Parson OKs bill allowing motorcyclists to ride without helmets

Austin Huguelet Springfield News-Leader
Columbia Daily Tribune

Many Missouri motorcyclists will soon have the option of ditching helmets under legislation signed by Gov. Mike Parson Tuesday.

The idea, one long pushed by Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, will allow licensed riders ages 26 and up to go helmet-less starting Aug. 28 provided they have insurance that would cover injuries.

"It's been a decades-long fight and I'm very honored to be the legislator to finally bring it across the finish line," Burlison said Tuesday. "On Aug. 28, Missourians on motorcycles will have a little more freedom than they did the day before."

The plan was approved along with a number of transportation-related issues tacked onto a single bill late in this year's abbreviated legislative session.

Parson vetoed a similar bill with language from Burlison last year due to concerns on unrelated issues tacked onto the same legislation.

Opposing lawmakers, health care providers and other safety experts maintained the idea will lead to more deadly accidents, and they have some evidence behind them.

National Highway Transportation Safety Agency research indicates helmets saved more than 1,800 lives in 2016, and that if all motorcyclists would have worn helmets that year, 802 more people could have been saved.

Researchers in California, Texas and Arkansas have found evidence supporting that conclusion in recent decades.

Following the enactment of a helmet requirement for all riders in 1992, researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles found that the number of deadly motorcycle crashes in that state dropped 37.5 percent compared to the previous year, and that head injuries decreased significantly in both fatal and nonfatal incidents.

After Texas and Arkansas did roughly the opposite in 1997, stripping the mandate for riders ages 21 and up, researchers contracted by the Department of Transportation saw motorcycle operator deaths increase in the first full year following the changes.

And Missouri legislative research staff are expecting a rise in injuries and cost to the state's Medicaid program as injured folks spend down their resources and qualify for the program.

But supporters like Burlison have pointed out that researchers found no difference in death rates in the 12 months before and after Michigan repealed its requirement in 2012, though researchers still noted a 14 percent increase in head injuries.

Burlison has also said that for him, the issue is more about personal freedom than anything else.

“At the end of the day, it’s about individual responsibility and individual freedom,” he said. "I want my neighbor to stay safe and healthy, but it’s not my business to force those decisions upon my neighbor.”

Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him