Supporters of an effort to repeal the state mandatory motorcycle helmet law claim Nebraska loses millions of tourism dollars, because of its helmet law.
They say the upcoming 75th anniversary of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota makes this the perfect year to repeal the law.
Opponents counter the money reaped cannot replace the lives lost.
Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins, who has unsuccessfully championed the helmet repeal in the past, has returned with LB 31, which would eliminate the mandate that motorcyclists wear helmets while riding in Nebraska.
Bloomfield tells the legislature’s Transportation Committee he has two goals in sponsoring the bill.
“First would be to open our borders to hundreds and thousands of people who, for one primary reason, choose to avoid our beautiful state and take their millions of dollars elsewhere,” Bloomfield says. “That reason being because they wish to have the right to ride without a helmet.”
Bloomfield’s second goal is to give Nebraskans the right to decide whether to wear a helmet or not.
Scott Hoffman supports Bloomfield’s bill. He tells committee members that thousands of motorcyclists heading each year to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally by-pass Nebraska and its scenic route to the rally simply because the state mandates they wear helmets.
“They’re expecting 700,000 riders this year,” Lange says of the rally. “It could be the largest ever and, ironically, it will be the 75th anniversary. What better way to celebrate it than with a helmet repeal?”
Lange contends the mandatory helmet law costs Nebraska tens of millions of dollars annually as motorcyclists avoid the state as they travel to the rally.
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will be held August 3rd through the 9th this year, the 75th year it has been held in Sturgis, South Dakota, just north of the Black Hills.
Opponents of the repeal argue this isn’t a financial decision.
National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Nicholas Worrell tells the committee repeal would be dangerous.
“Helmet laws work,” Worrell testifies. “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 86% of riders wear helmets in states with a universal helmet law while only 55% do in states without such laws.”
According to federal statistics, 5,000 motorcyclists died nationwide in 2012, with 93,000 suffering injuries. Worrell says 10 times as many motorcyclists die in states without a helmet law than in those with a helmet law.
While Worrell provided figures for the committee to consider, a motorcyclist permanently disabled in a motorcycle wreck made an emotional plea to lawmakers to keep the mandate in place.
Patrick Lange survived the motorcycle wreck, but his wife didn’t. Neither were wearing helmets, something Lange says regrets bitterly.
“We have people testify how much money Nebraska is losing out on,” Lange says. “My step-son lost something money can never ever replace, because his step-dad and his mommy made a decision on their own not to put a helmet on.”
Lange says he spent 44 days in an intensive care unit and longer in a coma. He says the accident has left him legally, permanently disabled.
The committee will decide whether to advance the bill to the full legislature for debate.