Iowa politicians steer clear of helmet laws

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Iowa politicians steer clear of helmet laws

Postby Micronaut » Mon Jun 19, 2006 8:13 pm

Iowa legislators say it’s going to take more than a high-profile motorcycle accident to kick-start a politically-perilous Statehouse debate over mandatory helmet laws. ... 617604.txt

The issue of helmet use is receiving renewed national attention this week in the wake of a motorcycle crash involving Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He was not wearing a helmet and suffered serious injuries in the accident Monday.

Iowa is one of a handful of states with no law requiring helmet use. Lawmakers passed a helmet mandate 31 years ago but swiftly repealed it just a year later.

Since then, Statehouse politicians have steered clear of the issue for fear of angering thousands of motorcyclists. Efforts to require helmets for young bicycle and moped riders also have fizzled.

Rep. Don Shoultz, D-Waterloo, said he filed a bill requiring helmet use during his first session at the Capitol in the early 1980s. He quickly learned about the issue’s deep political pitfalls.

“All I got was grief on that one,” said Shoultz, who filed a doomed bill this year requiring helmets for riders and passengers age 16 and under. “Why would you file that bill when all you’re going to do is make all those motorcycle riders angry?”

Thousands of those riders are represented by Iowa ABATE — A Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education. The group has aggressively and affectively lobbied for years against helmet laws at the Statehouse.

“It’s a freedom of choice issue,” said Steve Rector of Marshalltown, Iowa ABATE’s state coordinator.

“We don’t need anybody to tell us how to dress. We don’t need anybody to tell us how to protect ourselves. It should be up to the individual,” he said.

Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, responded to countless motorcycle accidents during his days as a state trooper. But he opposes mandating helmet use and said the issue won’t come up as long as he chairs the House Public Safety Committee.

“I think it should be a personal choice,” Baudler said. “It’s free choice and personal responsibility.”

According to the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau, over 80 percent of people killed in motorcycle accidents over the past five years were not wearing helmets.

So far this year, 17 people have been killed in 16 motorcycle crashes, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. Forty-six people were killed in motorcycle accidents in 2005 and officials say Iowa is on pace to match that total this year.

Motorcycle ridership is on an upswing in Iowa after dropping through the 1980s and 1990s. There were 205,000 registered motorcycles in Iowa in 1980, a number that dropped to 107,500 in 1997.

By the end of last year Iowa was home to 138,443 registered cycles while 228,000 Iowans are licensed to ride.

The safety bureau says only Iowa, New Hampshire, Illinois and Colorado have no helmet law. Twenty states require helmet use for all riders and 26 states have laws requiring young riders to be helmeted.

“Research indicates that wearing a helmet gives protection in some cases, for obvious reasons,” said Lu Simpson, the Iowa bureau’s occupant protection coordinator. “We would definitely be in support of that.”

But Rector, ABATE’s Iowa coordinator, argues that helmets do little good in crashes at speeds over 15 mph. And he contends the roads would be safer for motorcycles if other drivers were more attentive.

“I have people on cell phones drifting into my lane, people exceeding the speed limit by 15, 20, 25 mph going around me. There’s no law enforcement whatsoever out there,” said Rector, who usually doesn’t wear a helmet when he rides.

Lawmakers approved a bill this year requiring drivers’ education programs to emphasize sharing the road with motorcycles.
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