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Motorcycle helmet bill alive, but in limbo

Delaware Public Media

Some consider it a defeat, some view it as progress.

The House Public Safety Committee Wednesday didn’t have enough votes to table a bill that would mandate all motorcycle riders wear helmets in Delaware.

But, not enough lawmakers supported it getting out of committee either.

That leaves it stuck in a sort of legislative limbo. Should supporters rally enough committee members to their side, they can move the bill to the full House floor without another hearing.

But Rep. Sean Lynn, the bill’s main sponsor, says that he doesn’t see that happening. Instead, he says he’s focused on how much progress the cause has made in just a few years.

In 2011, the legislature approved fully repealing Delaware’s helmet law, which only requires those riding motorcycles to have one with them, but Gov. Jack Markell vetoed it.

“In only a four-year time period, I think you’re seeing a massive generational shift," said Lynn. "I think that may be one of the keys to this is the kind of transition from those legislators that are in office now to kind of the next generation – guys my age.”

Supporters outnumbered opponents in the hearing, including two men who suffered traumatic brain injuries in motorcycle accidents.

Paul Kelp, who urged Lynn to sponsor the bill, testified that he used to be a member of the Air Force, but that now, he’s “nothing.”

Others, including his wife Tammy, say that when riders make the choice not to wear a helmet, they also choose for those around them who may become their caretaker.

Several leather-clad men rallied against the bill.

"We had a lot of brave men and women go to war so we don't have to listen to the dictatorship of government," said Gary Hilderbrand, a motorcycle safety activist.

Dave Johnson, another speaker blasting the bill, said, "Laws like this make us more of a nanny state than a state of free will."

Lynn and others also noted the economic costs of those who don’t wear a helmet.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that between 1984 and 1996, the potential health savings in Delaware could’ve been nearly $34.5 million if everyone had been wearing a helmet during traffic accidents.

“Is spending millions of dollars for the wind to be in the hair of these motorcyclists more important than my state benefits or my ability to get preventative care for my children or my family? Why should I have to pay more in health insurance costs?” said Lynn.

Right now, the bill doesn’t have enough support to get it to the floor, but it will remain active until the 148th General Assembly closes next year.

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