- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - Motorcyclists convinced an Arizona House committee Wednesday that a helmet mandate would infringe on their rights despite pleas from the medical community that requiring protective equipment would dramatically limit traumatic brain injury and death.

Democratic Rep. Randall Friese proposed that violators of his measure could be fined $500, with $300 going into a fund to pay expenses for motorcycle head injury patients. Riders who paid a fee would be exempt from the mandate.

The Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure voted unanimously against the measure.

Friese, a Tucson surgeon, said he didn’t expect House Bill 2046 to advance in the Republican-controlled Legislature. A similar bill he sponsored last year never got a hearing.

“I’m happy just to have a public hearing,” Friese said. “This is a step forward.”

Helmet laws are rarely introduced in Arizona, and they routinely fail in the Republican-majority state.

Supporters of the proposal said requiring helmets would improve public safety.

“There is no doubt that a universal helmet law saves lives and reduces the amount of traumatic brain injury,” said Dr. Bellal Joseph, a trauma surgeon at the University of Arizona.

Opponents argued that training and education are more important than mandating safety equipment.

“I believe that education is a far better preventative for crashes than helmets,” said Mike Infanzon, a lobbyist for American Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education of Arizona. “Education will prevent crashes more than helmets will save lives.”

Some also spoke out against the constitutionality of the measure requiring the fee.

“It is patently wrong to make a few individuals pay for everyone else’s potential expenses,” said Bobby Hartmann, with Arizona Motorcycle Safety and Awareness.

Friese compared motorcycle riding to smoking as a known risk.

“My thought process was: If you’re going to choose to take the risk of riding a motorcycle without a helmet, then you have some responsibility to pay for that risk,” Friese said.

Arizona requires riders under 18 to wear helmets, but it is one of 31 states that doesn’t require adults to wear a helmet, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Riders who wanted to opt out of Friese’s helmet law could pay a fee when registering their motorcycle. The fee would go toward a new fund to help crash survivors pay for long-term care and rehabilitation.

“You don’t know how many people I’ve seen after motorcycle crashes without a helmet who have become organ donors, that have become in vegetative states or prolonged comas,” Friese told The Associated Press last week. “That’s why we’re talking about saving hundreds of millions of dollars. If you’re 25 and you have a head injury that makes you incapacitated for 15 years, that’s a lot of money to care for you. So it makes sense, it’s fiscally responsible and it saves everybody a lot of money.”

Several members of the House committee said they were interested in a helmet law but said there were too many issues with the bill as written.

Cheryl Cage, 61, drove from Tucson to attend the hearing and said she was disappointed the proposal wasn’t allowed to advance. “I don’t know why we don’t do everything possible to increase the chances of fewer long-term injuries,” Cage said after the vote.

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