As of March 1, 2023, the state of Tennessee currently has a mandatory helmet law in place for motorcyclists. However, that could change for some riders if two state legislators have their way. Two bills have been introduced in the Tennessee House and Senate chambers that would, if enacted, exempt certain riders over the age of 21 from any requirement to wear a helmet while operating a motorcycle.
The two bills—HB 0042, introduced by Representative Jay Reedy and SB 1450, introduced by Senator Kerry Roberts—currently contain substantially the same language. The pair of bills seek to create a four-year pilot program that would no longer require riders aged 21 and older to wear helmets by law, as long as they do not receive health insurance through the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare. As currently written, the bill would require riders under age 21, as well as riders over the age of 21 who are insured under TennCare, to continue to wear helmets.
The American Automobile Association, more commonly referred to as AAA (or ‘triple A’), strongly opposes the bills. “Any attempt to weaken our current law would really open the door for our roads to become a riskier place to drive for motorcyclists,” AAA spokesperson Megan Cooper told local news station WKRN. “We understand there are opinions. We understand those opinions vary, but I think the biggest thing to keep in mind is that the data shows that motorcyclists wearing helmets — it helps prevent injuries, it helps prevent fatalities,” she said.
The controversial motorcycle helmet bills aren’t the only motorcycle-related legislation currently in play in the Tennessee General Assembly. Earlier in the legislative session, state representative Jeremy Faison introduced HB 1454, while state Senator Terry Gardenhire introduced SB 0298 at the same time. Both bills would amend existing Tennessee state law to allow lane filtering under certain specific circumstances.
Looking up both of these bills, their summaries identically state that their abstracts completely summarize each bill (and they are identical, as the text of the helmet pilot program bills is). The abstract here reads, “As introduced, authorizes two-wheeled motorcycles to be operated between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane on certain limited access highways and interstate highways when the speed of traffic is 25 miles per hour or less.”
The two helmet bills were originally scheduled to be heard on the House Transportation Subcommittee and Senate Transportation and Safety Subcommittee calendars on March 1, 2023. However, they were both deferred until March 8, 2023. Coincidentally or not, March 8 is also the date that the lane filtering legalization bill is currently scheduled to be heard on the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee, as well. While the corresponding lane filtering bill in the House was assigned to the Transportation Subcommittee there, its status has not changed since that initial assignment on February 7, 2023, and it is not currently listed with any further action date that is in the official public record.
If you’re a Tennessee resident, you may want to reach out to your state legislators regarding these pieces of legislation.