TALLAHASSEE -- Sixteen years after the Florida Legislature scrapped a helmet mandate for most motorcyclists, a measure filed this week would reinstitute it in the name of saving lives.
Measure filed to reinstitute motorcycle helmet law
Florida Legislature scrapped mandate 16 years ago
Studies show helmets are effective in preventing fatal head injuries
The bill, HB 6009 by freshman Rep. Don Hahnfeldt (R-The Villages), would eliminate the 2000 exemption that allows motorcyclists who are at least 21 years of age and carry at least $10,000 worth of medical benefits insurance to ride without a helmet.
When it passed, the exemption was viewed as part and parcel of the then-new Republican legislature's resolve to eliminate unpopular regulations.
Every year, however, hundreds of motorcyclists and their passengers die in accidents on Florida's roads. In 2014, there were 450 motorcycle fatalities statewide, roughly half of which involved riders who weren't wearing helmets.
A string of studies have found motorcycle helmets to be highly effective in preventing fatal head injuries, a conclusion that has led 19 states to implement mandatory helmet laws.
But many Florida bikers take exception to the studies, noting that helmets tend to offer little protection in high-speed crashes.
"If you have a small accident, maybe it's good to have a helmet, but you never know," said motorcyclist Alberto Macilla, who said he uses a helmet only on certain occasions. "I mean, it could be an accident that, you know, you just never know. You just take a chance and go with it."
Such widespread early opposition from motorcyclists — far from the least vocal of political constituencies — could hamper the bill's prospects in a legislature that, 16 years on, is perhaps even more conservative-minded. In recent years, small government champions have defeated measures to make texting-while-driving a primary offense despite the purported roadway safety benefits.
"Enjoying the open road, enjoying the time with other people that like to ride, as well, just like everything else in America, it should be a personal choice, if you want to wear a helmet or not," Macilla said.