March 5, 2015 – Legislators in New Mexico and South Dakota recently voted on measures which will have a significant impact on motorcyclists. As is so often the case, however, these measures reopen the debate regarding freedom vs. safety, and not everyone is pleased about the outcome. Motorcyclists in South Dakota will now have the freedom to ride without restrictions on handlebar length, and most New Mexico riders can continue to take to the streets without a helmet. Motorcyclists came out in full force to uphold these rights, appearing at public hearings and committees to voice their opinions, but many others in these states – including medical professionals – have expressed the need for safety as a top priority.
South Dakota is arguably the epicenter of motorcycling in the United States, as it is home of the famed Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Riders come from far and wide to burn rubber along the hallowed grounds of Sturgis, and so it’s no coincidence that South Dakota motorcyclists and motorcycle enthusiasts are especially passionate.
Last month, the state passed S.B. 85, which eliminates restrictions on handlebar heights. State law currently requires handlebars to be situated at or below shoulder length, but once the new law takes effect, riders can modify their handlebar length as they see fit. South Dakota will become one of only 14 states which has no restrictions on handlebar length.
New Mexico lawmakers weighed in on not one, but two motorcycle measures, both of which pertain to helmets. S.B. 327 sought to require helmets for all riders, as current law only requires helmets for riders under the age of 18. S.B. 308 would have required helmetless riders to purchase a $697 license plate sticker, in an attempt to circumvent the increased health care costs associated with the absence of helmet use. Legislators shot down both measures in narrow votes, determining that all adult motorcyclists will maintain the right to ride helmetless without restriction.
While many motorcyclists are heralding these decisions as victories, the outcomes remain controversial. Where do we draw the line in terms of freedom vs. public safety? Studies have continuously demonstrated that helmet save lives, but many feel that it’s more important to let riders dictate their own safety. What do you think? Do you believe that helmets – or handlebar lengths, for that matter, should be legally mandated? Share your thoughts in the comments below.