Every year some number of ridiculous pieces of legislation are introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly to be met by shaking heads and quick deaths in committee. A prime example this year comes from Republican Jay Reedy, who represents Benton, Houston, Humphreys and Stewart counties and part of Henry County just west of Nashville.
If you visit Rep. Reedy’s state House web page, you’ll find a bill he introduced under the heading of “traffic safety” that is anything but. Reedy’s bill would have enacted a four-year “pilot program” making helmets optional for motorcycle riders 21 and older. But not all of them; only riders who are not on TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program.
Why exempt them? Because helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69%, according to Cochrane, an international network producing high-quality information to be used in making health decisions. Surely Rep. Reedy knows that. But he sees his bill as giving cyclists the “freedom” to choose whether to wear a helmet because helmets are optional in some states that care less about costs, injuries and deaths.
He said creating a pilot program would prove that rolling back the helmet law was “not going to be as bad” as people think regarding additional injuries and fatalities. But the state hardly needs a pilot program to demonstrate that when the facts are readily available. Here are some of them:
• Helmets save nearly 2,000 lives per year. — National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
• Motorcycle crash injuries and deaths are preventable. A universal helmet law is the single most effective way for states to save lives and cost savings related to motorcycle crash injuries. — Community Preventive Services Task Force
• More than 5,500 motorcyclists died on our nation’s roads in 2020, and more than 180,000 were treated in emergency departments for crash injuries. More than 750 lives and $1.5 billion in economic costs could be saved annually if all motorcyclists wore helmets. — (NHTSA)
• Motorcycle helmets are 37% (for riders) and 4% (for passengers) effective in preventing deaths. They are 67% effective in preventing brain injuries. — (NHTSA)
• Approximately 41% of motorcycle drivers who die in accidents are not wearing a helmet. Even among survivors, severe head injuries can lead to lifelong complications that could have otherwise been prevented. — Steelhorselaw.com
Fortunately, the House Transportation Subcommittee rejected the bill. To be enforceable, police would have to stop every rider without a helmet to check whether he or she was on TennCare. AAA has opposed the bill. A spokesperson attended a hearing on the bill and urged lawmakers to vote against it.
Rep. Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain said the bill would have come with a cost in the form of serious injuries and fatalities. “It’s just like the seat belt law, the don’t-text-and-drive law. ... These are all things that in my mind are common sense.” Regretfully, not for everyone.