Libertarians in Tennessee Aim to Overturn State’s Helmet Law

1173983_get_your_motor_runnin.jpgIn the past, we at the Wolfe Law Film have discussed the dangers of common activities like motorcycle or ATV riding. The injury and fatality statistics would no doubt be worse if the State of West Virginia did not require riders to wear helmets. Yet in neighboring Tennessee, there is a movement that bears watching: libertarians are pushing to have their state’s helmet law overturned.

They have succeeded to the point of putting the so-called Motorcyclist Liberty Restoration Act before the Tennessee legislature. The Act would end the requirement that motorcycle riders ages 21 and older wear a helmet. Proponents of the Act argue that even if the law saves lives — indeed, one proponent’s life was saved when he had a collision with an SUV — adults should still have the freedom to not wear a helmet if they choose. “Government is not our mom and dad,” says Representative Glen Casada, a co-sponsor of the bill.

Critics point out that there are obvious problems with this philosophy. First, the current law saves lives. The only state to succeed in repealing a helmet law — Pennsylvania in 2003 — saw the number of traumatic brain injury cases rise to more than double the previous rate. Second, the cost of injury is borne by state taxpayers as well as those directly involved in the accident. In Tennessee, if the brain injury rate were to more than double, the state would end up paying more than $1.12 million per year. This amount does not include long-term care, which usually comes with a significant price tag.

While opponents of the bill have begun to organize, the bill’s supporters claim that wearing a helmet should be a matter of common sense, not government nannying. What no supporter has addressed is whether taxpayers should have to pay for their choice to go without a helmet.

Although in West Virginia, there is no bill pending that would outlawing motorcycle helmets, legislators appear eager to ease helmet requirements. Recently, the House of Delegates passed a bill by 93-3 that would delete one of the performance requirements for helmets, stating that it was too difficult for state police to enforce.

Otherwise, if you drive without a helmet in West Virginia and get into an accident, you could find that your failure to follow the law prevents you from collecting in a lawsuit. In this state, the system is known as “modified comparative negligence” or “comparative fault.” Unlike a pure comparative fault state, where if you were 51% at fault, you could still collect 49% monetary damages in a lawsuit, in West Virginia, if you are 50% or more at fault, you cannot collect anything. So if the jury found that driving carelessly — including not wearing a helmet — was half of the reason you got in an accident with a car, you might find yourself out of luck. Any West Virginia personal injury lawyer could tell you that if you want to have the best chance to succeed in a lawsuit, you should follow the law.