43 cycle fatalities since '07 - re-enact helmet law? - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

43 cycle fatalities since '07 - re-enact helmet law?

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by Nick Delgado

Guam - The island has seen its fair share of serious motorcycle and even scooter crashes, some fatal. And with the most recent tragic death of a prominent rider, the issue of whether helmets should be mandated to be worn by all motorcycle riders has resurfaced.

In the last five years the Department of Public Works' Office of Highway Safety reports 43 fatalities from motorcycle crashes - eight cases confirmed where the rider was not wearing a helmet. But DPW director Joanne Brown said, "It's still a significant number."

In March 1997 the Guam Legislature repealed the law requiring motorcyclists above the age of 18 to wear helmets. The measure was authored by then-senator Elizabeth Barrett Anderson before she took the bench as a judge for the Superior Court of Guam.

The legislation states that studies had shown that although motorcycles have a fairly high rate of accidents, the use of helmets is not a conclusive factor in reducing accidents.  Brown, also a former senator, along with the rest of her colleagues in the 24th Guam Legislature, co-sponsored the repeal. But as the head of Public Works 15 years later, her stance has changed.

"The position of the department is in favor of helmet use," Brown said. "Certainly when you are out there on the road there is not a lot of buffer between the people riding motorcycles and the asphalt and concrete that's out there. So in terms of safety-related issues, while there is no guarantee wearing a helmet could save you during a crash. In most cases, it could probably minimize injury for those who do survive."

In 2009 Senators B.J. Cruz and Tina Muna Barnes attempted to restore the provision to enforce helmets for all motorcycle riders, but the legislation failed to get enough votes for passage as a result of strong opposition from motorcycle riders including the late owner of the Harley Davidson store, Bill Nielsen, who tragically died after crashing his motorcycle this past week.

Nielsen told KUAM News in a previous interview, "There are two types of riders, and no law is going to prevent poor judgment."

Nielsen was not wearing a helmet and died as a result of severe head injuries.

And while there's still opposition about mandating the use of helmets, legislation may be introduced to enforce it yet again. Said Brown, "I think it's the whole idea of having a motorcycle and you are free and independent and it's the whole experience and image that comes with that. You are not restrained with the day-to-day life and responsibilities."

Senator Adolpho Palacios added, "I think it's time we look at that one more time and let's get the input from the public. Not necessarily that we are going to pass it or not, but we need to look at the issue more closely because if it can save a life then its worth it."

As public safety oversight chair, Palacios says he wants to revisit the issue, as the law currently mandates that only bicyclists and those under 18 riding motorcycles and scooters would be required to wear helmets. "Eventually of course we are going to have to put the matter on the table meaning draft legislation," he said.

Palacios adds the proposed measure is something that will likely be taken up by the next Guam Legislature.

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