SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – There is a concerning trend in Missouri, one which some experts said they saw coming down the road. Motorcycle fatalities have been climbing and safety advocates say a move by lawmakers is partly to blame.

Before the state’s universal helmet law was repealed in 2020, opponents of the move pointed to other states’ motorcycle crash fatality numbers as a reason to not take the same route in Missouri. 

We spoke to several motorcyclists who say they understand why some people choose to ride without a helmet, but also understand the potential dangers that come with it.  

“To me it really is a thrill.…an experience of freedom. About as close as you can get to flying and still be on the ground.,” explained Bryan Davis, a motorcyclist from the Republic area.

Motorcyclists say once riding is in your blood, it’s hard to get out.  Excitement aside, there is a set of risks involved.  

Davis stated, “ I am a small hard to see fast moving target… you [drivers of other vehicles] do not have depth perception for motorcycles and vehicles. And I know, because I drive vehicles too- how hard it is to see motorcycles.  

With added dangers on the roadways, motorcyclists must go above and beyond to stay safe.

“I want to give myself the best chance of getting back home as safe as possible,” David said.  

Some say they know they probably should wear their helmet for safety reasons. But there’s a difference between knowing something is beneficial and following through with it.

Brayden Thompson, another local motorcyclist, explained, “The main thing people like about bikes if feeling the wind in your face and that kind of thing. Whenever you don’t wear a helmet (I have ridden down the street before without a helmet) it is a different feeling and I do understand where people might enjoy that.”

Motorcyclists in Missouri couldn’t take to the roads without a helmet, legally, until August of 2020 when lawmakers repealed the helmet law for those 26 and older. While lawmakers settled the debate, at least on paper, controversy hasn’t ended..

Davis said, “ I guess it is an argument of where does personal freedom and personal responsibility begin.” 

Thompson explained, “I know I probably should wear a helmet.  But I don’t know if it is the government’s responsibility to make sure you as an individual are safe when riding- a motorcycle.”

When lawmakers proposed doing away with the helmet law, there were major concerns from safety advocates. Many predicted an increase in motorcycle fatalities due to head injuries from not wearing helmets.

Arkansas repealed its mandatory helmet law in 1997 and state police say helmet use there has been declining in recent years. Several studies have shown a decline in helmet use is a factor in Arkansas having one of the highest motorcycle fatality rates in the country.

Missouri State Highway Patrol Sergeant Mike McClure explained, “We had our numbers and figures [from other states] that showed a good case against it.  We present our case as an association- and legislatively it may not be the best thing in the world but that is our opinion.

It has now been almost three years since Missouri repealed its law, and FOX49/KOLR10 wanted to know if the fears were founded.

We broke down the numbers from the Missouri State Highway Patrol. They show fatal motorcycle crashes are on the rise, jumping from 118 in 2019 to 143 last year. 

But, stats also show more of the riders who died were not wearing helmets.

In 2020, when helmets were required for most of the year (before the law repeal), there were 111 fatal motorcycle crashes of which 20 riders were not wearing helmets. In 2021, the first full year under the new revised law, there were 152 fatal motorcycle crashes, with 78 of those riders not wearing helmets. Last year there were 143 fatal crashes where 68 un-helmeted riders died. The patrol says the numbers are similar so far for 2023 based on year-to-date data.

The patrol points out these are the fatality numbers, which don’t include motorcyclists who survive with severe injuries or disabilities. 

McClure explained, “We all know that the lack of protection…it just doesn’t afford that like a car.  And when we rely on the helmet- or say I am just not going to wear the helmet- then those injuries that aren’t fatal impact and change the trajectory of someone’s life.”

While many riders see the risk as a part of freedom, others see the numbers as convincing enough. 

Thompson said, “The research is undeniable helmets save your life if you get in an accident.”