The helmet culture war – the front in the culture wars that requires motorcyclists to wear special plastic hats – just entered its fiftieth year.
Forty-three years ago a Congressman named Stewart McKinney successfully sponsored an amendment to the National Highway Safety Act of 1966 that repealed the provision that compelled states enact helmet laws. McKinney convinced his fellow Congressmen by telling them, “My philosophy concerning helmets can be summed up in three words. It’s my head.”
That was then. This is now. Now it takes a village to protect your head.
Earlier this year, an Arizona State Representative named Randall Friese – he’s a Democrat from Tucson – introduced HB 2052 which would amend Arizona’s current helmet law, which requires persons “under eighteen years of age” to wear a helmet. Friese’s revision would read: “An operator or passenger of a motorcycle, all-terrain vehicle or motor driven cycle shall wear at all times a protective helmet on the operator’s or passenger’s head in an appropriate manner. The protective helmet shall be safely secured while the operator or passenger is operating or riding on the motorcycle, all-terrain vehicle or motor driven cycle.”
Arizona motorcycle enthusiasts can avoid wearing a helmet while they ride if they pay an as yet undetermined fee when they register their bikes. If the law passes the amount of that fee will be determined by the Director of the Arizona Department of Transportation. Those fees will be deposited in the Arizona Highway User Revenue Fund.
Under the proposed law, a policeman can’t stop a motorcyclist simply because he is not wearing a helmet. He has to find another reason to stop a motorcyclist. But if he does stop a motorcyclist pursuant to, say a courtesy motorcycle safety inspection, or for an unsafe lane change, or because he observes the biker’s front tire touching a white stop line he can cite any motorcyclist who hasn’t paid the proposed fee to ride helmet free down to the nearest convenience store.
Friese, a “trauma surgeon,” proposes “a civil penalty of five hundred dollars” for not paying the requisite fee before getting stopped by the police without a helmet. And, “two hundred dollars of each civil penalty collected shall be deposited…in the Arizona Highway User Revenue Fund and three hundred dollars of each civil penalty collected shall be deposited” in a “spinal and head injuries trust fund.”
The law hasn’t attracted much public scrutiny so far. Last month Friese told Cronkite News, “I believe, and I listen to the motorcycle riders saying ‘we want to choose,’ I don’t believe it is a right to not wear your helmet. I believe it is a privilege, just as driving is a privilege.”
Since Arizona seems to be among the most libertarian of all the states, Friese’s bill wouldn’t seem to have a much of a chance. But it is probably less likely to pass if you know about it in advance.