New Hampshire: Discriminatory Insurance Bill Defeated

NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Thursday, January 29, 1998. A bill before the New Hampshire Legislature, HB 1216, which would have required unhelmeted motorcyclists to purchase a million-dollar liability insurance policy to legally ride in that state was defeated by a voice vote on the House floor yesterday, reports the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA).

The bill, introduced by State Rep. Robert Boyce (R-Belknap), would have also raised the annual registration fee for unhelmeted motorcyclist to $25, while helmeted riders would pay $12. As the bill was drafted, the required insurance would have compensated any motorist who suffered bodily injury, death or property damage as the result of being involved in an accident with an unhelmeted motorcycle operator. Motorcyclist injuries and property damage were not addressed under the provisions of the bill. Currently, adult riders in New Hampshire can choose whether to wear a helmet or not when they ride.

"Why would a helmetless motorcyclist be more likely to inflict greater damage in an accident than a helmeted motorcyclist?" asked AMA Washington Representative Rob Dingman, after testifying in opposition to the bill. "There is absolutely no logical explanation for this legislation. This is simply one legislator's attempt to use any means available to discourage motorcyclists from riding without helmets. The New Hampshire Motorcyclist Rights Organization has done a great job of letting legislators in Concord know their views, and AMA members have flooded the capitol with letters in opposition."

State Rep. Sherman Packard (R-Rockingham), a longtime motorcyclist rights activist and the chairman of the House Transportation Committee that voted 16-0 in opposition to HB 1216, agrees.

"The bill was just poorly drafted," noted Packard. "The sponsor wanted to enact a law similar to the helmet modification legislation approved in Texas last year."

Texas modified their mandatory helmet law requirement to exclude riders who had either passed a motorcycle safety course or had purchased a $10,000 health insurance policy to cover the cost of any injuries they might sustain in a motorcycle accident. The legislation was supported by some motorcycle rights groups in the state. Critics at the time pointed out that accepting additional insurance requirements as a prerequisite for operating a motorcycle would suggest -- incorrectly -- that motorcyclists are a social burden of some sort and that society should be protected from the costs associated with their allegedly risky behavior. This argument that has been advanced by many individuals and groups promoting an anti-motorcycling political agenda.

"I am 100 percent convinced that if they hadn't done what they did in Texas we wouldn't be facing these bills right now," explained Packard. "I don't think it's a coincidence. Some of the main testimony in support of HB 1216 came from the New Hampshire Medical Society and the New Hampshire Brain Injury Association. The sponsor of the bill was a past president of that foundation, he's on the board of directors of that foundation, and he's involved nationally with the foundation. What they didn't realize in Texas is that organizations like the Head Injury Foundation and the Medical Society have a national network just like every interest group does. And the minute they win in one state, it's general knowledge across the country."

"If this law had passed in New Hampshire, in essence, unless you put your helmet on you wouldn't be allowed to ride your motorcycle because the insurance required by the bill isn't even available," Packard added. "We're going to see more legislation like this, and the bottom line is that you can ride your bike with a helmet on, but you can't ride your bike if they require an insurance provision that you can't comply with."

Similar legislation to require motorcyclists to purchase additional insurance in exchange for modifying existing helmet laws has been introduced in Florida and California.

Thanks for the article to:
Chris Kallfelz
American Motorcyclist Association | Legal Affairs Editor | 614-891-2425, ext. 247

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