It may seem hard to believe but Tennessee's motorcycle helmet law has been on the books since 1967. Indeed, this was the year that the majority of states enacted their helmet laws, as Congress then issued a rather serious ultimatum: either pass a helmet measure, or forfeit much-needed federal highway and safety funds.
In the ensuing years, Congress has removed and reinstated the helmet condition for federal funding several times. In fact, just one year after such a periodic removal back in 1996, former state rep. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville) introduced a bill that would grant motorcyclists the choice as to whether to wear a helmet.
While the bill eventually gained traction, even passing the state Senate in 2000, it ultimately failed to pass the state House of Representatives.
It's spirit lives on, however, as the ensuing years have seen multiple anti-helmet provisions introduced with great fanfare only to die a quick death in the House. This year appears to be no different.
Rep. Jay Reedy (R-Erin) has sponsored legislation, House Bill 700, that calls for any motorcyclist age 21 and older who has health insurance (not TennCare) to be able to decide whether they wear a helmet, and for law enforcement to be prohibited from issuing a helmet law citation unless a motorcyclist is cited for another violation (i.e., make it a secondary traffic offense).
In Reedy's recent testimony before the House Finance Committee, he argued that the measure would prove beneficial to the state's tourism industry, bringing in more revenue from motorcyclists seeking the thrill of the open road.
Opponents of the measure, which include the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the state Department of Health, reiterated their longstanding and persuasive arguments against changing the state's helmet law. Indeed, the state's chief medical officer testified that helmet use reduces motorcycle accident fatalities by 37 percent, traumatic brain injuries by 36 percent and head injuries by 69 percent.
While the House committee's final vote on HB 700 is scheduled for later this week, experts are already predicting it will once again fail to muster the necessary votes.
Stay tuned for updates ...
If you've suffered serious injuries or lost a loved one in a motorcycle crash caused by a reckless motorist, please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about your rights and options.