HELMET LAW MEDDLING LEAVES IT TOOTHLESS, BUT ON THE BOOKS
By Tim Anderson
Colorado’s first helmet law in 30 years went into effect July 1, 2007. The new law, passed and signed into law as House Bill 1117, requires motorcycle riders under 18 years of age and their passengers to wear an approved helmet while riding.
The law does not require passengers under 18 on a motorcycle operated by a driver over 18 years of age to wear a helmet, according to at least one attorney and the Colorado State Patrol.
“The way we interpret the law, it requires drivers and passengers under 18 years old to wear helmets while on a motorcycle in the state of Colorado,” said Trooper Ryan Sullivan from the Public Affairs Office for the Colorado State Patrol. “Our understanding is that it does not apply to riders over 18 years old with passengers under 18.”
For instance, Sullivan said, a 45-year-old rider with his 16-year old son as a passenger would not be violating the new law and would not be stopped, though all other applicable laws related too operation of a motorcycle would be in force.
This interpretation seems to be contrary to the intent of the law as championed by house Representative Diane Primavera.
In an e-mail communication, Primavera wrote that the intent was for all children under 18 to be helmeted.
“I know what the intent of the law was-to protect children on motorcycles whether they were passengers or drivers,” Primavera wrote. “I have worked in the field of traumatic brain injury for 35 years and have seen far too many individuals who received traumatic brain injuries while not wearing helmets. That is why I sponsored this bill….”
The bill falls short of Primavera’s goal. In addition to allowing kids to ride helmet-less with riders over 18, it makes no provisions for requiring off-road riders under 18 year old to wear helmets.
A reading of the bills’ final language bears this out, and support CSP’s interpretation.
The bill reads: “Section 1.42-4-1502, Colorado Revised Statutes, Riding on motorcycles-protective helmet; subsection (4.5)(a) A PERSON UNDER EIGHTEENYEARS OF AGEMAY NOT OPERATE OR CARRY A PASSENGER WHO IS UNDER EIGHTEEN YEARS OF AGE ON A MOTORCYCLE ON A HIGHWAY IN THIS STATE UNLESS; (I) THE PERSON AND THE PASSENGERARE WEARING PROTECTIVE OF A TYPE AND DESIGN MANUFACTURED FOR USE BY OPERATORS OF MOTORCYCLES.”
The section then goes on to outline acceptable helmets, and then continues: “Section 2, 42-4-109(13), Colorado Revised Statutes, Motorized bicycles, animals, skis, skates, and toy vehicles on highways.(6.5) A PERSON UNDER THE AGE OF EIGHTEENYEARS MAY NOT OPERATE OR CARRY A PASSENGER WHO IS UNDER EIGHTEEN YEARSOF AGE ON A MOTORIZED BICYCLE ON A HIGHWAY IN THIS STATE UNLESS THE PERSON AND THE PASSENGER ARE WEARING PROTECTIVE HELMETS IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PROVISIONS OF SECTION 42-4-1502(4.5).”
The law provides for penalties of up to $125 and a three-point assessment against a violators driver’s license.
While the State Patrol interpretation of the law, and in fact the language of the legislation, indicate Primavera’s goal of “protecting children” falls short, the law does present a greater danger to the right to choose a helmet for all Colorado Motorcyclists.
The law, as it is written, would be extremely easy to amend to make it a mandatory helmet law for all riders.
Simply removing the phrase “under the age of eighteen” five times would make the law an all riders mandatory helmet law.
This has lead to speculation that HB-1117’s omissions, while glaring for their lack of comprehensive protection for children on motorcycles, were intentional…allowing for an “easy” amendment process in the coming legislative session.
Primavera and other legislators have allegedly made clear their intention to introduce, and even muscle through, a mandatory helmet law in 2008.
In the meantime, evidently, kids under 18-years-old are free to ride behind an over 18 driver, with no fear of prosecution by law enforcement.
HB-1117 was resurrected on questionable maneuvering within the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it had languished and was thought to have “timed out” and was dead. It was muscled out of committee and hustled to the full senate, where it passed the last day the legislature was in session.