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Effort To Repeal Missouri's Mandatory Motorcycle Helmet Law Fails After Parson's Veto

Missouri House Chamber
File photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI
The chambers of the Missouri House of Representatives at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson vetoed a bill Friday that would have repealed the state’s mandatory helmet law because he disagreed with an unrelated portion of the proposal. 

The law would have allowed qualified motorcyclists 18 and older with proper health-insurance coverage to ride without a helmet. But the provision got tied into a larger, omnibus transportation bill covering everything from left turns onto one-way streets at red lights to motor-vehicle rental fees.

Parson, who has supported similar efforts to do away with helmet laws as a member of the House and Senate, said in a veto message that he didn’t like a provision that allowed any county, besides St. Louis and St. Louis County, to suspend driver’s licenses if fines for minor traffic violations were not paid. Parson said this would be unconstitutional because it applies to only certain parts of the state and not others. 

House sponsor Shane Roden, a Republican from Cedar Hill, said he’s “extremely disappointed” by the veto and is not sure there will be another chance to repeal the law anytime soon.

“I don’t know if we will ever be able to get that across the board, or across the finish line over there again. I don’t know if it’s possible,” Roden said. “There’s a lot of bargains and deals that will have to be cut to ever get that close again.”

For years, riders' rights organizations and some Missouri lawmakers have been trying to change the laws, and they’ve come close. It reached the governor’s desk in 1999 and 2009, but both Democratic Govs. Mel Carnahan and Jay Nixon vetoed the measure. 

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Missouri is one of 19 states and the District of Columbia that require all riders to wear helmets. Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire don’t require helmets for any riders, while the rest of the states have laws covering some riders, typically for people under the age of 18. 

“We’re on this big criminal-justice-reform kick, why are we wanting to turn people into criminals for not wearing a helmet?” Roden said. “I’ve already seen one motorcycle rider not wearing his helmet the other day I passed. They’re just not going to care.” 

Medical experts argue in favor of helmet laws, though. Skull fractures, brain bruising and hematomas are just some of the more serious head injuries riders could experience if they are involved in a crash without a helmet.

Statistics provided by the Missouri Department of Transportation show that of all motorcycle crashes in 2017, 79% resulted in injury or death, and there is a 38% increase in the likelihood of death if a rider is not wearing a helmet.

Follow Jaclyn on Twitter: @DriscollNPR

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Jaclyn is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.