LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL CAPITAL BUREAU REPORT THAT FREEDOM MIGHT RETURN TO NEVADA-- CARSON CITY -- After failing for five straight sessions to repeal the state's 39-year-old motorcycle helmet law, Sen. Don Gustavson has developed a new, perhaps winnable, strategy:
Let them take off their helmets, and they will come.
He says they will show up for the Laughlin River Run, Reno Street Vibrations and every other biker rally, stay at the finest hotels and gamble away fortunes.
At the same time, a helmet-free state will spawn greater local interest in riding. More motorcycle dealerships will open.
The economy will begin to boom if Nevada repeals its helmet law, he predicts.
"Mine is the only bill that will create new jobs and revenue for Nevada without raising taxes," said Gustavson, R-Sparks, during a Senate Transportation Committee hearing last week.
The hearing attracted dozens of motorcycle riders who want the law thrown out and a large contingent of police who prefer the status quo.
Motorcycle dealers and the Laughlin River Run coordinator aren't as optimistic as Gustavson. Although they favor the proposal, they say changing the law would only bring slight increases in business.
And based on what happened in Florida after it repealed its helmet law, Nevada also could see an increase in motorcycle rider deaths.
THE BIKER EVIDENCE
Gustavson wants to amend his Senate Bill 177 to make it effective upon passage and approval. The Laughlin River Run is April 27 to May 1, and he hopes those riders won't have to wear helmets.
According to the Greater Johnstown Convention & Visitors Bureau, attendance at the Thunder in the Valley motorcycle rally in Pennsylvania increased by 30,000 following that state's repeal of its helmet law. The rally is held each June.
Based on the $2.8 billion increase in motorcycle sales reported by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles in the five years after its helmet law was repealed in 2000, Gustavson predicts a $56 million increase in the sales of motorcycles in Nevada following helmet law repeal.
"I think a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in the first year is realistic," Gustavson said. "Five percent a year after that."
Joe O'Day, coordinator of the Laughlin River Run, expects a slight, but not substantial, increase in attendance if riders don't have to wear helmets. Attendance at last year's event was 50,000, down from the peak of 70,000 before the recession hit Nevada.
"From a public relations standpoint, it would be a big boom," O'Day said. "From a safety standpoint, helmets are safer than riding without them. But riders strongly feel they should have the right to choose."
Nationally, the median age of a motorcycle rider in 2007 was 48, compared with 24 in 1980, according to Karen Juranski, vice president of the ABATE of Southern Nevada.
"I read an article that referred to us as 'rebels with disposable income,' " Juranski said. "We all know disposable income runs this state. The average motorcycle rider today is an older, educated person who has money. Shouldn't we make the decision whether to wear a helmet?"
ABATE is an organization for motorcycle enthusiasts in many states that has advocated for decades for the repeal of helmet laws. It now stands for A Brotherhood for Active Education, although initially it meant A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments.
GUSTAVSON HAS ALLIES
Gustavson, typically the lone rider on the issue in past sessions, has allies in his 2011 effort to repeal the helmet law.
Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, repeatedly challenged witnesses who spoke out against helmet law repeal last week.
Committee members John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, and Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, are repeal bill co-sponsors.
"We have enough votes to get it out of the committee and get it out of the Senate," Gustavson said. "I haven't polled the other house yet. Maybe the time is right. Gas prices are going up and more people will be riding. This is good for the economy and will give us our freedom back."
But Chairwoman Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson, isn't so sure the bill will pass.
Breeden said she wants to hear from the insurance industry before scheduling a vote.
The Automobile Association of America sent a letter in opposition, but did not have a representative at the hearing. The high cost of medical care for uninsured riders injured in accidents has been a primary reason why the bill failed in previous sessions.
By Ed Vogel, Las Vegas Review Journal