Legislature(1993 - 1994)
02/08/1994 03:00 PM L&C
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Number 456 HB 325 - MOTORCYCLE SAFETY REP. TOM BRICE, Prime Sponsor of HB 325, pointed out to the committee that there was a committee substitute in their packets that would transfer the responsibility of a motorcycle safety program from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Public Safety. REP. BRICE stated that the issue came up over the interim based on the Attorney General's opinion stating that the way the current statute is written we could require a helmet to anyone not singly licensed to drive a motorcycle. In other words, you would have to be licensed to drive a motorcycle and nothing else. This was an attempt by the Department of Transportation to find a way through existing statute to mandate motorcycle operators to wear a helmet in order to come into compliance with ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act) at the federal level. This is 180 degrees from the intent of the legislature and the enforcement procedures of the Department of Public Safety. There has been no helmet law enforced on drivers over 18 for the past 17 years. The Attorney General's opinion basically stated that only 122 people in the state are not required to wear helmets. REP. BRICE added that the only thing HB 325 does is clarify the current statutes to take the word "singularly" out. Stated simply, Alaska does not require helmets of drivers of motorcycles 18 and older. Number 540 JEFF BLUME testified from Ketchikan in support HB 325. He stated that the Ketchikan Harley Riders Association supports motorcycle safety training as this training has been proven to reduce accidents and fatalities. He stated that the biggest problem with motorcycle safety training is the high cost of liability insurance to conduct such training. MR. BLUME expressed a concern regarding the changes proposed to AS 28.35.245, which were: 1) The deletion of reference to AS 25.20.010, the age of majority. He said you would lose the following language regarding a person: "thereafter has control of the person's own actions and business and has all rights and is subject to all liabilities of citizens of full age." By eliminating this the bill has lost the definition of rights and responsibilities guaranteed in AS 25.20.010. 2) By deleting reference to AS 28.15.041, classification of drivers license, the bill has lost the following language regarding modification of regulations: "the regulation and any subsequent modification under this section becomes effective only if approved by concurrent resolution adopted by a majority vote in each house of the legislature." Mr. Blume stated that with these changes the bill has lost the connectivity between AS 28.35.245 and AS 28.15.041. MR. BLUME noted that a problem arose several years ago when seemingly straightforward legislation regarding insurance was enacted and it virtually eliminated the availability of insurance in Alaska for motorcyclists. Number 607 SCOTT HAMANN, President of the Kenai Peninsula ABATE (Alaskan Bikers Advocating Training and Education), testified from Soldotna that wearing a helmet does not necessarily save a person. In fact, there are statistics available to show just the opposite. Mr. Hamann stated he is a helmet expert, tests them, and has boxes full of pieces of them. He added that if you look at the statistics of states that allow their citizens the choice whether or not to use a helmet, you'll find they are safer. Number 636 STEVE CASWELL testified from Soldotna in support of HB 325. He added that promoting safety training is a lot more productive than promoting safety items without good back-up. Number 645 CHUCK MITCHELL, President of Fairbanks/Tannana Valley ABATE, testified from Fairbanks in support of HB 325. Mr. Mitchell dittoed the testimony given and added that we should educate, not legislate, to save more lives. Number 655 TIM ROGERS, member of ABATE and the Christian Motorcycles Association, testified from Fairbanks that education, not legislation will save lives. TAPE 94-10, SIDE B Number 001 BRUCE OCKRASSA, President of ABATE of Anchorage, and a member of AMA, testified from Anchorage in support of HB 325. Mr. Ockrassa stated that HB 325 contains three basic points: 1) the right to choose; 2) addresses the potential risk of brain stem injuries caused by helmet use; and 3) the establishment of a motorcycle safety program. Number 043 GARY SAMPSON testified from Seward in support of HB 325. He explained that several years ago he sustained a minor head injury, not from riding his motorcycle, but from slipping on his front stairs. Mr. Sampson believes that the wearing of helmets in cars would have a much greater impact than wearing one when riding a motorcycle. He added that the greatest asset that a motorcyclist has when riding is being able to see and hear and a helmet restricts these senses. Number 080 MARTHA MOORE, Emergency Medical Services Section of the Division of Public Health, Department of Health and Social Services, read a statement into the record. Ms. Moore stated the Division opposes HB 325 as they are convinced it will be ineffectual in saving lives, preventing serious head injury and disability, and would do nothing to reduce the costs of motorcycle crashes born by the public. MS. MOORE outlined the history of the withholding of funds by the federal government from states who didn't have a law mandating motorcycle drivers and passengers wear approved helmets. By 1975 all but three states had helmet laws. In 1976, in response to motorcycle groups, the federal government stopped the practice of withholding funds for this reason. The result was 28 states weakened or repealed their laws. MS. MOORE stated that as a result of the above, researchers have had the ability to compare the effects of having a universal helmet law and a partial helmet law compared to no law at all within the same individual state. The research has shown that having a partial helmet law is similar to having no law at all. MS. MOORE said that more than 90% of all motorcycle fatalities occur to people over 18; 92% of all crashes involve people 18 and over. MS. MOORE asserted that a partial law, as in Alaska, is very hard to enforce because law enforcement can't tell at a glance how old a rider is, so compliance is very low. MS. MOORE said that in states that have universal helmet laws, helmet usage is 95% or better, while states with no or partial helmet laws have compliance under 50% MS. MOORE commented that states with no or partial helmet laws have more head and neck injuries, while states that instituted helmet laws have seen a significant