Drivers of a new vehicle that’s part motorcycle, part car wouldn’t need a helmet under a bill that passed a divided N.C. House committee Tuesday.
Autocycles are growing in popularity, but state law requires drivers of some models to wear a helmet because the vehicles are regulated like motorcycles. House Bill 214, sponsored by Republican Rep. Michael Speciale of New Bern, would change that.
“It’s like a car for all practical purposes, but the law right now requires you to have a helmet,” Speciale said. “The helmet just seems a bit redundant. It’s no more hazardous than riding in one of the little English cars with the top down.”
The legislature approved regulations for autocycles in 2015, before the new vehicles hit the market. Those rules allowed drivers to avoid helmets in fully enclosed autocycles, but not all of them fit that definition.
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The vehicle Speciale described Thursday is made by Polaris and was described by Popular Mechanics as the sort of vehicle “a Marvel superhero would drive.” It has a windshield but is otherwise open to the elements.
But Rep. Bill Brawley, a Mecklenburg County Republican, said he can’t support the change because the current autocycle regulations were developed several years ago amid controversy. He notes that federal regulations classify autocycles as motorcycles.
“These are not the enclosed vehicles and there’s a reason we did the helmets,” Brawley said. “Its appearance does not change the way it’s regulated.”
Speciale pointed out that several other states have dropped the helmet requirement, which he says could do more harm than good for autocycle drivers.
“When you’re strapped in with the seat belt and you have a helmet on, your movement is restricted and your vision is restricted,” he said. “The bottom line is if you’ve seen this thing, most people would agree that there’s absolutely no reason for a helmet.”
The helmet bill passed the House Transportation Committee in an 18-13 vote that split lawmakers of both political parties. It now goes to the House floor.