Lawmakers pull bill; abandon changes Tennessee helmet law

By: Sara Shookman, Kate Burgess Email
By: Sara Shookman, Kate Burgess Email
  • Click here to read more about Tennessee HB 2661.
  • Click here to see video of the House Transportation Subcommittee.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- If you choose to ride a motorcycle, should you also get to choose whether to wear a helmet?

In a setback for motorcyclists who want to feel the wind blowing in their hair when they ride, lawmakers said "no."

Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers withdrew the bill that would have put an end to helmet laws for people over 21.

UT freshman Lance Tuck rides his motorcycle whenever he can.

"Even If it's cold, if it's raining, I'll ride it just because I want to," he continued.

But he never rides without a helmet. He once took a curve too fast and slid on a patch of gravel.

"I actually flipped and landed on the back of my head. It honestly probably saved my life," Tuck said.

Al Wilker, another rider told Local 8 News, "When you ride a motorcycle, I think it's something that's borne in you, you're not going to get it out. And you can never explain the joy of throwing your leg across the bike, hitting a back road, to a road that leads nowhere."

Some riders say helmets squash that indescribable feeling.

"Helmets are hot, helmets are vision impairing. If you have a helmet coming up to here, your peripheral vision is shot," said Crendel Wees, who has been riding for 45 years.

For those riders, wearing a helmet ruins that free feeling they get from the road.

"They really don't want the government to tell them what they have to do when they ride a motorcycle," added Wilker.

But without one, even low impact accidents can lead to irreversible brain trauma.

"It's maybe 20mph but you accidentally tip your bike over and hit your head and it's still a devastating injury," explained UT trauma surgeon Dr. Blaine Enderson.

He said brain injuries can mean months in the hospital, extensive rehab and can sometimes last forever.

"If you suffer a permanent brain injury and are disabled, that has a tremendous impact on your family. Because they're the ones who have to take care of you," he added.

And if they can't; the state picks up the tab.

A legislative analysis of helmet benefits showed without them, traumatic brain injuries increase, and ultimately cost Tenncare more than a million dollars.

"I'm all in favor of personal freedom as long as it doesn't impact other people or society," Dr. Enderson said.

Don Lindsey with AAA East Tennessee told us helmets protect all drivers, even those in a car.

"I don't like to be told what to do. I understand that. But we have to understand for the limited intrusion this law has, the safety effects, not just for the rider but everyone around this rider are good, and we need to keep the law."

Last year 322 people came through the trauma unit at UT Medical Center with motorcycle injuries. That's nearly one a day. If they hadn't been wearing helmets, Enderson said many of those people would have never made it.


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  • by Tony Location: Nashville on Feb 29, 2012 at 05:19 PM
    Never have I seen a more slanted example of "journalism". The quotes are from those opposed to the bill and their "facts" are accepted without the opportunity to challenge them, much in the way the bill has gone through the House. Shame on you for taking a side. I thought true journalists report, not influence.
  • by Datrebor Location: Gatlinburg on Feb 28, 2012 at 10:19 PM
    What is the matter with them they won't even give it a chance to be voted on. They keep saying it will cost this or that but they don't know for sure. Just look at CA and how many traumatic brain injuries out there per rider and you'll see that the helmet law did not decrease it then look at FL and how dropping the helmet law has not increased it per rider very much at all. If it was found out that wearing a helmet while driving a car like the race drivers do would you jump on the band wagon to force every car driver to wear one? Its time to bring back our freedoms regardless if its safer or not. Lets get this on the floor vote for and passed already.
  • by Gary Woodward Location: Crossville on Feb 28, 2012 at 06:26 PM
    X law enforcement, and a motorcycle rider. I used a helmet when I've riden in the past. Still it should be up to the driver who is under eighteen, not twentyone.
  • by willis Location: morristown on Feb 28, 2012 at 05:35 PM
    I think tennessee's helmit law helps to deter outlaw biker gangs from passing through and recruiting in the state. I think we should keep it.
    • reply
      by Jimmy on Mar 2, 2012 at 06:12 AM in reply to willis
      That's the silliest thing that I've ever heard... Do you actually think that outlaw biker groups give 2 flips about helmet laws??? Get a reality check and out of the house once in awhile.
    • reply
      by 4Q2 on Mar 8, 2012 at 04:18 PM in reply to willis
      You really are an idiot. Biker Outlaw Gangs? WTF!?!?
  • by Johnathan Location: Louisville on Feb 28, 2012 at 11:51 AM
    The helmet law is a lot like a seat belt law, many people wouldn't wear one if it wasn't a law. As a motorcyclist I love the helmet law, some riders don't think they have to have one, one bump on the head can cause a concussion, what do they think a 65 mph bump will do? The fact is a helmets save lives.
  • by lonemountain on Feb 28, 2012 at 11:26 AM
    Show proof of adequate health/medical insurance coverage and ride free...otherwise wear a helmet. I do not want to pay for your intentional recklessness.
  • by Richard Location: Oak Ridge on Feb 28, 2012 at 10:51 AM
    I like the helmet law Texas had when I went through it: to ride with out a helmet you must have had your motorcycle classification for 5 years, and $25,000 in un-insured motorist medical insurance.
  • by Jonathan Location: Oakdale on Feb 28, 2012 at 08:30 AM
    If someone is dumb enough not to wear a helmet, let them make their choice. Allow insurance companies the option of not paying any expenses if the rider didn't wear a helmet. Leave the financial burden to the rider or their family. Sounds cruel I know, but it relieves the burden on the rest of society while allowing the choice. Wearing a helmet is a great idea, and I'll never ride without mine. But it's a bad law. Too many freedoms are taken from us in the name of safety.
  • by Michael Location: Powell on Feb 28, 2012 at 08:10 AM
    If they do change the law. I will still wear my helmet. The seat belt law is what gets me, I don't wear mine because I feel trapped with the belt around my shoulders. That should be the law that is left to the driver.
  • by Don Location: Knoxville on Feb 28, 2012 at 07:56 AM
    I know people want to make their on choice, but does it make sense are we to have a choice on seat belts as well.it will increase the organ donors in Tennessee as helmets do save life's and reduce injury.

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