Bikers make case for relaxing motorcycle-helmet law
December 1, 2011
BOSTON — With the Legislature again considering relaxing the state’s helmet laws, some area motorcyclists say not wearing a helmet should be respected as a matter of personal choice.
“It’s not a death wish, it’s a life choice,” said Paul Cote, the New England region delegate to the American Motorcyclist Association Congress. “The people that ride should be adults and should be able to decide.”
Massachusetts law requires all motorcycle operators and passengers to wear helmets, but bills proposed by Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, and Rep. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, would change that, requiring only those under age 21 to wear helmets.
Cote said there is an economic incentive to pass the legislation because motorcyclists travel to nearby states that do not require helmets and spend money while there.
New Hampshire has no motorcycle-helmet law, while Maine and Connecticut require protective headgear for all riders under age 18. Rhode Island law requires riders under age 21 to wear helmets.
“What you’re missing in Massachusetts is with 185,000 registered bikes, a large portion of them are going out of state every weekend to go ride without a helmet in New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut and Rhode Island,” Cote said. “There’s no wall around Massachusetts.”
Lowell motorcyclist Paul Belley said in a phone interview that he often rides to New Hampshire with friends. Belley and his biker buddies remove their helmets as soon as they cross the state line, he said.
“We’ll get a bunch of guys together, stop at a restaurant, do some sightseeing,” said Belley, 56, a charter-boat captain, musician and truck driver. “We do spend money. Bikers are very, very generous.”
Belley said although he prefers to feel the wind in his face on a nice day, he will keep his helmet on in New Hampshire if it is cold outside.
Another Lowell motorcyclist, Michael Mombourquette, compared helmets to the leather jackets many riders wear — safer, but not necessarily comfortable.
“In the summertime, I will go 90 mph with a T-shirt on if it’s hot outside,” said Mombourquette, 46. “If I fell over, there would be pieces of me all up the road. It’s the same idea with the helmet.”
But B.J. Williams, manager of the prevention department of the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts, said there is more to consider than personal choice. He estimated that $12 billion was spent on head injuries around the country last year and said wearing a helmet reduces head injury by nearly 70 percent.
“We look at it from the aspect of safety for everybody on the road,” he said. “Whether it’s somebody who’s driving or someone on a motorcycle, we want to do whatever we can to provide safety and protect them.”
Mombourquette, a former Billerica police officer who now works for Verizon, said finding a balance among personal freedom, safety and social responsibility should be up to individuals.
“If I wipe out and it could have been prevented, I could wind up a vegetable in a hospital for 25 years being supported by tax dollars,” he said. “That’s what you have to consider. It’s something you have to wrestle with.”
Staff writer Chris Camire contributed to this report.