Motorcyclists ages 21 and older wouldn’t have to wear helmets under a bill that passed the N.C. House Transportation Committee on Monday.
All motorcyclists currently must wear helmets or face a $25.50 fine, but Gaston County Republican Rep. John Torbett wants the state to loosen the requirement. His bill would require helmets for anyone under age 21, as well as anyone who hasn’t had their motorcycle license for a full year, and anyone who doesn’t have an insurance policy that covers at least $10,000 in medical benefits for a crash-related injury.
Torbett’s bill would also soften the penalty for helmet violations, removing the requirement that the person charged must pay court costs in addition to the fine.
“It is more dangerous not to wear a helmet than to wear a helmet, but that is my personal responsibility, and I have to make that decision on my own,” said Torbett, who rides motorcycles himself.
The bill passed despite opposition from several medical groups, which cited statistics showing that brain injuries are more common among motorcyclists who aren’t wearing helmets during a crash.
“Helmets save lives,” said Ashley Perkinson, a lobbyist for the N.C. College of Emergency Physicians. “Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69 percent, and the risk of death by 37 percent. We would love to have the current law in North Carolina stay on the books.”
Torbett dismissed those statistics, arguing that head injuries are also common in car crashes, but no one requires helmets in cars.
Holly Heath-Shepard of the N.C. Brain Injury Advisory Council said the insurance requirement in the bill won’t address the medical costs of decreased helmet use.
“A $10,000 insurance policy will not even begin to cover the cost of a brain injury,” she said. “If you’re lucky, it may cover the cost of an ambulance and a Tylenol in the emergency room.”
Charlie Boone of the N.C. Concerned Bikers Association was critical of the medical groups. “They seem overly concerned with my welfare,” Boone said. “The only certainty in life is that it may someday end. I want to follow my own path.”
Boone said he often plans trips to states that have looser helmet laws, and he thinks the bill would lead to increased tourism from bikers.
Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican, said he’s skeptical of helmets. “The reality is if you get into a wreck ... you’ve got a problem regardless of whether you’ve got a helmet or not,” he said. “I’ve got friends who were scrambled inside of their helmet. The helmet is not that big of a help.”
Torbett filed a similar bill in 2015 that never received a committee hearing. This year’s bill now goes to the House Insurance Committee.