Governor Considering Legislation to Legalize Riding Motorcycles Without a Helmet in Missouri

Legislation repealing Missouri’s mandatory motorcycle helmet law has passed the Legislature and is headed for the desk of Gov. Jay Nixon, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported May 1. The legislation, passed 95-63 in the Missouri House, makes helmets optional for riders age 21 and over. Riders below age 21 would still be required to wear helmets. If the bill is approved, Missouri would become the 31st state with partial or no helmet laws, including almost all of our neighboring states.
The law has provoked several disapproving editorials in the past few days, with the Post-Dispatch claiming that the repeal is “a spectacularly bad idea.” I know this is a sensitive subject for those who ride, many of whom feel strongly that they should have the right, as adults, to make their own decisions. The issue pits public safety arguments against freedom arguments, and both are worthy goals. I do not wish to comment on whether helmets should be mandatory. But, using my experience as a Missouri brain injury lawyer, I would like to explain why I believe that motorcyclists in our state should freely choose to wear helmets when they ride.
Helmets protect the brain, one of the few tissues in the body that cannot heal in the same way a cut or bruise heals. Once the brain is damaged, the abilities controlled by the damaged parts of the brain are most likely gone forever. Practically speaking, that translates to a lifelong disability of some kind — physical, mental, sensory or emotional. In mild cases, this could leave the victim functional but with a permanent loss of abilities, personality changes or trouble controlling emotions. In serious cases, the victim will need lifelong care in an institution or with a live-in helper. It is also extremely expensive to treat — hospital costs for a serious brain injury easily total five or six figures, and the lifetime cost reaches into the millions.
It’s well-established that states with mandatory motorcycle helmet laws have much higher helmet use rates than states without. It is more controversial, but still well-established, that helmets save lives and prevent brain injuries without adding risks. Studies by the federal Department of Transportation have found that an un-helmeted rider is 40 times more likely to suffer a fatal head injury and 15 times more likely to sustain a non-fatal injury than one wearing a helmet in the same crash.
Furthermore, of the states that have repealed their universal helmet laws, all have seen a pronounced rise in motorcycle crash fatalities — a 31% rise in fatal motorcycle injuries in Texas, for example. And according to a 2002 study by the federal DoT, just under half of motorcycle accident victims have no health insurance, meaning that hospital charity care and government health programs pick up their bills. Given the staggering cost in abilities and money, I believe the protection a helmet offers is well worth the cost, both financially and philosophically. Riders may soon have the chance to make this choice for themselves, but as a St. Louis brain damage attorney, I hope they do it with full awareness of their risks.
Based in St. Louis, the Lowe Law Firm represents clients throughout Missouri and southern Illinois who have suffered brain injuries through another person’s careless actions. In addition to motorcycle accidents, this includes car and truck accidents, crashes with semis and big rigs, ATV crashes and accidents in the workplace. In a Missouri brain injury lawsuit, we can help our clients win the money they need to pay their sky-high medical bills, make ends meet while they cannot work and ensure that they get the care they need throughout a lifetime of disability. If this sounds like your situation and you’d like to know more, please contact the Lowe Law Firm today for a free, confidential consultation.