Friday, April 29, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
In one legislative session after another, Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, has introduced a bill that would repeal the mandatory helmet law only to see the proposal die in committee.
But this year — the fifth time he introduced the bill — things are different. As the Las Vegas Sun’s Anjeanette Damon reported, a committee chairwoman actually let the bill come up for a vote, and it passed. It was then sent to the Senate Finance Committee, which will consider financial implications of the proposal, and it’s unlikely to get any further. It’s a bad bill. There is overwhelming evidence that motorcycle helmets save lives, prevent serious injuries and save money.
Those arguing for repealing the bill say wearing a helmet is a matter of personal choice — one said it was a “liberty bill” — and Gustavson grumbled about the government telling people what to do.
For years, the federal government forced states to pass helmet laws and, at one time, most states had mandatory helmet laws. After the federal pressure relented, many states repealed or weakened helmet laws. Nevada, which passed its law in the 1970s, is one of 20 states that has a law requiring every motorcycle rider to wear a helmet. Nevada neighbors Arizona, Utah and Idaho give riders 18 years and older the opportunity to go without a helmet.
Supporters of repeal laws have consistently dismissed or understated the effectiveness of helmet laws, and they have used specious arguments and studies to support their positions. Some of them have even claimed there is no correlation between helmets and safety, but consider what happened in Pennsylvania.
The state repealed its mandatory helmet law in 2003, and within two years had seen a 19 percent spike in motorcycle registration. In the same two years, the number of head injuries requiring hospitalization from motorcycle crashes increased 42 percent. There was also a 32 percent increase in deaths from head injuries in motorcycle crashes.
It is a fact that helmets save lives and prevent injuries, as demonstrated by a major study at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, which considered 40,000 motorcycle crashes nationwide that happened from 2002 to 2006. Published this year, the study found that in cases in which riders were wearing helmets, there were 65 percent fewer traumatic brain injuries, 37 percent fewer deaths and 22 percent fewer cervical spine injuries that can cause paralysis.
There is a financial benefit to helmet laws as well. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that in 2008, helmet laws saved more than 1,800 lives and $1.3 billion in costs. The agency said Nevada’s helmet law resulted in saving the lives of 26 riders and more than $49 million in costs.
The public would pay the price of a repeal of the law. There would be higher medical costs from motorcycle crashes, meaning higher insurance rates. As well, taxpayers would pick up the bill for emergency services and the care of uninsured riders. And that’s not to mention the toll of a lost life.
Some motorcycle riders will use the old libertarian argument that they should be free to ride as they wish no matter the consequences. However, when society pays the price, it’s not their choice. The Legislature should kill the bill.