Our Opinion: Retain helmet restrictions

News Tribune editorial

Despite repeated rejection, a proposal to end the helmet requirement for motorcycle riders has returned to the statehouse.

The most viable argument to repeal the law is based on personal freedom.

The personal argument is hollow, however, when weighed against the widespread, societal costs connected with injuries sustained in motorcycle accidents.

Nevertheless, the proposal is revived in some form each legislative session. This week, the Missouri House gave first-round approval to a bill to exempt motorcycle riders age 21 or older from the helmet requirement.

Under existing law, all riders must wear a helmet. Violators face a fine up to $300 for a first offense and escalating punishments for repeat offenses.

Why do we, as a society, care whether a motorcycle rider wears a helmet? Why do opponents reject the argument that goes something like “it’s my right if I’m willing to take the risk?”

The answer is simple.

We all share the costs of individual risk-taking.

Helmets are designed to prevent or lessen head injuries, which can result in permanent disabilities.

Even if we ignore the human cost — losses suffered by grieving, compassionate family and friends — the monetary costs are significant.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined the measurable costs of motorcycle crashes in 2010 were approximately $16 billion.

“However,” the GAO said, “the full costs of motorcycle crashes are likely higher because some difficult-to-measure costs — such as longer-term medical costs — are not included. Victims and their families, as well as society — including employers, private insurers, health care providers, government, and others — bear these costs.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated society bears about three-quarters of the measurable costs of all motor vehicle crashes. The agency reported society’s share of the costs of motorcycle crashes may be similar or higher, in part because injuries from these crashes generally are more severe than those from other motor vehicle crashes.

If motorcycle riders bore all the consequences of risky behavior, objections would diminish.

The reality is they don’t. Although the riders may suffer the injuries, we all share the costs — in health care, insurance premiums, tax-funded long-term care facilities and more.

The reasons to reject this proposal remain.

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