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Motorcycle Helmet Bill, Vetoed in ’88, Is Revved Up Again

Times Staff Writer

Risking a veto by Gov. George Deukmejian, the Assembly Transportation Committee on Monday approved for the second straight year a bill that would require all motorcycle riders and their passengers to wear crash helmets for safety.

The proposal by Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd (D-Carson), an identical version of which was the victim of a controversial veto last year by Deukmejian, went to the Ways and Means Committee on a 11-4 vote.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Apr. 07, 1989 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday April 7, 1989 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 5 Metro Desk 2 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
A March 28 Times story about a legislative committee hearing on a bill to require motorcycle helmets incorrectly identified a witness, neurosurgeon Dr. Elliott Blinderman, who is a member of the neurosurgery department at Cedars Sinai Medical Center and teaches at UCLA.

Minutes later, gubernatorial Press Secretary Kevin Brett warned that “unless there is compelling new information, this bill will meet the same fate as last year’s bill.”

The 1988 version marked the first time in 21 years of trying that the Legislature approved a bill that would require all California motorcyclists and their passengers to wear a helmet, regardless of age.

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In his veto message, Deukmejian said he personally favored requiring riders 16 to 21 years of age to wear protective head gear because he believed that this age group was less experienced and more prone to accidents than older riders. He said older riders could decide for themselves.

Brett said the governor had not changed his position since then.

However, there appeared to be a split within the Administration on the issue. A representative of the California Highway Patrol, Lt. Pete Mader, told the committee that the CHP has recommended to higher-ups in the Deukmejian Administration that the bill be supported by the governor.

From a traffic safety standpoint, Mader said, “helmets are a benefit” and they do “in fact, reduce fatals and injuries.”

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Legislation supported by Deukmejian was introduced by Assemblywoman Bev Hansen (R-Santa Rosa), but on Monday she struck from the bill a provision requiring helmets for 16- to 21-year-old motorcyclists.

The assemblywoman said she did so because “I wanted a clear distinction between my bill and the Floyd bill.” Other provisions of the bill would require anyone up to the age of 21 to enroll in a safety program in order to obtain a motorcycle license. Currently, 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds must enroll in the safety course.

Under the law now, it is illegal for a passenger under 15 1/2 years old to ride on a motorcycle without a helmet.

At many previous helmet bill hearings dating back to 1967, Hells Angels and other bikers clad in their leather and denim uniforms rolled up to the Capitol in their highly polished machines and loudly dominated the testimony with assertions that they had the “right to choose” whether to wear a helmet or not.

Monday’s hearing, however, featured articulate, low-key motorcycle enthusiasts in business suits and blow-dry hair styles. A few bikers in beards and T-shirts attended the hearing but did not testify.

Floyd’s bill was supported by a parade of insurance company representatives, a police chief, a neurosurgeon, a wheelchair-bound survivor of a motorcycle accident and spokesmen for various medical and health organizations.

“Wearing a helmet is not an immunity against (a head) injury, . . . but it is the best we have at this time,” said Dr. Elliot Glenderman, a neurosurgeon at UCLA. “There’s no question but that helmets protect.”

Representatives of several motorcycle groups who oppose the bill did agree that helmets provide a measure of safety and some said they encourage their members to wear them. But they insisted that the core of the issue is still a “matter of choice” and that the government should not make it a requirement that the headgear be worn.

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They insist that proper motorcycle education and training for new riders is the key to reducing motorcycle fatalities and injuries.

But one, Jim Bensberg of the American Motorcyclists Assn., which claims 25,000 members in California, said many cyclists view the proposed helmet requirement as “the tip of the iceberg.” Future bills, he forecast, could require motorcyclist to “wear orange vests or rotating beacons on top of our helmets.”


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