Shot Down In Arkansas

This Reported in the Baxter Bulletin:
LITTLE ROCK (AP) -- Legislation that would require motorcyclists to wear helmets lacked the support in a House committee Thursday to even get one vote.
The sponsor, Rep. Cecile Bledsoe. R-Rogers, said she would change the bill and try again.

Currently, only motorists under 21 are required to wear helmets in Arkansas. Bledsoe presented results of a study by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences showing that the hospital lost about $1 million over six years on motorcyclists who are injured while not wearing helmets and can't pay their medical bills.

But opponents, including several bikers in the audience, said helmets should be an option -- not a requirement. They said that statistics show that fatal accidents involving motorcycles haven't changed since the repeal of the state's mandatory helmet law in 1997.

Bledsoe brought in former state House Rep. Jim Hendren and her son, Dr. Greg Bledsoe, who worked on the UAMS study, to testify for the bill.

Hendren said that he voted to repeal the helmet law six years ago but now regrets it.

"Six years ago, there wasn't a lot of evidence of what would happen if we repealed the helmet law," he said. "I believe that you need to be responsible for your actions. Don't ask taxpayers to pay for your irresponsibility."

But groups including motorcycle riders and dealers, tourism and business interests took issue with the bill.

Motorcyclist groups argued that the economic benefits to the state from having more motorcycles registered and big biker events in places such as Hot Springs and Fayetteville outweigh the unpaid medical expenses.

"I believe they're putting economic interests of a small part of the state over the health of motorcyclists," Bledsoe said.

Rodney Roberts, owner of Rodney's Cycle House of Little Rock, said motorcyclists are unfairly targeted.

He said the supporters "assume all these injuries would not have happened if they had been wearing a helmet. That's a pretty gross assumption," he said. "You're asking the helmet to do a lot."

Some committee members were concerned that the bill's language was too broad, and any head covering, such as a leather cap, would qualify as protective headgear.

In the end, no committee member moved to approve the bill, so it failed.

Bledsoe said she would return to the committee after changing the bill to instead require that all motorcyclists, helmeted or not, carry at least $10,000 in health insurance.

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George Obradovich
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