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Opinion: The military requires motorcyclists to wear helmets and Missouri should too

We recognize and have great empathy for Missouri, along with many states across our nation, as leaders focus on reconciling the pain and anger following the murder of George Floyd and racial injustice in our country. Unfortunately, during this troubling and tumultuous time, a law that has saved many lives for over 50 years faces repeal unless Governor Mike Parson vetoes it.

Having proudly served in our country’s armed forces, striving to preserve peace and security, we have sought to continue that service by working to improve public safety during our civilian careers. We urge Governor Parson, who has followed a similar path, to favor the collective strong and long-standing support for universal motorcycle helmet laws over the opposition of a vocal minority. The Department of Defense has endorsed this commonsense safeguard by requiring all military personnel to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle, whether on or off a military installation. Vetoing HB 1963 to retain Missouri’s all-rider helmet law will prevent incapacitating injuries, reduce associated crash and medical costs, and, most importantly, save lives.

The argument often repeated by repeal proponents is that the rider is alone in suffering the impact of a crash and should, therefore, have discretion to choose to wear a helmet. This is absolutely a false narrative. Unprotected motorcyclists involved in crashes are three times more likely than helmeted riders to suffer traumatic brain injury (TBI). This lifelong, debilitating medical condition often requires great sacrifices by loved ones and/or medical professionals tasked with providing long-term care to manage cognitive and physical declines, as well as personality alterations, including potential bouts of extreme anger and depression.

Great costs are also borne by society as a whole. Multiple studies have found significantly higher hospital care costs for riders involved in crashes who did not wear a helmet. The financial toll of motorcyclist crashes nationwide is almost $13 billion annually in economic impacts and totals $66 billion in societal harm. Unfunded costs resulting from motorcyclist crashes are passed on to the public in taxes, insurance rates, and health care costs.

Conversely, overall economic cost savings associated with helmet use in states with all-rider requirements amount to $725 per registered motorcycle, compared with $198 per registered motorcycle in states without such a law. In Missouri alone, helmets saved over $673 million in comprehensive costs resulting from motorcycle crashes in 2016, as well as the lives of 66 riders. As states work to reconcile revenue drops, job losses and ongoing medical care costs from the COVID-19 crisis, budget and financial considerations have come to the forefront. Missouri’s path to recovery should not be burdened by preventable, additional expenses that will surely result if the helmet law is repealed.

Evidence confirming the effectiveness of all-rider helmet laws is abundant as is the damage resulting from the absence of this law. Motorcycle helmets have been found to reduce the risk of head injury by a remarkable 69 percent and reduce the risk of death by 42 percent. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2018, there were nine times as many fatalities among riders without helmets (1,670) in states without a universal helmet law compared to states with a universal helmet law (177). Additionally, a study of motorcyclist crash injuries before and after Michigan repealed its all-rider helmet law found that the number of hospitalized trauma patients with a head injury rose 14 percent and skull fracture-related injuries rose 38 percent.

We thank Governor Parson for his military and public service and salute the nearly half a million Missourians who are former service members. The executive branch that oversees our military forces recognizes the enumerated benefits of a helmet requirement. We urge the governor to do the same by vetoing this ill-advised legislation.