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NBC 10 Special Report: Louisiana's Universal Helmet Law

WEST MONROE, La - "My earliest memories of childhood is me on the front of my dad's motorcycle," recalls Sterlington Police Chief Barry Bonner. 

Decades later, Bonner still enjoys motorcycle riding. 

It's one of the many hats he wears; police chief, husband and father. 

Behind the wheel of his Harley Davidson his hat is a helmet

Louisiana is one of nineteen states that has a universal helmet law. Bonner, and all riders, are required by law to wear protective head gear. 

"The helmet is the same equivalent as a seat belt in a vehicle and that helmet most likely will be the only thing that saves your life in a collision to where your body hits the pavement," says Bonner. 

The law seems simple enough. But not every one is a fan

"The largest percent of individuals who argue the helmet law is because they like the feeling of not having constriction in a helmet. I really believe that, says Bonner. "Are you willing to take the chance of losing your life just for the feeling of the wind blowing through your hair?  Me personally, I don't think it's worth it." 

Some riders do think the risk is worth it.

In a recent Facebook post one user asked the following; "Are the motorcycle helmet laws in Louisiana outdated?" 

The response was overwhelming. Many commenters are arguing that riders should have the right to choose. 

 Daniel "Catfish" Norred was one of the many people who responded to the post. 

"Personally for me, it's the civil liberties side of things is why I think people should have the choice," says Norred. "If they choose to wear a helmet, it's there own reason and I don't try to tell someone what they should do if it doesn't harm me." 

Insurance rates also play into the debate. Some supporters of the helmet law argue that doing away with it would raise everyone's prices

Norred disagrees with that argument. 

"Look at Texas and look at Arkansas which both have no helmet laws but pay way less than we do, 20%-30% less on their insurance than the state of Louisiana does," says Norred. 

The Louisiana Insurance Commissioner says two things make Louisiana's rates are higher.
Poor roads and drive through daiquiri shops. 

"We do have a different culture in our state than other states and sometimes it costs us," says Commissioner Jim Donelon. 

Insurance is also high in Louisiana due to the state's uninsured drivers. 

"It's an old saying that we have around law enforcement in Louisiana that I know, 'you have a better chance of being struck-by lightning than being struck by someone who has insurance', " says Bonner.  

Riders against the universal helmet law say tourism is also at risk. 

"Our tourism is down because of the fact. Arkansas has motorcycle rallies in Arkansas, which they do really well. And it's good for the economy there. Texas has motorcycle rallies and they do good and it's good for the economy and people spend money when they come. Louisiana, they have none, " says Charles "Pimp Daddy" Payne. 

"I would see that it might be an issue with Arkansas riders coming over this way that they would have to stop when they hit the line and put a helmet on," says Bonner. "Now if we had a universal helmet law where every state had to wear a helmet then there would be no issue at all, mo matter where you went you would know what the law was and you'd have your helmet on, " says Bonner. 

As recently as 2016 Louisiana lawmakers considered a change to the state's universal helmet law. 

Had it passed the bill would have given riders 21 years or older the choice to wear safety helmets. 

Now two years later, avid riders like Pimp Daddy and Catfish are still working to see an eventual change. 

Pimp Daddy says he will be part of rally next month at the capital. 

"It takes people to go and talk to the representatives and call their representatives and talk to them, because it ain't gonna work if you sit there on the couch and do nothing you know," says Payne. 

Regardless of which side of the line you ride on this debate, a quick ride down the road for you could very well impact lives beyond your own. 

That's something Chief Bonner wants riders to remember. "We just ask that you do right for your family and wear that helmet." he says .
 


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