Lawmakers pass bill allowing Nebraskans to ride a motorcycle without a helmet

LINCOLN, Neb (KLKN) – After over 30 years of being law, Nebraska’s motorcycle helmet requirement may soon be repealed.

Lawmakers passed Legislative Bill 138 on Wednesday on a 41-0 vote.

That bill includes an amendment removing the helmet requirement for motorcyclists 21 and older, which passed 30-5 last week.

If Gov. Jim Pillen signs it, the change will go into effect on Jan. 1.

To go helmetless, riders must complete a motorcycle safety course approved by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Anyone who doesn’t could face a fine.

They also would have to wear safety glasses or use a windshield.

Sen. Ben Hansen, the chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said the decision to wear a helmet should ultimately come down to the rider.

He said the requirement to wear one violates people’s civil liberties.

“There’s a lot of actions we do in life that are not safe that we still do anyway, and we don’t have laws for them,” he said. “The purpose behind the bill is giving the people the liberty or freedom to make that choice for themselves.”

Hansen, who voted for bans on abortion and gender-affirming surgeries for minors, said his freedom of choice angle on this issue is not a contradiction.

He said this bill is different because it gives adults the freedom to make a choice about their own safety that doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s rights.

Hansen also said this is different from seat belt laws because when an unbuckled person driving a car gets into a crash, their body could endanger someone else, which he believes won’t happen on a motorcycle.

“Falling on a motorcycle doesn’t affect anybody else’s civil liberties,” he said. “Getting in a car, sometimes you don’t have control over your car, you’re not strapped down and sometimes that can lead to further injury or damage to somebody else.”

But the Nebraska Safety Council said motorcycle crashes affect more than just the rider.

Executive Director John Lefler Jr. said that while everyone is entitled to personal choices, they should also think about the public good.

“It’s not just you; it’s family, it’s friends, it’s a lot of other people that are affected, including taxpayers,” he said. “There is a cost to all of this when you think about accidents with motorcyclists.”

Lefler said if the law goes into effect, Nebraska will likely see the number of fatal motorcycle crashes, as well as insurance rates, go up.

Roger Carmichael, a motorcycle driving instructor at Southeast Community College, said he was a first responder for years and saw a lot of crashes in which drivers didn’t take proper precautions.

“Skin that’s covered stays on longer than skin that isn’t,” he said. “Ask any emergency worker about that. And a head that’s protected by a helmet will stay together, rather than a head that isn’t.”

He said even though it’s a personal choice, he hopes everyone will still wear helmets.

“To not wear a helmet while riding any of these things is a very foolish thing to do,” he said. “If they got that helmet on, most likely there’s a chance. But if they don’t, chances are slim.”

Hansen agreed and said he personally encourages everyone to wear a helmet.

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