Senators Block Proposed Repeal of Motorcycle Helmet Requirement

Mar 9, 2017

A bipartisan group of Senators voted to block a repeal of the state's requirement that all adults wear helmets while driving a motorcycle.

The repeal was amended into Senate Bill 173 during the committee process, a bill that would allow drivers to use autocycles, three-wheeled, fully enclosed vehicles, and would exempt drivers from having to obtain a motorcycle license. 

Sen. Ron Stollings, a physician from Boone County, moved to strike the repeal section from the bill, keeping the requirement in place. 

Stollings held a letter from the West Virginia State Medical Association in his hand as he proposed the amendment, saying the group called it an "organ donor acceleration bill." The number of traumatic brain injuries, Stollings said, would no doubt increase dramatically should the repeal take effect. 

"What it really is is just a recognition of the personal freedoms that Americans should have" Sen. Robert Karnes, who successfully proposed removing the helmet requirement in committee, said on the floor. "[Freedoms] that in many cases and in many ways have been restricted too much by legislative bodies across the country, but now the move is in the other direction.”

Sen. Robert Karnes introduced the initial amendment accepted in the committee process to add to Senate Bill 173 a repeal of the state's motorcycle helmet requirement.
Credit Will Price / West Virginia Legislative Photography

Karnes said 31 state do not require motorcyclists to wear helmets, but Sen. Bob Beach argued some of those states, like Michigan, have seen a drastic increase in motorcycles deaths since their repeals and are now reconsidering the move.

"What do we not do every single day that doesn’t affect somebody’s liberty or freedom?" Sen. Tom Takubo, the chamber's only other physician, said during the debate over the amendment.

"Every single bill we vote on either takes something away or gives something to somebody, but there’s very few times where your finger pressing this button makes the difference between somebody living and somebody dying," he said. 

Stollings also pointed to the potential increase in Medicaid funding should injuries increase. 

His amendment was adopted on a voice vote, and the language to repeal the state's motorcycle helmet requirement was removed from the bill.

Senate Bill 173 will be put to a full vote Friday.