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Another Attempt to Amend Tennessee's Helmet Law Fall Short

Last week, our blog discussed how the warmer weather will see many people resume their favorite outdoor activities, particularly biking. It’s important to understand, however, that this isn’t the only form of two-wheeled transportation that Tennesseans will be partaking in over the coming months, as the state has roughly 167,000 registered motorcycles.

Of course, it’s important for anyone thinking about hitting the open road on their motorcycle to remember that they must first pull on their helmet, as the Volunteer State as had a universal helmet law in effect since 1967.

What this means is that anyone riding a motorcycle — regardless of age or experience level — must wear a helmet.

As you might imagine, the state’s universal helmet law has seen multiple legislative challenges over the years, the most recent of which was filed this year by Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield).

Under Roberts’ proposal, an exemption would be written into the helmet law such that any rider at least 21 years old and not insured by TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, would be free to choose whether they wore a helmet.

Curiously, Roberts offered the following commentary in support of his bill: “I happen to think [an adult rider is] stupid if he rides a motorcycle without a helmet, but that’s one of our sacred rights: to be stupid.”

As with most efforts to amend or repeal the state’s helmet law, many critics emerged, including medical experts and vehicle safety advocacy groups like AAA.

Indeed, AAA offered the following arguments against Roberts’ bill:

  • It would be unenforceable by law enforcement officials, as they would have no way of determining from the roadside whether a rider was 21 or over, or not covered by TennCare.
  • Statistics show that states where lawmakers have weakened motorcycle helmet laws have seen a dramatic uptick in motorcycle accident-related head injuries and fatalities.
  • 91 percent of voters surveyed indicated that they were opposed to either weakening or repealing the state’s motorcycle helmet law.

These arguments proved persuasive, as the Senate Transportation Committee recently voted 4-4 on advancing Roberts’ bill, meaning it failed to secure the majority needed to pass.

It will be interesting to see if lawmakers finally abandon their attempts to amend the state’s helmet laws in the coming years.