drop. MS. MOORE stated that studies have shown that people who have gone through safety programs are more likely to crash than people who didn't. MS. MOORE acknowledged that opponents of mandatory helmet laws assert that they should be allowed to make their own choices as it only affects them. Ms. Moore contended that it is not true. In fact, the moment a motorcyclist crashes, public funds are involved and continue to be so in every part of treatment and rehabilitation. MS. MOORE stated that nationally 60 to 70% of motorcyclists involved in motorcycle crashes do not pay for their care. Motorcyclists not wearing helmets are less likely to have insurance. Number 200 REP. SITTON asked Ms. Moore, if helmets are so helpful to bikers, why doesn't the state require auto drivers to wear them as well. MS. MOORE replied that air bags and seat belts have gone a long way towards eliminating serious head injuries. Number 222 REP. SITTON referred back to the figures Ms. Moore testified to regarding a $35 million increase in Medicaid cost in Texas during the year they did away with the helmet law. Rep. Sitton asked how many accidents prompted that figure. MS. MOORE replied that the study was done over a number of years and she did not have that information but would get it for the committee. Number 231 REP. SITTON asked if the Division of Public Health had done a study to determine the number of accidents caused by motorcyclists wearing helmets. Number 236 MS. MOORE responded that Alaska had not done such a study, but there have been studies done that have shown that over 90% of the time motorcyclists who crash, crash into something in the 80 degree range of vision or within a 160 degree range. She added that helmet standards require a 200 to 220 degree vision. Number 245 REP. PORTER stated that it is necessary to look side to side in order to be safe in riding a motorcycle, and if you do that you can not see in front of you with a helmet on. Number 258 MS. MOORE stated that motorcycle crashes are usually the fault of the person in the vehicle. Number 270 REP. PORTER responded that the concept of defensive driving comes into play in her testimony. Its important for the motorcyclist to be aware of all the hazards around. Number 286 MS. MOORE suggested that a motorcyclists will turn his head the same way with or without his helmet on. Number 303 REP. PORTER asked for clarification regarding Ms. Moore's testimony on motorcycle riders not wearing helmets and insurance; also, the testimony on the correlation between states with safety programs and the number of accidents they have. MS. MOORE reiterated her testimony that the studies have shown that motorcyclists who don't wear helmets are less likely to have insurance. Ms. Moore added that the studies have shown that accidents increase for those who complete safety training. Number 316 STEVEN RASMUSSEN testified in Juneau that he has been riding motorcycles for over 30 years and has always had the choice of whether or not to wear a helmet. Sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn't, and he has never cost the state any money. Mr. Rasmussen stated he has been involved in the accumulation of tens of thousands of signatures against any infringement of the cyclist's right to wear anything they want when riding. MR. RASMUSSEN added that a motorcycle safety program would help young riders and women in becoming safer rides. Number 335 JUANITA HENSLEY, Chief, Drivers Services, Division of Motor Vehicles, Department of Public Safety, testified that her agency certifies defensive courses for automobiles and they license and certify commercial driving schools to teach driver training. Ms. Hensley stated the Department feels they can implement a motorcycle safety program without any additional costs. Number 360 CHAIRMAN HUDSON asked what the present process was for certification of these programs similar to the one proposed in Section 2 of this bill. Number 365 MS. HENSLEY stated that currently the certification process starts with an application processed through the driver improvement office in Anchorage. The instructor must be certified through AAA or the National Council on Driving and Safety. After that they are required to teach a certain number of hours to be able to teach safe driving. Number 389 CHAIRMAN HUDSON stated that it seemed with this bill we are affirming that we do not intend to embrace the federal law. Number 430 REP. BRICE disagreed with Chairman Hudson's statement. He stated that whether or not we embrace the federal law is incumbent upon the Senate acting on SB 110. Rep. Brice added that this bill just clarifies the current language we have to bring the statutes in line with the enforcement policy. REP. BRICE added that HB 325 would make it perfectly clear that the Attorney General's Office can't write an opinion while the legislature is out of session saying something that is 180 degrees from what the legislature intended. REP. BRICE told the committee that the Attorney General's Office issued an opinion last interim that stated that since only singularly licensed operators are not required to wear a helmet, therefore the State was in substantial compliance with the ISTEA regulations, therefore we should receive our federal funds. Number 436 MS. HENSLEY informed the committee that the AG's opinion Rep. Brice was referencing has been withdrawn. MS. HENSLEY told the committee that the ISTEA funds have already been sanctioned for the 2.7 million dollars. Those funds, as of October 1, 1994, will automatically come over from the highway construction funds to 402 highway safety funds. MS. HENSLEY added, if we do not have a motorcycle helmet law by this session, then by October 1, 1994, an additional 3% will be transferred over to the highway funds. Number 450 CHAIRMAN HUDSON asked who gets the $2.6 million and what will be done with it. Number 455 MS. HENSLEY replied that the money will be transferred into the highway safety planning agencies program and they will be available through the grant process. Number 465 REP. WILLIAMS asked Ms. Hensley about the results of the California studies Ms. Moore referenced in her testimony. Number 470 MS. HENSLEY agreed that from her reading of studies, crashes have increased after persons take defensive driving or safety programs. They believe this is a result of the person's confidence levels being higher and taking more risks. Number 485 REP. PORTER moved the L&C committee substitute. No objections were heard; it was so ordered. REP. PORTER moved CSHB 325(L&C) with individual recommendations and a zero fiscal note. No objections were heard; it was so ordered. CHAIRMAN HUDSON adjourned the committee at 4:30 p.m.