Delegate seeking repeal of helmet law

PARKERSBURG – A bill to repeal West Virginia’s motorcycle helmet requirement will hit the road again next legislative session, according to a local delegate.

The issue is personal choice, but there is an economic factor, too, as motorcycle riders tend to avoid travel in West Virginia where they are required to wear helmets, Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, said.

“I understand the personal freedom issue of it,” said Kelly, who was the lead sponsor of a bill last year to change the helmet laws. It died in the Roads and Transportation Committee.

“If I was going to ride a motorcycle, I would put a helmet on,” Kelly said.

Jeff Stewart of Grafton has worked with Kelly on the legislation. At 70 years old, Stewart has ridden motorcycles for 59 years.

Stewart contends a helmet in a crash on a motorcycle at 17 mph and greater won’t help. A crash at high speed on a motorcycle is likely to be fatal regardless if a helmet is worn, he said.

“It might make you look better in the casket,” he said.

Helmets also obstruct the view, Stewart said.

The functionality of helmets has improved over the years, including being lighter and with more features, such as designs for women with pony tails, said Kenny Hardy of S&P Harley-Davidson.

The Centers for Disease Control said the single most-effective way for states to save lives and money is a helmet law. The United States could save more than $1 billion if all riders wore helmets, the agency said.

Also, the Centers for Disease Control said 1,772 lives were saved by a helmet in 2015 and 740 deaths could have been prevented had the rider worn a helmet. Helmets reduce the risk of death by 37 percent and the risk of head injry by 69 percent, the agency said.

“Helmet effectiveness has been confirmed by scientific studies, while helmet myths – helmets break necks, block vision and impair hearing – have been consistently disproved,” the Motorcycle Safety Foundation said.

While Kelly’s bill stalled in the House committee, similar legislation made it to the floor of the full Senate in the 2017 session.

It was passed by two committees before failing before the full Senate 19-15. Sens. Mike Azinger and Donna Boley representing Wood County voted in favor.

Nicknamed the Organ Donor Bill, it would have allowed riders over 21 to decide whether to wear a helmet.