Motorcyclists say helmet law violates rights

Universal helmet laws are a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, argued one supporter of a bill introduced in the Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday that would only require motorcyclists younger than 18 to wear helmets.

The proposed legislation would only require riders younger than 18 to wear helmets while operating motorcycles. Anyone 18 and older would legally be allowed to ride without protective headgear. While some see it as controversial and highly dangerous, Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, the primary sponsor, said this bill is nothing new.

There are only 19 states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia, including Washington, that enforce universal helmet laws.

“Fatalities are not age-discriminate,” said Capt. Rob Huss of the Washington State Patrol.

Repealing the existing law, which requires each motorcyclist to wear a certified helmet, “would move us backward as a state,” he said.

David Devereaux, of Washington Confederation of Clubs, claimed that maintaining universal helmet laws constitutes conflict with an individual’s freedoms and is in violation of the 14th Amendment.

“The Washington law goes too far and it is too much of an intrusion on our individual liberties and rights,” he claimed.

If Washington voters are able to pass legislation allowing civil liberties such as same-sex marriage and the legalization of recreational-use marijuana, that negates “the paternalistic instinct of government to control us,” he said.

Richard Bright, a veteran and resident of the Fourteenth Legislative District, agreed. “Fatalities go up because people think they’re invincible with a helmet,” he said.

Health concerns remain for motorcyclists involved in accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), wearing a helmet reduces the crash-fatality rate by 37 percent.

Dave Overstreet of AAA Washington said that not wearing a helmet makes a motorcyclist three times more likely to suffer traumatic brain injury in an accident.

But the government relations specialist for the Washington Road Riders Association, Larry Walker, said that no crash is ever safe; therefore, arguments made in an effort to protect motorcyclists from harm are misleading.

“We’re buying into the idea of safer crashing,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a safe crash.”

SB 5143 has not been scheduled for an executive session, at which time committee members would be able to decide if the bill would pass out of the committee.

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