Guest Commentary

Kansas City would have more deaths and injuries with repeal of motorcycle helmet law

Share the Road: Watch for motorcycles

Crashes involving motorcycles are often the fault of a motorist failing to yield the right of way or caused by a motorist who is distracted.
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Crashes involving motorcycles are often the fault of a motorist failing to yield the right of way or caused by a motorist who is distracted.

The Kansas City area has one of the highest counts of deaths and serious injuries from motorcycle crashes in Missouri. Between 2012 and 2014, these accidents caused 57 deaths and 366 serious injuries in the metropolitan area alone.

With its current motorcycle helmet law that applies to all riders, Missouri has a fatality rate well below that of Kansas, where the helmet law applies only to riders 17 and younger.

Injuries sustained by motorcycle riders not wearing helmets are classified as “disabling” or “evident” in 75% of all incidents.

These are not just numbers — they are people.

Despite these facts, the Missouri legislature voted to repeal our all-rider motorcycle helmet law on May 17 during the last hours of the session. Senate Bill 147 started as commonsense legislation about vehicle registration deadlines. But then the state House of Representatives made it a “Christmas tree” bill by hanging more than a dozen amendments on it, including changing the renewal month of license plates for recreational vehicles, removing some vehicle inspections, allowing left turns at red lights onto one-way streets, creating a towing task force and increasing fees on motor vehicle registrations.

It also included an amendment to repeal Missouri’s all-rider motorcycle helmet law. That means there would be more deaths, more brain injuries and more costs to taxpayers. There would be more fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and siblings who die in a motorcycle crash. They would no longer celebrate birthdays, graduations and weddings, or get to enjoy welcome-home hugs.

There would also be an additional estimated 330 motorcyclists in Missouri who sustain a brain injury every year. And many of those injuries would be severe, leading to extended critical care, hospitalization, rehabilitation or even life in a nursing home.

I know an experienced motorcycle rider named Allan. His experience helped him in 2008, when the front tire of his motorcycle blew out just before a hairpin turn. He struck an automobile and ended up in critical condition. Because of his brain injury, Allan endured four months of intense medical care and rehabilitation. But he was finally able to return to work.

Allan knows he is one of the lucky ones because he was wearing his motorcycle helmet. He is alive today to tell his story and serve others.

The personal choice not to wear a motorcycle helmet affects more than the motorcyclist. It impacts entire families — and also Missouri taxpayers. The Missouri Committee on Legislative Research Oversight Division issued its fiscal note for SB 147, outlining an additional $3 million that would be needed for state services such as Medicaid, the Department of Health and Senior Services’ Adult Brain Injury program, the Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs program, the Healthy Children and Youth program and the Medically Fragile Adult Waiver program. The costs for these services increase each year, and the additional number of people needing them would significantly increase wait lists and times.

Like all accidents, each motorcycle crash fatality imposes an enormous cost on society. But the toll on family incomes, emergency services, medical care and workforce productivity, in addition to the loss of life, can be avoided.

With a veto of this bill, Gov. Mike Parson could save lives, prevent brain injuries and save Missouri tax dollars. He needs to hear from Missourians that the dangerous parts of this bill outweigh its initial good intent.

Call him at 573-751-3222 and ask him to veto SB 147. We must maintain Missouri’s all-rider motorcycle helmet law.

Maureen Cunningham is executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Missouri. BIA-MO provides support, education and recreation for people with brain injury and family members as they adjust to life with brain injury, and works to prevent brain injuries from roadway crashes, unforeseen accidents, sports concussions and more.