MOTORCYCLE HELMETS COULD BECOME OPTIONAL IN TENNESSEE

Earlier this week, a bill that would allow some Tennessee motorcycle riders to ride without a helmet was approved by a House subcommittee. If passed, riders over the age of 21 who are not insured by the state's TennCare Medicaid program would no longer be penalized for not wearing helmets.

According to The Tennessean, proponents of the bill have framed it as a "freedom of choice" issue, arguing that many riders will likely opt to wear helmets anyway. Opponents, however, argue that it puts the state's 180,000 registered motorcycle riders at a significant risk for injury and death.

When first introduced last year, the bill received vocal opposition from American Automobile Association. The Chattanoogan reports that AAA conducted a survey whereby 91 percent of surveyed Tennessee voters were in favor of keeping the state's motorcycle helmet law in its current form. Studies have shown that in states were helmet laws have been weakened or repealed, helmet use has declined and injuries and deaths have risen sharply. By way of example, the number of hospital admissions of motorcyclists with head, brain and skull injuries increased 82% in Florida after the state relaxed its helmet law.

Additionally, laws such as this are difficult to enforce as law enforcement officers would be required to guess a rider's age before pulling him or her over. Then, once pulled over, the officer would have no means of determining if the rider was insured through TennCare or not.

The bill, or a similar counterpart, has been proposed several times in recent years but so far has not been successful in getting passed. Passing the House subcommittee is the furthest such a bill has ever gone.

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