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UTAH RESTARTS HELMET-LAW DEBATE

SHARE UTAH RESTARTS HELMET-LAW DEBATE

More Legislature action on Page B9.By Bob Bernick Jr.Deseret News political editorand Jerry SpanglerDeseret News legislative writer

Two years ago, a mandatory motorcycle helmet law went through three public hearings and much debate before failing in the Utah House. The process started again Thursday with a House committee hearing emotional debate on both sides."I watched this woman die in front of my eyes," said Tom Metcalf, a pediatrician who tried to save a woman who fell off of a motorcycle on Wasatch Drive. "What is the logic in this when a $35 helmet can save them?" he said, choking with emotion.

While most agree wearing a helmet can prevent injury and death, the question is whether the state should mandate such use.

And committee members were concerned over conflicting testimony about whether a new federal transportation law requires Utah to adopt a helmet law under threat of lost revenues.

Apparently the law does not jeopardize federal funds. But if Utah doesn't have laws that lead to 80 percent helmet use and 70 percent seat-belt use, then from $184,000 to $1.2 million will be transferred from one state road account to helmet and seat belt safety education.

The dozens of leather-clad motorcycle riders who packed the committee hearing don't want a mandatory helmet law, but those interviewed by the Deseret News do want required safety courses. So many came that not all could fit into the committee room and many spilled out into the Capitol Rotunda. Virtually everyone had a strong opinion on the proposed helmet law.

"We have lost some brothers to head injuries," said Blue, the ambassaor for the Sundowners Motorcycle Club. "But I can't say any of those brothers would have been saved had they been wearing helmets. No one can. At 70 mph on a motorcycle, people die."

Maybe some do. But one member of a motorcycle touring club - whose 19-year-old son died when he was hit by a van while riding and not wearing a helmet - said he and his wife were touring America when the rear wheel of their bike blew out at 70 miles an hour, their bike rolling and flipping. Showing thecommittee their helmets, he said his wife suffered no injuries and he only hurt his ribs.

"You see the scrapes on these helmets. Without them, the road would have torn away about 2 inches of our brains. I'd be a statistic. That's real life."

While doctors and other emergency professionals certainly agree, you're not going to convince the bikers of that. Many had stories about times that helmets hurt, not helped

"I had a friend die in California. His forehead hit the ground, pushed his head back and the helmet snapped his neck," said Dupe, the Sundowners national vice president. "The added weight of the helmet can be deadly. Besides that, you can't see, you can't hear."

When Larry Haizlip was 16, he was riding his motorcycle up Emigration Canyon when a wasp flew into his helmet and stung him several times around the ear.

"There are motorcyclists and there are bikers," Blue said. "For us, it's a lifestyle, and having the choice of whether or not to wear a helmet is part of that lifestyle."

And what's next? they ask. Should equestrians wear helmets? Bicyclists? Roller bladers?

Sponsor Walt Bain, R-Farmington, says he just wants to save lives. And all the statistics point to the fact mandatory helmet laws will do just that. But only time will tell if committee members will allow the bill to the floor of the House - or let it die in committee as it did two years ago.