The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

March 15, 2013

Rep. Tolson says no to helmet proposal


TARBORO — The House Transportation Committee debated Tuesday on legislation that would revise the motor vehicle laws making it lawful to operate a motorcycle without wearing a safety helmet. Edgecombe County Rep. Joe Tolson (D-Edgecombe) said he is totally against it.

"I've always been a strong supporter for wearing helmets," Tolson said. "If someone get in accident, it will provide some protection."

House Bill 109 primary sponsors are Rep. John Torbett Stanley (R-Gaston) and Michael Speciale (R- Beaufort, Craven, Pamilco). The bill was filed Feb. 14 and passed its first reading Feb. 18. Before a bill becomes a law, it must be passed by the House and the Senate, ratified, and, if required, signed by the Governor. If it passes, the law will become effective Oct. 1. With the Republican led house, Tolson said it's likely that the bill will pass.

Greg Higgs, an avid motorcyclist that has been riding for 27 years sides with Tolson. Higgs said he has been in five motorcycle accidents and suffered three concussions.

"I don't agree with that at all," Higgs said. "If it wasn't for my helmets, I would be dead today. In one of my accidents my motorcycle flipped and I landed on my head. That helmet saved my life.

"And for the young riders it will be extremely dangerous. It will give them a chance to showoff and be seen. If it passes, it's going to be ugly."

House Bill 109 will allow a person over 21 years old to ride their motorcycle without a helmet as long as the rider held a motorcycle license for more than 12 months or had completed the course of instruction offered by the Motorcycle Safety Instruction Program. The rider would also have to be covered by an insurance policy providing for at least $10,000 in medical benefits for injuries that could be incurred as a result of a crash while riding on a motorcycle. Passengers meeting the insurance requirement could also ride without a safety helmet.     

During Tuesday's discussions, the bill's age limitation was changed from 18 to 21. Tolson said that change "made it okay for some" representatives." The discussion also included a doctor who testified that the average cost of a motorcycle accident is $250,000, Tolson said. That also caused concern for the Edgecombe County representative.

"If the motorcyclist is underinsured, then who's going to pay for the medical cost?" Tolson asked. "Everybody. The costs get spread among people who have insurance. The helmet does provide some protection. If the person is going at a high speed, there is no protection (that can prevent a catastrophe). But if a person is not wearing a helmet, it will be worse. I rather be on the side of caution. I believe that helmet provides safety."