SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday to require motorcyclists under age 21 to wear helmets.
The House voted 43-30 to approve SB159, which previously passed in the Senate by a 17-12 vote. The bill now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for consideration.
Under current Utah law, motorcyclists under 18 years old are required to wear helmets.
During a discussion on the House floor, lawmakers facetiously considered an amendment to allow an exemption to the law — but only if motorcyclists are registered organ donors.
Lawmakers burst into laughter when Rep. Paul Ray proposed the amendment, but the Clearfield Republican said it may sound like a joke, but it would send a "serious message" to motorcyclists who choose not to wear helmets.
"This seems kind of funny, but I think it's rather serious," Ray said. "Without a helmet, there's a very good reason you're going to die. There's a reason why law enforcement calls (motorcycle fatalities) 'motor donors.'"
Bill sponsor Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, displayed to lawmakers a black motorcycle helmet with a shattered visor and other damage, telling of how it had been worn by a man who was "doing his best to drive defensively" when a car turned left in front of him.
"The trauma surgeon that treated him said without his helmet, he would be dead," he said.
Dunnigan also noted that young adult brains are still developing through ages 18, 19 and 20, and requiring the safety standard until age 21 would save more young lives by preventing risky behavior.
"This is an opportunity for us to help those young adults become older adults and to do so safely," he said.
But several lawmakers argued against the bill, worried that the new law would encroach on personal freedoms.
"We can't legislate away all of the stupid in the state, nor should we legislate away liberties or freedoms in the name of safety," said Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden.
Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Salem, said it's "obviously safer" to wear a helmet, "but we can't protect everybody."
"At the end of the day, the question is not whether or not it's dangerous; it's whether or not it makes sense for the government to make these decisions for people," Roberts said.
But Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, said the "libertarian argument breaks down" when considering that a motorcyclist's decision to not wear a helmet doesn't only impact him if he gets into an accident and dies or sustains brain damage. It also impacts his friends, family and perhaps taxpayers if his treatment has to be paid for through the government.
"It seems like a small price to pay," Hawkes said. "If it saves even one or two lives, that has to weigh in the balance."