Transportation Committee Had the Sense to Put this Bill in the Circular File

Friday, April 4, 2014

Many years ago, my wife and I lived in an apartment above a business on the main street of a city not far from Boston. Across the street from us was a funeral home run by two gregarious middle-aged brothers.

There was a wake at the funeral home one spring night for a young man who’d been killed in a motorcycle accident.   Hundreds of mourners showed up, many of them on motorcycles. 
For three hours, we heard the roar of motorcycle engines and the squeal of rubber on pavement as the bikers arrived and departed.  We heard their voices in stunned and anguished conversations.  Things did not quiet down till close to 10.

Later, while I was bringing trash barrels from our garage to the sidewalk for pick-up the next day, I saw the younger of the two brothers.  He was on the front porch of the funeral home, smoking a cigarette.  There was hardly any traffic at that hour.
“Hello, Bob,” I said, loud enough for him to hear.

Bob waved and started down his front stairs. He felt like talking, which was usually the case.  We sat down on the granite steps at the base of the front walk to the building where my wife and I lived.
“You had quite a night,” I said. 

“You’re not kidding,” he said.
“It was pretty tough.  This kid was only 20 years old,” he said.  “A lot of his buddies and their girlfriends couldn’t take it.”

“How are his parents doing?” I asked.
“It’s just his mother who’s around.  She’s doing OK, I guess.”

“I read about the accident.  It sounded terrible.   A difficult job for you.”
“We have him looking pretty good.  They could keep it open.” 

Bob did all of the embalming at his establishment.
He dropped his cigarette on the sidewalk and ground it out with his foot.  “They had a special T shirt they wanted him to wear in the casket,” he told me.  “You know what it says on that shirt?”

“I have no idea.”
“Helmet Laws Suck.”

That conversation has never left me.  A young person dies tragically in a motorcycle accident, and because he felt so strongly about the heavy hand of government, his mom decides one final message from him to the world is in order: Death be damned.  Helmet laws still suck!

Talk about dying for what you believe in.
I guess a lot of people still feel that way, including at least one member of the Massachusetts legislature, Rep. Marc T. Lombardo, R-Billerica.  He introduced a bill this session that would have eliminated a section of state law requiring every person operating a motorcycle or riding as a passenger on a motorcycle to wear “protective head gear.”  In place of that section, which is part of Chapter 90 of the Massachusetts General Laws, Lombardo’s bill would have inserted language requiring only those motorcycle drivers and passengers who are under age 18 to wear head gear.

Fortunately, the legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation decided recently to send Lombardo’s bill, titled benignly as An Act Relative to Motorcycle Helmet Choice, to study.  This means it has virtually zero chance of being seriously considered, never mind enacted, this year.
I follow fairly closely what goes on in the Transportation Committee.  Not too long after seeing an online notice about Lombardo’s bill going to study, I read a New York Times article on what has happened in those states that have already done what An Act Relative to Motorcycle Helmet Choice would accomplish here if it ever passed: repeal the helmet law for adults.  The headline told the story: “When Motorcycle Helmet Laws Ease, a Fatal Trend Follows.”

The article said: “In the past two decades, six states have repealed or relaxed laws that required every motorcyclist to wear a helmet.  Charting fatal motorcycle accidents in each of those states reveals a definitive trend: As soon as the law changes, the number of fatalities rises.”
One of the disturbing examples cited by the Times was Florida.  The article said:

“When Florida relaxed its laws in July 2000, it required helmets only for riders younger than 21 and those with limited medical insurance policies.  Safety experts watched closely to see what would happen in the state, which has a large population and a strong motorcycle culture.

“Fatalities among motorcyclists who did not wear helmets rose more than sevenfold, to 164 in the year after the new law from 23 in the year before.”
Jeff Hennie, vice president of the Motorcycle Riders Foundation, was quoted by the Times as saying, “We are 100 percent anti-helmet laws, but we are 100 percent pro-helmet.  We believe that the government should not tell you to wear a helmet.”

I’d support that proposition wholeheartedly if the Jeff Hennies of the world agreed to encode just one stipulation in all state laws addressing head gear for motorcyclists and their passengers:  Anyone not wearing a helmet who suffers a head and/or spinal injury leading to permanent disability agrees to forego permanently any public assistance, as through Medicaid, Medicare, etc. 
I figure if you don’t want the government telling you how to protect yourself in an accident, you can’t expect the government to pay for the care you need after you get hurt in an accident.

The above-cited Times article may be found at:


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