By Anne Wallace Allen
The Associated Press
MONTPELIER Sure, it hurts to get hit by a bug on the
head when you're riding at 50 mph on your motorcycle.
That's happened to Dave Laramee. He's even hit a bird. But
this week, he told lawmakers he still wouldn't wear a helmet
if he didn't have to and he thinks it's time Vermont
changed its mandatory helmet law.
"I don't oppose motorcycle helmets," said Laramee,
who owns Dave's Sled Shop in Irasburg. "I think it should
be your choice."
Laramee and others testified on two bills that would alter
Vermont's 1967 motorcycle helmet law, which now requires all
riders to wear a helmet and eye protection. The bills would
exempt riders 21 and older with at least one year's experience.
One of the bills would also require those riders to show they
had health insurance to cover at least half a million dollars
in costs from one accident.
At this late date of the legislative session, there's little
chance either bill will go anywhere.
Nonetheless, lawmakers questioned Laramee and others closely
on the ins and outs of wearing helmets.
Many of the questions concerned the risks of a rider crashing
if a large bug hit them on the head as they rode.
"Could it knock you out?" asked Rep. Janice Peaslee,
Laramee assured her a bug probably couldn't - and that helmets
could do little to lower the risk of such incidents anyway.
Safe driving - for motorcyclists and other drivers - is more
important, said Rep. John Rodgers, D-Glover, a motorcyclist.
"What's primary is avoiding accidents, and good training,"
Rodgers said. "I think that has a lot more to do with
safety on the highway than seatbelts and helmets."
Laramee added that helmets may give riders a false sense
of security, encouraging them to take more risks - and said
helmets make it harder for riders to see and hear.
And he and others said Vermont's strict helmet laws discourage
motorcyclists from visiting.
"Large groups of motorcyclists come to New England each
year, and they avoid states (that require helmets),"
said Rodgers. "To pass this law would be huge for Vermont
tourism. Motorcyclists are spending a lot of money in the
Twenty states and the District of Columbia require motorcyclists
to wear helmets, according to the National Highway Transportation
Safety Administration. Twenty-seven states have helmet laws
that apply to some motorcyclists, such as teenagers. Colorado,
Illinois and Iowa have no helmet laws.
States started to relax their helmet laws in 1995, after
Congress repealed a federal law linking highway funds to such
Helmet proponents say helmets save lives, and save money
on health costs. Glen Button, a spokesman for the Vermont
Department of Motor Vehicles, said the DMV opposes the two
bills because of safety concerns, and because the laws would
be difficult to enforce.
"You don't know if a rider is 21 or under or has been
riding for a year," he said. He added that New Hampshire,
which doesn't require helmets on all riders, has many more
motorcycle fatalities than Vermont.
The NHTSA says motorcyclists without helmets are 29 percent
less likely to survive a crash, and 40 percent more likely
to die from a head injury.
Advocates for riding bareheaded dispute those statistics.
"There's no data showing that helmet laws work,"
said Mark Laurencelle of Brownington, a former motorcycle
safety instructor for the state.
Anyway, said Laurencelle and Laramee, it should be up to
the riders to weigh the risks and decide.
"I want to be responsible for my own actions,"