then the state should require pedestrians and even automobile drivers and passengers to wear helmets, too. 

“It just looks safer with a helmet on," Torbett said. "Once you reach a certain rate of speed, I would doubt full body armor could protect you."

Doc Ski with the Concerned Bikers Association of North Carolina spoke in favor of the repeal.

"This is not about the helmet. We’re not anti-helmet; we’re pro-choice," he said. "It's about allowing mature, responsible riders to make the choice themselves." 

Public health advocates spoke against the proposal. 

Tom Vitaglione with Action for Children NC said a similar rollback in Florida recently led to a 40 percent increase in motorcycle crashes involving brain injury, costing the state's Medicaid system an additional $22 million.

Florida's law, like H109, still requires young riders to wear helmets. But Vitaglione said law enforcement there found the helmet age limit impossible to enforce in practice.

House panel helmet law debate House panel debates lifting motorcycle helmet law

Vitaglione also cited a poll by the Governor's Highway Safety Council showing that 78 percent of motorcyclists favor keeping the helmet law.

WakeMed Trauma Center Director Dr. Osi Udekwu said it's clear to trauma doctors that helmets reduce the risk of death and serious head injuries in motorcycle crashes at any speed.

"We feel that everybody deserves the best possible protection," he said. "If we can prevent even one injury or one death, physicians stand on that side. We should do the right thing for the people of North Carolina." 

Udekwu also warned lawmakers about the costs of more traumatic brain injuries if helmets are no longer required.

"The cost to society will exceed millions of dollars," he said. "That is a cost that we all bear." 

The measure would require motorcyclists to carry at least $10,000 in medical insurance, but Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, recommended increasing that amount, noting that "$10,000 is about the same as no coverage at all."

Torbett said he wasn't surprised that doctors are against the repeal, but he said he doesn't believe the data prove that helmets make riders any safer.

"We’re not saying don’t wear a helmet. We’re just giving you the freedom," said Torbett, adding that 31 other states have no helmet requirement for adults.

The committee didn't vote on the bill Tuesday. It could come back up next week.

19 Comments

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  • lifelegacy Mar 19, 9:18 p.m.

    Let people ride without helmets. After they've signed a legal document that prevents them from tapping into Medicaid funds if and when they have their brains scrambled and are in need of prolonged care.

  • rebelbelle Mar 18, 10:40 p.m.

    I have no problem with this--so long as before each motorcycle license is issued, the rider must sign a binding legal agreement that if they are injured while riding without a helmet, they are voluntarily giving up their right to any Medicaid payment.

    They can ride without a helmet, but I shouldn't be taxed to pay for their stupidity.

  • Wirklich Mar 13, 11:43 a.m.

    A bit off-topic, but just curious:
    Anyone ever visit Busco Beach, an ATV park outside Goldsboro? If you ever have some bizarre desire to observe a "mass of ignorance" gathered in one small geographical area, this is the place for you!

    The local EMS knows this place well as there have been MANY serious injuries and several deaths due to nonexistent safety guidelines or nonexistent enforcement of safety measures, ignorance on the part of drivers, and alcohol.

    Rep. Torbett might want to pay them a visit. It will be an insightful field trip: Guaranteed.

  • krimson Mar 13, 11:32 a.m.

    "It's obvious you don't ride a motorcycle so you don't have a say in the matter."

    I pay taxes, thanks. Now go back under your bridge Troll, and let the adults talk...

  • Wirklich Mar 13, 11:13 a.m.

    Matt, My understanding, the earlier proposal was regarding "under-age use" of tanning beds.

    Since research indicates long-term detrimental effects of tanning beds, this is not a service to which our young daughters should have free access.

    Data is also very clear that driving a motorcycle (particularly without a helmet,) often results in more immediate health consequences, disability or death.

    If someone chooses to drive/ride a motorcycle, they should be required to have long-term disability insurance with coverage for funeral expenses.

  • matt_wood Mar 13, 10:30 a.m.

    So they're all for freedom of choice when it comes to motorcycle helmets, but not when it comes to tanning beds?

  • lb27608 Mar 13, 10:20 a.m.

    "How Mr. Vitaglione can say that not wearing a helmet led to a 40% increase in crashes is absurd. Helmets don't cause crashes, its the irresponsibility of people in cars causing crashes."

    That's not what Mr. Vitaglione said. He said that it increased the number of crashes that involved brain injury. The overall rate of crashes might have been the same as before the Florida law was repealed, but more of those crashes resulted in brain trauma without the helmet law.

  • Wirklich Mar 13, 9:53 a.m.

    Helmets are proven to save lives and money, and universal helmet laws are the most effective way to increase helmet use.

    If someone wants to ride their motorcycle without a helmet, they should take responsibility for their foolishness by purchasing medical insurance that will cover the costs of their living the remainder of their life in a nursing home facility.

    But to expect the taxpayers to cover the added costs of disability, (because you feel it is “your right” to go without a helmet,) is not just.

  • Wirklich Mar 13, 9:50 a.m.

    12% of fatally injured motorcyclists were not wearing helmets in states with universal helmet laws, compared with 64% in partial helmet law states (laws that only required specific groups, usually young riders, to wear helmets) and 79% in states without a helmet law. Additionally, in 2010, economic costs saved from helmet use by society in states with a universal helmet law were, on average, $725 per registered motorcycle, nearly four times greater than in states without such a law ($198).

  • Wirklich Mar 13, 9:27 a.m.

    Rep. Torbett, please read the data:
    “In 2010, the 4,502 motorcyclists (operators and passengers) killed in motorcycle crashes made up 14% of all road traffic deaths, yet motorcycles accounted for

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