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Helmet law on road to repeal in Missouri

By Robert Sandler
Kansas City Star

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Shortly after scores of motorcycle riders rallied at the state capitol, the Missouri House gave first-round approval this week to a bill repealing the state’s mandatory motorcycle helmet law for riders 21 and older.

"I look at this as a matter of personal freedom," said sponsoring Rep. Larry Crawford, R-California. "This is an issue that has well outlived its life."

The House tentatively approved the measure on a voice vote, but another vote is needed to send it to the Senate. A similar bill was vetoed in 1999 by then-Gov. Mel Carnahan, and other helmet proposals failed both before and after that.

Crawford said the federal government originally required states to pass motorcycle-helmet laws in 1967. But Congress repealed that requirement in 1976, and most states no longer require bikers to wear helmets, Crawford said.

Among neighboring states, Crawford said, only Nebraska still has a helmet law.

Earlier Monday, motorcyclists parked their vehicles on the Capitol sidewalks and congregated on the lawn for an annual rally. Many of them support abolishing the helmet law.

But legislative opponents claim the result would be more serious injuries, with the state often paying the medical bills.

"I believe in personal choice," said Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia. "The question here is not a matter of personal choice. It is a matter of using public roadways and state resources in order to take care of the problems that result."

But Crawford said there was little difference between mandating helmets for people riding on motorcycles rather than in cars.

"Where do we stop on cars? We could save lives on (requiring) helmets in cars," Crawford said.

Two House Republicans who are also physicians took to the floor to plead for keeping the helmet law. They said personal freedom is important but predicted that injuries would increase and the state would pay more for accident victims' recovery.

"Every freedom has a responsibility side," said Republican Rep. Rob Schaaf, a family physician in St. Joseph. "You're increasing the risk that you're going to hurt the rest of us by forcing us to pay dollars for your health care."

Republican Rep. Roy Holand, an orthopedic surgeon from Springfield, also spoke against the bill.

"I think it's a public safety issue," Holand said.

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