By ANDREA LANNOM
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would have eliminated the requirement for people older than 21 to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle failed on the Senate floor Wednesday.
After a lengthy debate with supporters citing personal freedom while opponents cited personal safety, Senate Bill 549 was rejected in a 15-19 vote.
Under the bill, riders could forego the helmet requirement as long as they had a motorcycle license for at least five years, had medical insurance in the minimum amount of $15,000 and had accident insurance.
If they failed to meet those qualifications, they could have faced a $100-$500 fine on the first offense and a $100-$1,000 fine and/or a 15 day term of imprisonment on the second offense.
The bill sparked about an hour of debate. Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, called the bill the “Organ Donor Act of 2017.” He said the bill also could have consequences for insurance.
“Freedom is not free,” he said. “It has a price that is on the taxpayers of the state for all medical bills and longterm care and lost wages for those folks who are injured out there without a helmet.”
Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, also opposed the bill, saying states that have passed similar bills saw an increase in the number of deaths.
“We talk about rights and it is fun to ride down the highway with the wind in your hair … and I feel like they do have a right, but folks, this is the right to die. I hope we defeat this bill,” Stollings said.
However, others argued passing the bill could increase tourism. Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said the bill concerned her as a mother of five, and she said she hoped her family members would always wear helmets.
“But I have to say we cannot prevent people from making dumb decisions,” Rucker said. “We have duties as legislators to allow people to live their lives and do what they think is best. We cannot prohibit everything that hurts you.”
“This is pro tourism,” she later added. “I’ve received letters from people who say they won’t come to West Virginia because of our helmet law.”
See more from The Register-Herald