SANTA FE (KRQE) – Hundreds of motorcyclists flooded the roundhouse Saturday. They were upset about a state lawmaker’s proposal to make them wear helmets, or pay a hefty fee not to.
More than 500 bikers from across the state took to the road and flooded the roundhouse Saturday afternoon.
The crowd cheered and chanted, “no to helmet laws! Let the rider decide!”
The group spoke out against two bills. One of them, Senate Bill 327, would require all motorcyclists in New Mexico to wear helmets.
Another, Senate Bill 308, would create a loophole. Anyone 18 years or older could opt out of wearing a helmet, if they buy a distinctive $692 annual registration sticker.
“This is just a taxation on motorcyclists,” exclaimed Annette Torrez, Chair for the New Mexico Motorcyclist Rights Organization.
Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino, a democrat, is sponsoring both bills. “There were 17 motorcycle deaths in New Mexico last year, only one of them was wearing a helmet,” said Ortiz y Pino.
Ortiz y Pino said helmets save lives and taxpayer money. The $692 fee to not wear a helmet would fund medical expenses tied to trauma care and the treatment of brain injuries.
“This bill says you do not have to wear a helmet if you choose not to, but you ought to know that exercising that right is expensive for somebody,” Ortiz y Pino explained. “We think you ought to bear a portion of that cost.”
Many motorcyclists argue that isn’t fair.
“All kinds of road users die on our road every day, so why is a single class of citizens being singled out?” said Torrez. “Why do we have to pay for people killing us? We are the victims, we are the one’s dying on the road,” Torrez added.
Currently, 19 states including the District of Columbia have universal helmet laws. Twenty-eight states, including New Mexico, have helmet laws covering young riders. Three states have no motorcycle helmet laws on the books.
But many in New Mexico believe wearing a helmet won’t make the roads safer, and argue it should be a choice.
“The solution is education,” Torrez explained. “It’s safety awareness, it’s telling those people who are out there with us every day, ‘look out for us.'”
The group said instead, lawmakers should make fines stiffer for careless driving, such as texting while driving.
Some motorcyclists, including Torrez, said they prefer not to wear a helmet because it impairs their vision and hearing on the road, making them more vulnerable to careless drivers. “And those of us who ride, we depend on that, especially in this town,” said Brett Wilcox, of Albuquerque Motorcycle Group.
“There are several incidents in the last couple years that saved me, being able to avoid an accident, but you can’t prove that on paper,” said Wilcox, about riding his motorcycle without a helmet.
“They say it makes them feel safer, the statistics don’t back them up,” countered Ortiz y Pino. “The data shows that it’s incredibly dangerous.”
If the bill passes, the fine for not wearing a helmet would be $300 for the first offense, and $600 for the second offense. Protestors pointed out, the fine for texting and driving is $25.
The bill will be heard in committee on Tuesday.