And here is my Quick Throttle Column for March, musing about mandatory helmet laws and the like, as I get down to figuring out what to write about for the April issue.
The other morning I came across HB 1663 which was simply listed as “Hog Fuel Tax Exemption”. This sounded rather intriguing so I pulled up the text of the actual bill. Despite the title it had nothing to do with discounting gas for my Harley, but rather a tax credit for using “Hog Fuel”, which is defined in statute as “wood waste and wood residuals” when generating electricity. Shucks, I was hoping for cheaper premium gas.
However boring the process of reading bills might be, we did have some excitement in the legislative session already - something historic in fact. We actually had a hearing on a bill to repeal Washington’s mandatory helmet law. There hasn’t been a hearing on that bill in a very very long time although the bill has been introduced every year since the mandatory helmet law went into effect in 1990. The helmet law was first enacted in 1967, but repealed in 1977 and then reinstated for riders under age 17 in 1987 and for all riders in 1990.
I’ve occasionally joked with the proponents of repealing the helmet law, and even laid down a bet or two that it wouldn’t happen. I’ve tended to view the proponents of repeal as distant relatives to Don Quixote off tilting at windmills from the back of their bikes. I still feel that there are better things that are more easily accomplished that we can focus on that will have meaningful and direct benefits to riders too. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a debate on the merits of helmet repeal and advocate for it -- just that it shouldn’t be the number one priority.
Hell, the Legislature wouldn’t even hold a hearing on the bill for 22 years, since the long reigning chairs of the Legislative Transportation Committees wouldn’t even entertain the notion at all. Well this year there has been a major shakeup in the Washington State Senate leadership and I’ll be damned our Quixotic rascals didn’t manage to convince the Senate co-chairs of the Transportation committee to hold a hearing on the bill.
But as a taxpayer I also recognize that we all bear the social cost for those that don’t drive with seat belts or helmets. Is that reason enough to restrict freedom or not? I know very few bikers that aren’t supportive of the cell phone use while driving prohibitions, but they also want choice when it comes to whether or not they choose to ride with a helmet. Is this a contradiction in terms? Tell someone else what they can and can’t do, but not me? Do we as a society err on the side of caution rather than freedom? There’s a lot more to this issue than just being able to hop on your bike sans helmet and ride off down the road.
Will the helmet law be repealed this year? I don’t see it happening. I don’t think I’ll be settling up on those bets I’ve made for steak dinners any time soon. But my heritage is Scottish. I wear a kilt, love bagpipes and eat haggis. And we Scotsmen don’t give up. It took William Wallace and Robert the Bruce years of battles and struggles to win freedom from English domination back in the 14th Century. The dogged supporters of repealing the helmet law are like that and they won’t give up either. They haven’t for 20 plus years. They’ll keep coming back and coming back, and we all have to admire them for that. More often than not its persistence that wins the day, and that’s what just might win the day here. But not today.
Gary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com