HARTFORD, CT — It’s a new year but the same old arguments were made Monday about whether Connecticut should join the majority of states in adopting mandatory helmet laws for motorcycle riders.
Two bills before the Transportation Committee include language concerning mandatory helmet laws — and a packed hearing room heard two arguments. Proponents of mandatory helmet laws say they save lives and opponents say they are an affront to civil liberties.
The other bill would “require passengers in the back seat to wear seat belts, (2) require motorcycle operators and passengers to wear protective headgear.”
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 28 states have laws requiring only some riders to wear helmets — such as riders under a certain age. Another 19 states plus the District of Columbia all have universal motorcycle helmet laws that require all riders to wear one. Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire have no laws regarding motorcycle helmet use.
Testifying in favor of the legislation were medical professionals, safety advocates, and law enforcement officials.
CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 HB 7140: An Act Concerning Recommendations By The Department Of Transportation Regarding Seat Belts, Motorcycle Helmets, The Operation Lifesaver Program, Maintenance Vehicles And Transportation Statutes.
Lapidus said there are 90,000 motorcycle riders in the state and 1,100 crashes each year.
“Forty-seven riders die each year,” said Lapidus, who said the medical cost of caring for injured motorcyclists topped $157 million last year. He added that riding without a helmet increases the risk of death by 42% and the chance of head injury by 69%.
Also testifying in favor of mandatory helmets was John Gavalas, chief of police in Watertown and the chairman of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Traffic Safety Committee.
He said Connecticut already has a law that requires 16- and 17-year-olds to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle.
“Since we require 16- and 17-year-olds to wear a helmet, does that mean we value the life of a 17-year-old more than a 19-year-old?” asked Gavalas. “I think not,” he said answering his own question.
As far as compliance is concerned, Gavalas said in states that require motorcycle riders to wear helmets, the compliance rate is near 90%. In Connecticut, which does not require all riders to wear helmets, the percentage of riders who wear them is less than 50%.
Motorcycle riders in the audience both inside and outside of the hearing room were vocal in their opposition to the proposed legislation.
“It’s my choice,” said Ron Hutchins of Colchester.
“If it’s 95 degrees outside I don’t want a helmet over my head and have sweat pouring into my eyes,” said Hutchins, who added he was willing to live with the consequences of his choice if he is in an accident.
Fellow rider Mike Joyce, who has been riding for over 40 years, said wearing a helmet “is no guarantee of ensuring my safety anyway. It just isn’t worth it to me.”
Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, seemed to speak for many of the bikers in the audience when he mused about the proposed legislation: “Where do we get to a point where we (politicians) know what’s better for you when you are over the age of 21.”
Hwang continued: “There are so many other vices where we say it is your decision,” stating he was wondering why an exception was being considered for motorcycle riders.
“I don’t ride. I would encourage you to wear it, the facts are indisputable that it’s safer to wear a helmet. But ultimately it should be your own choice,” he said.
On the issue of passengers in cars wearing backseat seatbelts, Alec Slatky, director of public and government affairs for AAA Northeast, said Connecticut was one of the first states to pass seatbelt laws in 1985.
“Since then, seatbelts have saved thousands of lives in Connecticut and hundreds of thousands of lives across the United States. But Connecticut, once a leader in occupant protection, has fallen behind,” Slatky said. “Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia require that all back-seat passengers buckle up; in Connecticut, only those under 16 years old must do so.”