Statehouse sequel.

You know that old saying about “if at first you don’t succeed?” That’s apparently a thing that Missouri state senator Eric Burlison has taken to heart. He’s the same legislator who worked unsuccessfully to repeal Missouri’s mandatory helmet law in 2019. New year, new bill, and Senator Burlison is back at it in 2020 with the slightly modified SB 590

The text of SB 590 is written in a similar vein to Maryland’s SB0237, in that it mainly repeals mandatory helmet requirements for adult riders. The biggest differences are that Missouri’s bill requires those under the age of 18 to wear helmets (in Maryland, the age cutoff is 21), and Missouri’s bill also requires riders who choose not to wear helmets to have medical insurance. 

On the face of it, that last part might seem like it addresses the social burden argument. After all, you might reason, if someone has health insurance, then they’re not using taxpayer-funded emergency services if they require medical care in the event of a crash. However, the text of this bill renders that provision largely unenforceable, and ultimately without teeth. The fact is, you can write any requirements you want into legislation, but if you can’t or won’t enforce them, they ultimately do nothing productive. Here’s some of that text. All emphases are mine.

This act provides that persons under the age of 18 who are operating or riding as a passenger on a motorcycle or motortricycle shall wear a helmet when the vehicle is in motion. Similarly, a person who is 18 or older, is operating a motorcycle or motortricycle, and who has been issued an instruction permit shall wear a helmet when the vehicle is in motion. No political subdivision of the state shall impose a protective headgear requirement on the operator or passenger of a motorcycle or motortricycle. No person shall be stopped, inspected, or detained solely to determine compliance with these provisions. (Section 302.020.2)” 

It goes on. “This act also provides that qualified operators who are 18 or older may operate a motorcycle or motortricycle without a helmet if he or she is covered by a health insurance policy or other form of insurance which will provide the person with medical benefits for injuries incurred as a result of a motorcycle or motortricycle accident. Proof of such coverage shall be provided on request of law enforcement by showing a copy of the qualified operator's insurance card. No person shall be stopped, inspected, or detained solely to determine compliance with these provisions. (Section 302.026)”

Writing it this way is like slapping a tiny little fingertip bandage over a gaping wound in the concept of “the public good.” Also, as I mentioned when writing about the Maryland bill, NHTSA found that laws requiring minors to wear helmets are difficult to enforce—and also that fewer than 40 percent of fatally injured minors end up wearing helmets in those states because of that fact. Freedom most definitely isn’t free, but some also conveniently overlook the fact that it doesn’t mean ‘freedom from consequences.’ 

I think a large number of people need to think honestly about who else gets hurt because they insist upon the freedom to not wear a helmet. Even if you don’t ultimately care about anyone outside your circle, that’s still a group of people outside yourself to contemplate, and who you no doubt care deeply about. It won’t just be you in the hospital or morgue; it’ll be them, too. 

Will a certified helmet save you from either crashing or getting hurt? Of course not. However, if you do, you won’t get hurt as badly, and are quantifiably less likely to die in most cases. Don’t just take my word for it; check the data

Sources: Missouri State Senate, Boonville Daily News, NHTSA