Bikers over 25 who have met safety requirements would be able to ride sans helmet, under a bill that advanced Thursday at the Capitol.
The Senate Transportation Committee also voted to bump up the fine for not wearing a seatbelt, from $10 to $50.
The helmet bill, SB548, sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, would allow older bikers to ride helmet-free if they meet minimum insurance requirements and complete a qualified safety course, as well as pay a $50 fee to the state.
The committee approved the measure to ease helmet restrictions by a vote of 6-3.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, questioned whether the insurance requirements were high enough considering the cost of “traumatic brain injuries,” and speculated that the state may have to cover long-term health costs of those injured in an accident while not wearing a helmet.
Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, disagreed that any fiscal issues applied to the legislation.
“It’s obvious that if you’re not wearing a helmet, you’re in the morgue,” Niceley said. “That’s bad, that’s terrible, but that’s not something where we need to worry about dollars here. We can’t worry about that side of it.”
“It makes the undertakers money, but it saves the state money,” he added.
Sen. Bill Ketron said his seatbelt bill, SB 847, is needed to promote safety.
With the second lowest fine in the country for not wearing a seatbelt, Tennessee saw a decline of 4 percent in seatbelt use over the year 2011, the Murfreesboro Republican said.
Conversely, Ketron said, Washington state has the highest fine in the nation and the highest percentage of seatbelt usage.
“I know some people don’t like wearing them, but it is our law,” Ketron said.
Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, said she thinks that people should be able to take care of themselves in situations like this without a law to guide them. Beavers said an increase in seatbelt enforcement would distract law enforcement from more important issues.
The committee approved the bill, 5-4.
Both bills have their next hearings in the Senate Finance committee.
The House bill to reduce the helmet restrictions for motorcyclists has already passed the House Transportation committee. The House version of the seatbelt bill is still awaiting a hearing.