Gov. Nixon vetoes bill to repeal Missouri helmet law; cites increased health care costs to taxpayers, public safety as primary concerns

July 2, 2009
Jefferson City, MO

Gov. Jay Nixon today vetoed Senate Bill 202, legislation that would have repealed Missouri's helmet law for motorcycle riders. In vetoing the bill, Gov. Nixon cited two primary concerns: the significantly increased health care costs that could have resulted from the repeal, and the safety of Missouri's motorcycle riders.

"In terms of lives and of dollars, the cost of repealing Missouri's helmet law simply would have been too high," Gov. Nixon said. "By keeping Missouri's helmet law intact, we will save numerous lives, while also saving Missouri taxpayers millions of dollars in increased health care costs. Keeping our helmet law in place was the safe and cost-effective choice for Missouri."

Universal helmet laws, such as the law Missouri has had since 1967, require all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet at all times while riding. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the economic consequences of repealing such a law are clear. When Florida repealed its universal helmet law in 2002, the cost to treat patients diagnosed with head injuries as a result of motorcycle accidents doubled, reaching a total of $44 million. [Traffic Safety Facts, NHTSA, 2008] Nationally, one academic study estimated that the total cost to treat motorcycle accident victims who were not wearing a helmet is $250,231,734 a year more than the cost of treating victims who were wearing a helmet [Economic Impact of Motorcycle Helmets: From Impact to Discharge, Journal of Trauma-Injury, Infection & Critical Care, 2006]

Data from health care providers and insurance companies indicate that the taxpayers ultimately must pay for a significant portion of these increased treatment costs. After the Florida repeal, 16 percent of injured motorcyclists admitted to a hospital for treatment were either under-insured or uninsured, and the costs for another 21 percent of those admitted were billed to either charitable or public sources, such as Medicaid. [Traffic Safety Facts, NHTSA, 2008]

The public safety implications of eliminating or weakening a universal helmet law also are devastating. The NHTSA reports that helmets reduce the likelihood of a motorcycle fatality by 37 percent; but without a helmet law, riders more often choose not to wear protective headgear. As a result, when states repeal their helmet laws, motorcycle fatalities skyrocket. [Traffic Safety Facts, NHTSA, 2008]

According to an NHTSA report, in the 30 months following Florida's repeal of its universal helmet law in 2002, the number of motorcycle fatalities jumped sharply. That year, the state had projected 242 motorcycle fatalities in light of increased registration of motorcycle riders. In fact, however, 301 motorcycle riders died in Florida in 2002 - 24 percent more than expected. For the two years before and after Florida's repeal, fatalities per 10,000 motorcycle riders increased 21 percent in that state, compared with 13 percent nationally. [Evaluation of the Repeal of the All-Rider Motorcycle Helmet Law in Florida, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2005]

In other states where universal helmet laws have been repealed, the trend is similar. According to the NHTSA, fatalities increased by 31 percent in the year following the repeal of the Texas helmet law in 1997. When Arkansas repealed its helmet law the same year, fatalities increased by 21 percent. [What Happens When a Helmet Law is Repealed? Traffic Safety Facts, NHTSA, 2008]

In addition to Senate Bill 202, the Governor vetoed four other pieces of legislation today. Those bills, along with their subject matter, are listed below:

  • Senate Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 542, relating to the state treasurer;
  • House Bill 373, relating to the general educational development revolving fund;
  • House Bill 306, relating to certain hotel and motel taxes; and
  • House Committee Substitute for House Bill 89, relating to traffic violations.

The Governor's veto messages on these bills can be viewed at