Motorcyclist lawmaker makes fifth run at repealing NC helmet law

Posted April 8, 2019 6:32 p.m. EDT
Updated April 8, 2019 6:53 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina is one of 20 states that require helmets for all motorcycle riders and passengers, but Rep. John Torbett is trying once again to change that.

Torbett, R-Gaston, has proposed leaving the decision of whether to wear a helmet up to riders and passengers 21 or older who have ridden motorcycles for at least a year. Helmets would still be required for younger and less experienced riders and passengers.

"You ought to be able to have that opportunity to choose whether to wear one or not, as long as it's not impacting someone else's freedoms," Torbett said Monday.

His bill will be before the House Transportation committee that Torbett chairs on Tuesday morning.

Torbett often like to rides his motorcycle down to South Carolina, where helmets aren't required.

"It's not the hair blowing in the wind. It's just the freedom to get out there and hear the noises," he said.

Biker Joe Vassallo, who says he has tried various helmets, including some with face masks, agrees that the the choice of wearing a helmet doesn't affect anyone but the rider. But he said he suspects most motorcycle riders will choose to wear one, whether it's the law or not.

"Well, there isn't a second chance if you don't have it on," Vassallo said. "Your body will take a blow on the cement. Your head won't."

Torbett said that, unless it's a low-speed crash, a helmet probably won't offer much help anyway.

He has backed similar bills every session since 2013, and, so far, they haven't succeeded, in large part because medical groups and and public health and safety leaders say the helmet law saves lives.

Last session, for example, the repeal never came up for a House vote after trauma surgeons and safety advocates lined up to testify against it.

Torbett said he's expecting the same opposition this year, but he noted his bill picks up a little more support every time around.

"You can't not support freedoms. This is my freedom bill of the year," he said.