Helmet Law


RICHMOND – The House voted 57-42 against a bill sponsored by Goochland Del. Bill Janis that would have given motorcyclists over the age of 21 the choice of whether to wear a helmet.

Del. Paula Miller, D- Norfolk, who voted against the bill in the Militia, Police and Public
Safety committee last week and again on the floor, said many riders provided convincing testimony about helmet safety.

"Del. [Frank] Hargrove held up his helmet and said, €˜I never ride without my friend.' I thought it was a powerful statement," Miller said. Hargrove, a Hanover Republican, is a longtime rider.

Janis, a Republican, said he introduced the bill – the latest in five years that was defeated on the House floor – because riders should have the choice of whether to wear a helmet.
"It's a good policy," Janis said. "I think it's going to come back."

He said that he thought most riders would still choose to wear a helmet, but that an individual, not the government, should be able to decide.

"No one is arguing that a helmet makes you safer," Janis said. Helmets can actually reduce peripheral vision and impair hearing, he said.

Janis said many riders were experienced enough to judge the safety and conditions of roads. The risk level of riding without a helmet on Skyline Drive is very different from riding in the rain on I-95 without a helmet, he said.

Miller said the current law regulating helmets was a common-sense measure that would save lives by preventing spinal and head injuries.

Janis stressed that the number of motorcyclists registered in Virginia is small, and that the state would not have to pay more money in liability insurance if riders did not wear helmets.

There are 139,000 registered motorcyclists in Virginia, according to Jim Cannon, director of the Virginia Coalition of Motorcycles.

Penny Adams, the legislative officer for Virginia Freedom Riders, also addressed concerns that insurance rates would rise. In Pennsylvania, where a helmet law was repealed, insurance rates have risen. She said that increases in automobile accidents and in the cost of living have had more of an impact on insurance rates than the helmet law repeal.

"The bottom line is I should have a choice," Adams said. "I don't think it's the government's role to keep us safe.

"Adults are the riders. They are the most knowledgeable on the subject."

When asked if the partial repeal of the helmet law would be more likely to pass next year,
Cannon said that "anything that moves us across the field" would be positive. But he noted that helmet requirements would still leave "a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths."

If another attempt to repeal the helmet law is presented next year, Miller said she would vote the same way.

"It may be a question of choice, but it's also a public safety issue," she said. "It cuts both ways."

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