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One person is killed on Arizona roads every nine hours. Between speeding, impairment and a lack of seat-belt usage, so much of the problem seems preventable. ABC15 Arizona is Taking Action to make our roads safer and save lives. Story idea? Call 833-AZROADS or email roads@abc15.com.

Debate continues over Arizona motorcycle helmet law

PHOENIX - It's a simple question that often solicits long responses: should all motorcyclists in Arizona be required to wear a helmet?

Under Arizona law, only motorcyclists under the age of 18 are required to wear a helmet.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 19 states require all motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Arizona is among the 28 states that require motorcycle helmet use for specific riders. 

"If I would have been wearing my helmet, I wouldn't have had the brain injury," said Seth Stewart, who crashed his motorcycle in the West Valley last July. 

Stewart told ABC15 he suffered a serious brain injury, can barely walk and has minimal use in his left hand. He wants the state to require all riders to wear a helmet, something he didn't do and now regrets.

"I just didn't think of it because it's not mandatory," Stewart said. "If it would have been mandatory, I would have grabbed it no matter what."

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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, helmets are 37% effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcyclists. According to the agency, in 2016 helmets saved an estimated 1,859 motorcyclists' lives and could have saved 802 more had all riders worn helmets. 

ABC15 also talked with Michael Infanzon, the Designated Lobbyist for the American Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education, known as ABATE. The agency is a motorcycle rights organization which opposes change to current state law as it pertains to motorcycle helmet use.

"It's the aversion of the government telling an American citizen what they can and can't do with their own freedoms," Infanzon said. 

Infanzon says he encourages safety but feels the decision on whether to wear a helmet should be left up to each rider.

"We encourage rider safety programs, basic rider courses before you even buy a motorcycle," he said.

While he doesn't have any issues with the law requiring helmet use for those under the age of 18, he feels that is far enough.

"You're 18 years old; you can serve in our military, you can vote, why would you want the government telling you what to do?"

Infanzon says a helmet does not make a rider immune from injury. 

ABC15 dug into the numbers, which show in 2016 more than 50 motorcyclists died in Arizona crashes despite wearing a helmet. By comparison, more than 80 motorcyclists killed in Arizona during the same year were not wearing a helmet, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"The majority of crashes are people either being hit by an automobile or intoxicated, or they're a new rider," Infanzon said.

The latter would apply to Stewart, who admitted to ABC15 he had only been riding for roughly three months and had not yet obtained his motorcycle endorsement. 

Still, he said requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet should come as common sense.

"The smallest wreck can leave you paralyzed or in the condition like me," he said. "I don't want to see anybody go through this."

The most recent attempt to change state law failed in 2017. The bill that would have required helmet use for all riders (unless they pay a fee) failed in a unanimous committee vote.
 

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