Motorcycle helmet repeal stalls out in committee

April 9, 2019

The fifth time wasn’t the charm for lawmakers seeking to repeal North Carolina’s helmet law.

By a tie vote, the House Transportation committee failed Tuesday to approve House Bill 267, this session’s attempt to roll back that requirement for riders and passengers 21 and over.

The vote was twice misreported by Chairwoman Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Yancey, who first pronounced the bill approved on a highly dubious voice vote, only to be called on by Democrats on the committee to count the votes. She then proclaimed victory for the bill again. Asked by Democrats what the vote was, Presnell said it was 10-10.

Committee staff had to explain to her that a tie vote is not enough for approval.

The vote does not kill the measure, leaving it in the committee, where it could resurface. Bill sponsor Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, who is also the committee’s senior chairman, said he’s hopeful a vote at a later date could break the tie in his favor.

However, it would need to pass the committee and survive a House vote by May 9, the crossover date for the 2019-20 session, which is four weeks away.

Torbett and fellow sponsor Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, argued for the measure as a matter of principle. Both said they would personally recommend wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle, but they insisted the government shouldn’t have a role in any decision that affects only the person making it.

“Me without the motorcycle helmet does not impact on any other motorcycle rider or automobile driver,” Torbett said.

“We could pass legislation to make people’s lives so much safer by outlawing a lot of things people do,” Speciale added. “No matter what you do, you’re always at risk. The question is, should the government step in and tell you how to live your life?”

The committee also heard testimony from Dr. David Kammer, a Triangle emergency room doctor who talked about some of the horrific injuries he’s seen in motorcycle riders who weren’t wearing helmets. One patient, a 32-year-old father, was permanently disabled by a head injury caused by hitting a pothole at a relatively low speed.

“I think his family would tell you he wasn’t making the decision only for himself,” Kammer told the committee.

Speakers for Concerned Bikers of America testified that highway safety data don’t support claims that helmet laws reduce fatalities. But Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover, suggested the data were “cherry-picked.”

“The analysis is pretty much based on the facts,” responded Torbett.