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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