Tennessee motorcycle helmet law's fate up in the air

Tennessee law currently requires motorcycle riders to wear helmets, but legislators recently introduced bills that would largely repeal that law. Instead, the law would require helmets only for riders under age 21. In fact, this has been the third year in a row that lawmakers have introduced efforts to repeal the mandatory helmet law, but the new bills remain stalled in the legislature.

Supporters call the latest proposal the Motorcyclist Liberty Restoration Act and say riders should be free to decide for themselves whether to wear a helmet. Opponents of the bill warn of the danger of motorcycle accidents. Helmets, they say, save lives by preventing bad accidents from turning into fatal accidents.

Department of Safety statistics show that there were 139 fatalities in Tennessee motorcycle accidents last year. Of those, eight were riders who were not wearing helmets.

Somewhat lost in all this debate is the fact that even nonfatal motorcycle accidents can be devastating to the rider. Even when a rider is wearing a helmet, a motorcycle crash can cause spinal cord injury, broken bones and brain injury. Those injured may be left with pain and suffering, huge medical expenses and lost wages during their long recovery periods or permanent disability. When the injury was caused by another driver's negligence, such as when a distracted driver clips a motorcycle, the injured rider may be compensated for these damages.

The future of Tennessee's helmet law is up in the air, and it's not at all clear what this could mean for safety on Tennessee roads. The severity of the injuries from motorcycle accidents may increase if the repeal goes forward. But the injuries are already severe enough for those suffering from the aftermath of a motorcycle accident. When the injury was caused by another negligent party, the injured person deserves compensation.

Source: WBIR, "Motorcyclist reaches out to lawmakers on helmet law," Heidi Wigdahl, March 2, 2013

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