Governor should veto Legislature's helmet law

Monday, Jun. 29 2009
 
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon did something a little weird last Thursday: He vetoed
$33,000 from the Department of Transportation's budget to punish MoDOT for
commissioning a poll on Missourians' attitudes about the Legislature's decision
to lift the state law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets.

We've had our differences with MoDOT's director, Pete Rahn, but we think an
agency whose job includes keeping the highways safe was perfectly within its
rights to find out what the state's citizens think about an important issue of
highway safety.

Last month Mr. Rahn said a telephone survey of 2,050 residents showed 84
percent of them support the current law requiring motorcyclists of all ages to
wear helmets. He said that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
estimates that in 2007, the helmet law saved 42 lives in Missouri.

"By a 9-to-1 ratio, Missourians know this simple fact: Motorcycle helmets save
lives," Mr. Rahn said. He added, "This makes as much sense as going out and
ripping out median guard cables on our interstates. It will have the same
effect: More people will die on our roads."

Some state lawmakers and "helmet freedom" advocates said the poll — and Mr.
Rahn's advocacy — was an improper attempt to influence Mr. Nixon's decision
about whether to veto the helmet law the Legislature enacted in April.
Lawmakers decided that motorcycle riders 21 and older could ditch their helmets
unless they are traveling on interstate highways.

Mr. Nixon agreed, whacking $33,000 from MoDOT's budget (the amount the poll
cost), saying it was an inappropriate use of tax dollars to influence a public
official, i.e., him.

On Friday, a spokesman for the governor said that decision doesn't mean that
Mr. Nixon has decided to sign the helmet-law repeal. The governor has until
July 14 to sign or veto the measure or take no action, thereby allowing it to
become law on Aug. 28.

The Missouri Highway Patrol says that some motorcycle riders, unaware of the
fine points of legislative procedure, already have removed their helmets. The
patrol's public affairs office told the Associated Press last week that
troopers are reporting a large number of motorcyclists riding bare-headed.

If the riders are confused now, just wait until their heads bounce off the
pavement a couple of times.

Newspapers around the state — including this editorial page — have opposed
lifting the helmet law and have urged Mr. Nixon to veto it. The public knows
that in addition to adding to the death toll, the costs of caring for traumatic
brain injury are huge. In most cases, those costs will passed onto the general
public.

If society bears the cost, society makes the decision. And that decision, as
we've said before, is a no brainer — veto it. And give back MoDOT's 33 grand.

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