PUTTING A LID ON IT
by Don Babwin, Chicago Tribune
April 19, 1998
Sen. John Cullerton has had it. With nothing to show for years of trying
to push through a bill that would require motorcyclists to wear helmets,
the Chicago Democrat says enough is enough.
"Basically I've given up," said Cullerton, who has been trying to enact
a helmet safety law since 1989.
Though he hasn't changed his mind on such legislation, he figures there
are other highway issues to fight for. "It's better to push for .08," he
said, referring to the the blood-alcohol level at which one is
considered legally drunk.
So, Illinois remains one of three states with no helmet law. The others
are Colorado and Iowa. Of the rest, 25 require helmets on all riders and
passengers; 22 require riders under a specific age, usually 18, to wear
helmets, said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
What Cullerton has butted up against is the same kind of organized
effort that happens whenever a state considers forcing motorcyclists to
strap on helmets. In the late 1960s, for example, motorcyclists circled
the Capitol after Gov. Richard Ogilvie signed into a law a helmet safety
bill ruled unconstitutional months later. In Cullerton's case, the
opposition has been A Brotherhood Aiming Toward Education, a motorcycle
owners' organization known as ABATE.
Proponents point to statistics that show helmets save lives and billions
NHTSA, for example, found that $10.4 billion was saved nationwide
between 1984 and 1996 by the use of helmets. An additional $9.2 billion
would have been saved if others involved in accidents were wearing
helmets in the period, said Jennifer Koehn of the National Safety
NHTSA also found that 506 lives were saved nationwide in 1995 as a
result of people wearing helmets and that an additional 285 lives would
have been saved if others in accidents would have been wearing helmets,
Opponents, however, say not only are those statistics faulty, but that
helmet use is none of the government's business.
"Basically it's a fundamental issue of freedom of choice," said Todd
Vandermyde, ABATE's legislative coordinator. "Government should not be
making these decisions for individuals."
"They're too organized," Cullerton said. "A hundred thousand are
active." And he has found "no corresponding group to push for the law."
Others who might push for such legislation, such as doctors and nurses
who treat victims of motorcycle accidents, all have other issues they
are involved with, Cullerton said. "But all ABATE cares about is this
one issue," he said.
"Some (ABATE) people will work precincts for (politicians). It is hard
to find people to work precincts," said Cullerton.
Cullerton said he doesn't see much "political will" to enact a
motorcycle helmet law. He said for now he will be content to "nibble
around the edges until people come to their senses."
One way he's done that is with a bill that would require anyone who
registers a motorcycle in the state to become organ donors. "The least
you can do is make sure if they are in a crash we can get their organs,"
Vandermyde said ABATE will fight that bill, which is stuck in the Rules