Utah Senate passes bill to raise age of helmet wearers

Silvia Izquierdo
A man and a woman holding a dog ride a motorcycle Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017. SB159 could change the age of requirement for helmet wearing. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

A proposed bill would raise the legal age at which a rider can operate vehicles such as motorcycles and scooters without wearing a helmet in Utah.

Currently, riders under 18 years old must wear a helmet. This bill would legally require riders under the age of 21 to wear helmets while riding a motorcycle, a motor-driven cycle, a class 3 electric assisted bicycle or an autocycle that is not fully enclosed.

The bill passed in the Utah Senate Tuesday, Feb. 21.

Sen. Brian E. Shiozawa, R-Salt Lake, is sponsoring SB159 in response to pleas from Utah trauma surgeons worried about death and head injuries in young adults, particularly from motorcycle accidents.

Younger adults have a higher rate of head injury and death from motorcycle accidents, according to Shiozawa.

He also said the hazardous nature of the activity and young riders’ lack of experience may explain the high number of accidents.

Some opponents told Shiozawa SB159 would inhibit young adults’ personal freedoms. If the law can trust 18-year-olds to vote and defend the country, they should also be able to make decisions regarding their own safety.

In Utah, 18-year-olds have the right to vote, buy pornography, join the army, serve on a jury, possess a gun, smoke and marry.

Even though 18-year-olds have these rights, BYU law professor Lynn Wardle said 18 is not the right age restriction for every issue. There isn’t a single age when people are considered adults — also called the “age of majority” — according to Wardle.

“For each area of activity there may be a unique age of majority,” Wardle said.

The presiding legal authority decides on the appropriate age for each issue.

According to Shiozawa, another reason this age group sees so much motorcycle accident trauma may be because of cognitive development.

“We know that as you get more mature, the executive functioning gets even better as you get older,” said Shiozawa. “(Eighteen-year-olds) are a little more impulsive and a little less experienced.”

BYU psychology assistant professor Rebecca Lundwall said 21-year-olds are “absolutely” in a better position to make better decisions than 18-year-olds.

“Brain development isn’t really ‘complete’ until about 22–25 years old,” Lundwall said. “The frontal lobes … where we make decisions are one of the last areas of the brain to develop.”

BYU psychology professor Ross Flom agrees there is still some development of the frontal lobe into the early 20s.

Eighteen-year-olds still know right from wrong, but “they tend to be a little more impulsive . . . (and) a little more willing to take risks,” Flom said.

Despite their propensity to be impulsive, Flom said it is not necessarily unwise to give 18-year-olds other freedoms because they “still know right from wrong.”

Regardless, Shiozawa said road accidents that involve motorcycles tend to be more fatal.

“This (bill) is something we know will save lives (and) minimize injury to the rider,” Shiozawa said.

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