TN considers making motorcycle helmets optional for adult riders - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

TN considers making motorcycle helmets optional for adult riders

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- He may call her Jezebel. And she certainly is a temptress.

But Doug Moore's hardly sees his beloved Harley-Davidson as a false prophet.

"For me, it (riding motorcycles is an actual way of life," he says. "It's my only vehicle on purpose."

But Jezebel's engine is blown; awaiting replacement at American Motorcycles in Chattanooga,  where Mike Caron, his employees and his customers, have turned a way of life into a living. 

But they believe one change could make it better.

"We don't have seatbelts in school buses,"Moore says. "But they tell me I have to wear a helmet?"

"We'd like the freedom to decide," Caron says. "Not necessarily to put it on, but the ability to decide whether we want to or not."

Tennessee's proposed Motorcyclists' Liberty Restoration Act would offer that choice to bikers and their passengers age 21 and older; to wear the DOT (U.S. Department of Transportation)-approved helmet now required, to wear a helmet that meets tougher safety standards, or to go without a helmet at all.

"It won't pass politically," Caron says. "People are too upset that taxpayers pay when people get hurt."

House sponsor Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown) and Senate sponsor Mark Green, a doctor from Clarksville, would raise the yearly licensing fee $2, to $19.50, and set aside most of the revenue to require TennCare, (Tennessee's medicaid health insurance program for the indigent) to compile statistics on the number of motorcyclists who suffer head injuries and the TennCare dollars spent to treat them. The study also would analyze potential gains from increase fees or tourism.

"I know for a fact some bikers won't ride in states where you have to wear helmets," Moore says. "As soon as I get to a non-helmet state, I pull off the road immediately and take it off."

The TennCare Bureau already has included 'guesstimates' of the fiscal impact as part of the material available for review in the General Assembly's Transportation subcommittees.

Typically, the Bureau reports, 130 motorcycle operators and passengers suffer head injuries on Tennessee roads each year. 

Based on percentage increases in the number and severity of injuries when Pennsylvania eased helmet restrictions, Tennessee could expect 58 more head injuries per year, raising the average cost for treatment from $8,940 to $14,572 per case, or $845,176 in higher TennCare costs per year.

"Even a low speed wreck can cause injuries that can be disabling for life," says Dr. Benjamin Smith, who treats such injuries in Erlanger Hospital's Emergency Room. 

The Tennessee Trauma Care Advisory Council agrees. "The State has a vested interest in protecting the lives, liberties and property of its citizens," its position statement reads.

"Operating motorized vehicles remains a privilege and not a right...o n public roads, paid for by taxpayers. Emergency medical services, from first responders through resuscitation and rehabilitation are funded and regulated by the State and Federal government, again paid for by tax revenues. Lost wages and employment opportunities are also borne by the taxpayers, as disability, unemployment payments, lost revenue from decreased tax collected all impact the remaining state citizens as these too are funded by tax dollars," the statement concludes.

"We haven't talked about the intangibles," Dr. Smith says. The pain and suffering of the patients and their families that will last the rest of the patient's lifetime."

Shop owner Mike Caron concedes that he rarely rides without a helmet, out of concern for his own safety and for the love of his children.

"I won't take it off in heavy traffic," he says. "But in states where it's legal; Florida, on the beach or straightaways, sure. I believe we should have the choice to do so."

Doug Moore maintains that larger hands hold his fate.

"I'm not positive that a helmet is going to save me if we get hit," he says.

"When God leads me home, I'm gone. 'Til then, I'm here."


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