Louisiana House Committee OKs Repeal of Motorcycle Helmet Law

By | May 8, 2008

The Louisiana House Transportation committee has voted to approve a bill under which the state would stop forcing adult motorcyclists to wear helmets. Instead bikers would be required to undergo safety training before getting a license.

Rep. Mert Smiley’s bill, which has Gov. Bobby Jindal’s support, would require bikers under age 18 to wear helmets, but not adults. The bill would create a mandatory training course for anyone applying for a license to operate a motorcycle.

The committee voted 10-5 to send the bill to the House floor.

Among other things, the safety course will teach future bikers of the importance of wearing a proper helmet, instead of plastic “novelty” helmets that offer far less skull protection than authorized helmets, Smiley said. Combined with the training course, he said passage of his bill would mean the state will produce better trained and better equipped bikers.

“More people will start wearing helmets and they’ll be better educated than they are now,” said Smiley, R-Port Vincent, who is a motorcyclist.

Louisiana is one of 20 states that require all motorcyclists to wear a helmet, a statute that safety activists say saves lives in accidents.

Smiley’s bill moved forward despite opposition from James Champagne, former head of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, who mocked Smiley’s position as “tantamount to believing in the tooth fairy.”

Champagne compared the motorcycle helmet requirement to mandatory seat-belt laws, speed limits, red lights and stop signs, all of which are imposed to improve safety. He said a helmetless biker is a good bet to be killed or wind up incapacitated, a drag on society.

“If you get into a crash, that helmet may be the one thing that saves your life or saves you from a serious injury,” Champagne said.
Champagne’s former position was as an appointee of the governor, but was removed from the job earlier this year – a dismissal he attributes to Jindal’s support for repeal of the helmet law.

Louisiana had a mandatory helmet law until Gov. Mike Foster, a motorcyclist, backed its repeal. The helmet law was reinstated under Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Jindal, a Foster protege, included in his campaign for governor last year a pledge to support the law’s repeal, saying bikers should be able to decide for themselves whether to wear a helmet.

The instructional course on motorcycling would go into effect after July 1, 2009, to be taught by the Department of Public Safety.

On the Net: House Bill 1295 can be found at http://legis.state.la.us/