From Sam Hochberg:

Motorcycling Friends: At the eleventh hour, on the very last day that the governor could have exercised his veto of our freedom of choice helmet law (passed, of course, by our House and Senate), the governor did us in. He obviously knew all along that he was going to veto our bill. Oregon motorcyclists should nonetheless be pleased with what a terrific, well-organized and persuasive job we did this legislative session.

Here's what the guy says for himself. Wish us well the next time around - we don't go away. To paraphrase Schwartzenegger, "we'll be back."

Sam Hochberg

August 8, 1997

The Honorable Phil Keisling
Secretary of State
136 State Capitol
Salem, OR 97310

Dear Secretary Keisling:

I am returning herewith HB 2454, unsigned and disapproved.

The bill would repeal the motorcycle helmet law for riders 21 years of age and older. While I respect motorcycle riders' desire to choose whether to wear helmets, maintaining the current law is clearly in the best interests of the citizens of Oregon. This is consistent with the public position I have held on this issue for almost 20 years.

I am vetoing this bill, based not only on my experience as an emergency room physician, but also because the research clearly demonstrates that motorcycle helmet laws save lives, prevent injuries, and save public dollars. Helmeted riders have 28-73% lower death rates than unhelmeted riders and helmet usage reduces the incidence of severe head injury by 46-85%. States with helmet laws have death rates 20-40% lower than states without such laws. Helmet usage is 90-98% in states with mandatory laws, and only about 50% in those without. Unhelmeted riders have higher medical care costs than helmeted riders in crashes, and the majority of the costs are paid by the public rather than by the injured motorcyclist. If our helmet law were to be repealed, Oregon Medical Assistance Program estimates an increased expenditure of over $6 million of public funds per biennium to pay for additional health care costs.

In addition, Oregonians showed strong support for mandatory motorcycle helmets when they overwhelmingly approved the 1988 referendum by a 2 - 1 margin. The measure passed in every county. A recent poll conducted by an independent research firm has shown that the people of this state continue to support the helmet law by a wide margin.

I will continue to oppose repealing the motorcycle helmet law based on my concern for the health of Oregon motorcyclists and my commitment to the judicious use of public funds. As I have stated in the past, the only way I would consider signing such a measure into law would be if those who are advocating freedom of choice for adult riders would also ensure that those exercising such a freedom also accept the full economic responsibility for their actions.


John A. Kitzhaber, M.D.

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