HARTFORD, CT — A bill requiring motorcycle operators and passengers under 21 years of age to wear helmets passed the House by a 113-to-33 vote Tuesday and now moves to the Senate.
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.
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Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, told his colleagues that aside from study after study showing that riders who wear helmets are far less prone to death or serious injury, there are reasons that non-motorcycle riders in the state should back the bill.
“The cost of caring for an injured motorcyclist can reach over $1 million per case,” said Lemar, who is co-chair of the Transportation Committee. “Those costs are often extraordinary and are often borne by Connecticut residents.”
During a public hearing on the bill, officials including medical professionals, safety advocates and law enforcement officers spoke about the dangers of not wearing a helmet.
Garry Lapidus, director of the Injury Prevention Center for the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, has 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, when the issue has been raised in the past, have always argued that it’s a civil liberties question. Some have also argued it’s harder to see with a helmet on when riding.
Picking up on the motorcyclists’ argument was Rep. Kurt Vail, R-Stafford, who voted against the legislation.
He said it was not only, in his opinion, a violation of civil liberties, “but you can smoke cigarettes at 18; you can drink alcohol at 21 — there’s no consistency,” he said in the state’s definition of what an adult is.
Furthermore, Vail said: “If you can serve this country (in the armed forces) at 18 then you can decide whether or not to wear a helmet on a motorcycle.”
One legislator, Rep. Jillian Gilchrist, D-West Hartford, said the bill didn’t go far enough, stating she hopes to eventually see a mandatory motorcycle helmet law passed for any and all ages of those who ride.