[UPDATE June 8, 2023: Nebraska state officials told local newspaper the Lincoln Journal-Star that they've seen an uptick in motorcyclists in the state who have stopped wearing helmets with the announcement that the law has been partly repealed. The paper points out that these officials did not provide any hard data to corroborate those claims, citing anecdotal evidence instead.
However, they caution that although Nebraska governor Jim Pillen did sign the bill into law that repeals mandatory helmets for riders over 21 as long as they've taken basic motorcycle safety training courses and are either wearing eye protection or have a windshield on their bikes, the law will not change until January 1, 2024.
Until then, they ask riders to please continue wearing motorcycle helmets or else risk a fine.]
[UPDATE June 1, 2023: On May 31, 2023, the Nebraska unicameral legislature passed LB 138 with a vote of 41 to zero. The president/speaker of the legislature then signed it that day. It was also presented to Nebraska governor Jim Pillen later that day. If he signs it, LB 138 will officially become the law of the land in the state of Nebraska.
The bill has received no textual changes since our last update below, and would allow motorcycle riders and passengers over the age of 21 who had completed a Motorcycle Safety Foundation basic rider course or equivalent to ride their bikes without helmets in the state.
The law would go into effect as of January 1, 2024, and would also apply to out-of-state riders who are riding within the state's borders. All riders would also be required to wear eye protection or have a windscreen on their bike.
AAA Nebraska, which publicly stated opposition to the bill, told local news station WOWT:
"We don’t have numbers yet to show what the impact it’s gonna have, but if you look at states who have recently passed laws to repeal their helmet bill, the numbers have gone up. Most specifically Missouri, probably our closest neighbor, back in 2020 repealed their helmet law, when we look at the time frame before 2020 and after 2020, the unhelmeted motorcyclists’ deaths increased nearly 800 percent.”
AAA representative Brian Ortner went on to add, "Nobody who was opposed to this bill to repeal the helmet law is against riders. It’s about safety; that’s most important. You know, the public roadways, whether you’re on the interstate or the city streets, is the responsibility of every one of us, and when you’re in that situation, if you can protect the lives of those on the road, that seems to be the most important thing.”
Both that organization and riding mentors within the state are concentrating on the potential positive effect of more riders seeking out education as they move forward.]
[UPDATE May 25, 2023: Nebraska state senator Ben Hansen's efforts to change the state's existing motorcycle helmet law took another step forward on Wednesday, May 24. That's when the Nebraska state legislature voted 30 to five to add helmet repeal language to the text of Legislative Bill 138, which revises multiple provisions in the state's motor vehicle laws.
LB 91, which we detailed in our original piece from January that you'll find below, advanced out of the Transportation and Telecommunications committee. The text largely informs the current amendment proposed by Hansen to LB 138. Final consideration by the state legislature is still needed for these revisions to state law to go into effect.
If passed as currently written, as of January 1, 2024, riders and passengers over the age of 21 who had completed a Motorcycle Safety Foundation basic rider course or equivalent could legally ride without helmets. This law would apply both to Nebraska residents and non-residents, as long as they carried proof of MSF or equivalent course completion. All riders would also be required to either wear eye protection or else have a windshield of some kind on their bikes.
Additionally, the amendment would make helmet violations a secondary offense, meaning that law enforcement officers could only issue tickets for helmet-related offenses if the rider(s) in question had already been pulled over for another matter. LB 138 is currently undergoing its final reading in the Nebraska state legislature as of the time of writing on May 25, 2023.]
Original piece follows.
On January 5, 2023, Nebraska state senator Ben Hansen introduced Legislative Bill 91 to the 108th Nebraska state legislature. If enacted as written, this bill would repeal the state’s current existing requirement that all motorcycle riders wear helmets for certain riders. (Some crucial context: Nebraska is unique among U.S. states in that it has a unicameral legislature, and does not have two separate houses through which bills must individually pass.)
The text of this bill amends the existing Nebraska state helmet law to say that riders must either wear a helmet that meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218, 49 C.F.R. 571.218 as it pertains to motorcycle helmets, unless they fulfill two conditions. One, they must be 21 years of age or older. Two, they must have passed a Motorcycle Safety Foundation or similar approved basic rider course.
If a rider fulfills both of those requirements, this bill suggests that they should be allowed to simply ride a motorcycle as long as they have some type of eye protection in place. Acceptable eye protection is defined in the text of the bill as “glasses that cover the orbital region of the person’s face, a protective face shield attached to a protective helmet, goggles, or a windshield on the motorcycle or moped that protects the operator’s and passenger’s horizontal line of vision in all operating positions.”
The bill was referred to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee on January 9, 2023, and an official hearing date was set for January 24. On that date, testimony was heard from multiple parties, both in favor of and opposing this legislation.
Proponents argued that a requirement for a basic motorcycle rider course if riders do not wish to wear helmets would offer safety benefits. Opponents cited statistics showing that certified motorcycle helmets reduce serious injury and healthcare costs, which they argue benefits taxpayers. Additionally, a member of the Nebraska Nurses Association noted that while helmets can prevent catastrophic head injuries, eye protection as outline in the text of the bill would not provide the same benefits.
This isn't the first time that the Nebraska state legislature has taken up such a bill, with one that would repeal the helmet law entirely ultimately failing to pass muster in 2021. At the time of writing in January 2023, no further action has been taken on LB91. If you’re a resident of the state and you want to follow its developments, be sure to check the link in our Sources to read all the details on this bill.