State Politics

Rollback of NC motorcycle helmet law has stalled

Motorcyclists in North Carolina are required by law to wear helmets, but the N.C. House is considering a bill to loosen that requirement
Motorcyclists in North Carolina are required by law to wear helmets, but the N.C. House is considering a bill to loosen that requirement .

An effort to allow helmet-free motorcycling for experienced North Carolina riders didn’t get enough support to pass the House last week, its main proponent said Wednesday.

Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican, proposed legislation that would limit the state’s motorcycle helmet requirement to riders 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.

His bill was on the House agenda last week, but Torbett removed it from the calendar before a scheduled vote.

“I couldn’t get my vote count,” he said. “The Democrats were voting in blocs, and I didn’t have sufficient numbers in my own (Republican) caucus to go forward.”

Because the bill didn’t meet last week’s “crossover” deadline for bills to move from the House to the Senate or vice versa, it can’t be considered this session – unless a funding provision is added or unless the legislation is added to another bill.

“There’s always the chance,” he said. “We’re not aggressively looking at it, but I am talking to a couple of people about it, we’re going to continue the effort to try to get that inevitably enacted.”


The Brain Injury Association of North Carolina is among the groups that lobbied against the helmet law change. Its leaders and members held an advocacy day at the legislature, bringing along some art projects: masks painted by brain injury survivors from across the state, including some who were injured in motorcycle accidents.

“Helmet use has saved millions of dollars and lots of lives,” said Ken Jones, the group’s executive director.

As the helmet bill progressed in the legislature, “we did a lot of education.”

A group of motorcyclists who oppose the helmet requirement also lobbied hard last week but fell short. The Concerned Bikers Association of North Carolina urged its members to call legislators in support of what it calls the “freedom of choice bill.”

“Tomorrow will be our last chance to get this passed,” the group posted on its Facebook page one day before Torbett pulled the bill from the calendar. “You know what to do.”

A leader of the motorcyclists’ group said he often plans trips to states that have looser helmet laws, and he thinks the bill would lead to increased tourism from bikers.

Torbett proposed a similar bill in 2015, which didn’t get a committee hearing. This year’s effort passed the House Transportation Committee.

While the Brain Injury Association is opposing Torbett on the helmet bill, he’s the primary sponsor of another bill the group is eager to get passed this year.

House Bill 512 would institute new reporting requirements on the state’s Medicaid waiver that benefits people with traumatic brain injuries. The state requested the waiver in 2015 and directed $2 million in funding toward the effort, which aims to help brain injury survivors get better access to residential care, physical therapy, transportation and other services.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter