From the Arkansas Statehouse...

Senate committee says no to motorcycle helmets, tarps.

In Kim Hendren, Transportation on 23 February 2009 at 1:36 pm

In the face of motorcyclist opposition, the Senate Transportation Committee this morning failed to make a motion on a bill that would toughen state helmet requirements. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kim Hendren, mandates that a rider either wear a helmet or carry $10,000 of health insurance.

Sen. Hendren said the helmet requirement would cut down on injuries and thereby reduce public health costs. Rodney Roberts, a motorcyclist who testified against the bill, countered that there is contradictory evidence on the effectiveness of helmets in saving lives, and that in some cases helmets are responsible for deaths. (The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found a positive correlation between helmet use and crash survival.)

Roberts further argued that the law would be ineffective and a hassle to bikers, who would have to acquire a decal to prove they had health insurance. He said the decal might mar the appearance of bikes. He also said it was unfair to make motorcyclists acquire health insurance but not the general population.

Members of the committee did not seem impressed with any of this reasoning. “People against a bill will use every argument they can,” Sen. Bobby Glover told Roberts.

In the end, however, the committee did not make a motion. The bill will remain on the active calendar. Sen. Hendren said he might give it another shot later in the session.

The helmet requirement is representative of a gradual approach Sen. Hendren has taken to traffic safety issues this session. Even if it passed, the bill would not make Arkansas one of the 21 states to have a universal motorcycle helmet requirement. Nor does the bill prescribe strict penalties for violators. A Sen. Hendren-sponsored bill requiring teen drivers to use hands-free cell phones also had weak enforcement provisions.

Sen. Hendren encountered another defeat this morning when the Transportation Committee declined to approve his bill that would require trucks carrying gravel to be covered with a tarp. A number of county judges who spoke against the measure called it an unfunded mandate. A 2001 law exempted trucks made after 2001 from using a tarp; Sen. Hendren said it is time to end that exception. He offered to set a firm deadline a few years in the future to end of the exemption, but the judges countered that they should not have to supply trucks with tarps until the economy is on steady ground.

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