Tennessee Legislators May Relax Motorcycle Helmet Law

The state House and Senate transportation committees are considering HB 0894 this week. It would allow motorcycle drivers and passengers 21 and older not to wear a helmet.

Traffic deaths involving passenger vehicles generally have been falling for the past decade, but traffic deaths involving motorcyclists have not. A bill being considered by Tennessee’s General Assembly this week would alarm safety advocates, AAA, and allied groups because it would allow motorcycle operators and passengers 21 and older not to wear helmets.

State Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, is the primary House sponsor of HB 0894, named the Motorcyclist Liberty Restoration Act. He is a member of the House Transportation Committee, one of the committees holding hearings on the bill this week.

Tennessee is one of 19 states that require a helmet for all motorcycle riders, while 28 states require helmets for younger riders only.

The description of HB 0894 that is posted on the House website says the bill would raise the fee for issuing or renewing a motorcycle (Class M) driver’s license from $17.50 to $19.50 and require all funds realized from the $2 increase to be earmarked and transferred to TennCare, which is Tennessee’s Medicaid program. The bill would require the state department of health and department of safety to prepare a report on the number of motorcycle accidents on Tennessee roads and highways involving riders without a helmet and the costs to TennCare to care for those riders, not including accidents in which:

  • Another driver caused the motorcycle accident;
  • The driver of the other motor vehicle maintained financial responsibility for such motor vehicle; and
  • Liability of all parties for such motorcycle accident has not been determined.

NHTSA reported last year that motorcycle helmet use had increased from 54 percent in 2010 to 66 percent in 2011, according to the National Occupant Protection Use Survey. Regionally, helmet use was highest in the West and South and lowest in the Midwest.

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