Controversial motorcycle helmet bill filed

In this April 2009 photo, signs posted on U.S. Highway 17 warn motorcyclists to wearhelmets as bike rally approaches in Myrtle Beach, S.C .

COLUMBIA - An increase in motorcycle-related fatalities has driven three state representatives to file a bill that would require all riders wear helmets.

House Bill 4500 was filed Wednesday by Reps. Wendell Gilliard, Carl Anderson, and J. Seth Whipper, D-North Charleston. Gilliard and Anderson said it's time Palmetto State residents consider such a measure because state roads are getting crowded.

"This is about saving lives," said Gilliard on Thursday. "I feel like that's one of the things I was sworn to do."

Gilliard, D-Charleston, said he started looking into motorcycle-related fatalities after he received several calls from concerned constituents. He learned that in 2013, the number of motorcyclists killed went up to 121 from 110 in 2012, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.

"I feel like we need to be a little bit tougher on our helmet law," added Anderson, D-Georgetown. "Every year there's an increase in the number of deaths."

Indeed, the number motorcyclists killed has been on the rise since 2010, when the department of public safety recorded 81 deaths. Gilliard said South Carolinians must acknowledge the current helmet law was passed when the state didn't have as much business and traffic. Now with more cars on the road, there's a higher probability of a motorcyclist's life being lost in a crash, Gilliard added.

"The only way to be safe is to wear a helmet," he said. "It's better to be safe, to be proactive, than to be sorry."

The state already has a law that requires those under 21 to wear a helmet.

But a bill that makes helmets mandatory for all motorcyclists won't have an easy ride to the floor, should it ever leave the committee level.

During the 2012 legislative session, former Sen. Ralph Anderson, from Greenville, filed a similar bill, which never left the committee level.

For a bill to make it to the floor for the House to vote on, it must first be approved by committees and subcommittees.

At the time, Gov. Nikki Haley also threatened to veto Anderson's bill, had it been approved by the legislature. Haley's stance on the matter has not changed since, said her spokesman on Thursday.

Plus, ABATE of South Carolina, a biker's rights group, has already learned of the 2014 mandatory helmet bill and has called for bikers to voice their feelings on the bill.

"We believe there's a freedom of choice that motorcyclists across the state should be able to choose," said Chad Fuller, an attorney and spokesman for the group. "We don't advocate not wearing a helmet. We don't believe that helmets save lives. Education saves lives."