Editorial: Tennessee's Helmet Law doesn't need change

Tennessee’s “universal” helmet law passed in 1967. The law is simple. Anyone who wants to ride a motorcycle in Tennessee must wear a helmet. Some lawmakers, however, want to change that.
Mar 26, 2014

There are a number of things that don’t require change. 

Take, for instance, the U.S. Constitution. Sure, amendments were made during the 200-plus years it has existed, but the true spirit of the document remains intact and should forever. 

Certainly not equal in significance, but important nonetheless is Tennessee’s “universal” helmet law passed in 1967. The law is simple. Anyone who wants to ride a motorcycle in Tennessee must wear a helmet. 

Some lawmakers, however, want to change that. House Bill 0044, introduced by Crossville Republican Cameron Sexton, would allow motorcycle riders ages 25 and older to obtain a special sticker waiving the state’s requirement to wear a crash helmet while riding.

To obtain the sticker, a motorcyclist would have to carry liability insurance coverage of at least $25,000 for one person, at least $50,000 for bodily injury to or death of two or more persons in any one accident and at least $15,000 for damage to property in any one accident. The motorcyclist would also have to have at least $25,000 of medical payment coverage.

Additionally, the motorcyclist would have to complete a motorcycle safety education course approved by the department of safety and must have been legally operating a motorcycle for at least two years prior to applying for the sticker.

The sticker would cost the motorcyclist an additional $50 each year, with $15 of that fee going to the issuing clerk’s office, $5 going to the state general fund and the remainder going to the impaired drivers trust fund.

What’s next? Should we do away with seat belts in automobiles or reduce their safety standards, as well?

Just like seat belts, the Centers for Disease Control estimates Tennessee’s existing helmet law saves 46 lives a year and $94 million. The CDC ranks Tennessee sixth in the nation for lives and economic costs saved due to helmet use. 

According to a peer-reviewed study published in the American Journal of Public Health, Pennsylvania had a 66-percent increase in deaths caused by head injuries and a 78-percent spike in head injury hospitalizations following motorcycle crashes. 

Fatalities in Kentucky increased by 58 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In Florida the number of hospital admissions of motorcyclists with head, brain and skull injuries increased by 82 percent after its helmet law was relaxed.

Simply put, freedom is one thing none of us should take for granted, but sometimes we need a little help making good decisions. Riding a motorcycle without a helmet isn’t a good choice. 

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