State lawmakers introduce bills dealing with helmets, passengers in pickup truck beds

  • Ellsworth Fontes of Ellsworth’s Custom Cycles smiles in his shop on Kinoole Street Tuesday in Hilo. Fontes disagrees with a bill that would make helmets mandatory for motorcycle riders.

    HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

A trio of bills recently introduced in the state Legislature aim to improve the safety of Hawaii’s streets.

House Bill 1749, introduced Monday, proposes a change in state law to require all operators and passengers of motorcycles and bicycles to wear helmets.


Meanwhile, Senate bills 2229 and 2691 will, if passed, respectively prohibit anyone from driving a pickup truck with any passenger in the bed unless in mitigating circumstances and would allow counties to place stricter limitations on passengers in pickup beds.

Each bill is motivated by a desire to prevent injuries or deaths on Hawaii’s roadways, but likely will face significant pushback from community members, lawmakers said.

“I’ve been here for 13 years, and I think we’ve had bills like this every other year or so,” said state Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-Hilo, Hamakua, Kohala, Waimea, Waikoloa and Kona, who co-sponsored the measures pertaining to passengers in pickup beds. “We’ll see how far it goes this time, but there’s always disagreements.”

Currently, state law prohibits passengers from riding in the back of pickups unless there is no other available seating and then only if they remain seated and the bed is secure. The proposed Senate bills seek to remove that exception, although exceptions in the event of a legal parade or if the passenger’s life is in danger will remain.

Inouye said the pickup truck issue is frequently opposed by rural farming communities, where passengers in truck beds are a common sight.

“Farming communities should recognize the need for these laws,” Inouye said.

Hawaii Police Department Sgt. Robert Pauole said without proper restraints, even a minor accident can lead to severe injuries to passengers in pickup beds, particularly if the passenger is ejected from the vehicle entirely.

“A person back there is completely vulnerable,” Pauole said, adding that the absence of seat belts increases a passenger’s risk of fatal injury in a crash by 45 percent.

Meanwhile, the House bill requiring motorcycle helmets likely will spark considerable backlash.

“If it does pass, I think a bunch of riders would give up riding entirely,” said Ellsworth Fontes, owner of Hilo motorcycle shop Ellsworth’s Custom Cycles.

The helmet bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Richard Creagan, D-Naalehu, Ocean View, Captain Cook, Kealakekua, Kailua-Kona, who said he sympathizes with opponents of mandatory helmets, but thinks that, on balance, the benefits of the law will outweigh the negatives.

Currently, all motorcyclists and passengers younger than 18 years old are required to wear helmets.

Frank DeGiacomo, legislative aide for Creagan, said a 2008 study found that mandatory helmets for motorcyclists would reduce fatalities by 42 percent and traumatic head injuries by 69 percent. He added that a traffic study from 2008-12 found that motorcycle-related injuries were the fifth-leading cause of unintentional fatal injuries in the state.

However, Fontes argued that some motorcycle crashes can become fatal when a helmet puts excessive pressure on a rider’s neck.

“It should be a choice for the rider, not something that’s mandatory,” he said. “It gives a false impression that, because you’re wearing a helmet, you can’t get hurt.”

The 2008 study found insufficient evidence to determine the effect of helmets on neck injuries.

Creagan said public awareness of the lasting effects of head trauma is much higher today than it has been in the past thanks to high-profile research linking brain damage to football.

Last year, researchers found 99 percent of 111 deceased professional football players showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease found in brains with a history of trauma.


“There’s a tug-of-war between being protective and being a sort of nanny state,” Creagan said. “I don’t like making people do things, but I think overall it’s better for them and better for society to wear helmets.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at

  1. thebamboo January 25, 2018 6:58 am

    Safety First.
    Danger Last.

    1. kalopaboy January 25, 2018 8:50 am

      Just allow them to kill themselves. Less stupid people. Less loud motorcycle noise. Bad luck for the kids riding in pick-up beds. Not their fault they have stupid parents.

      1. burned_out January 25, 2018 8:56 am

        I usually refer to MC riders without helmets as organ donors. I’ve ridden a motorcycle for years, always with a helmet.

  2. Steve Dearing January 25, 2018 8:32 am

    The same old, lame demo rat crap. There are a lot more pressing problems that the demo rats have created that must be resolved. Safety starts with a vehicle’s operator not with a foolish demo rat.

    1. kalopaboy January 25, 2018 8:52 am

      What exactly is a “demo rat”.

      1. burned_out January 25, 2018 8:53 am

        Democrat. They are not human. They infest the government.

        1. kalopaboy January 25, 2018 9:01 am

          Since I’m a Green Party voter, it seems like a repub/demo infestation to me.

          1. burned_out January 25, 2018 10:16 am

            You also live in my part of Hawaii. Hopefully our paths never cross.

          2. kalopaboy January 25, 2018 11:56 am

            Yes, my feelings exactly. I attempt to keep myself at a distance from all deplorables.

  3. fdegia January 25, 2018 7:43 pm

    SECTION 1. The department of health advocated in its Hawai’i Injury Prevention Plan for 2012-2017 for a universal moped and motorcycle helmet law to increase traffic safety. The plan cited a study that concluded that helmets reduced the risk of death by forty-two per cent and the risk of head injury by sixty-nine per cent for riders involved in an accident.
    Between 2007 and 2011, motorcycle deaths were the sixth leading cause of fatal unintentional injuries in Hawaii. During that same period, fifteen bicyclists died.

  4. MDK 88 January 26, 2018 12:44 am

    So how much Federal Highway funding will the State be getting from passing a helmet or open-bed pickup law? Funds only to be misappropriated later of course. As usual, a dollar amount is not made available to the public. How about an incentive for passing yet another traffic law? Reduce registration costs for motorcycles and non-commercial trucks?

    1. fdegiac January 27, 2018 6:46 pm

      In the past, many more states had universal helmet laws, thanks to pressure from the federal government. In 1967, states were required to enact helmet use laws in order to qualify for certain federal safety programs and highway construction funds. The federal incentive worked. By the early 1970s, almost all the states had universal motorcycle helmet laws. However, in 1976, states successfully lobbied Congress to stop the Department of Transportation from assessing financial penalties on states without helmet laws. Hawai`i was one of those states.

      1. MDK 88 January 29, 2018 11:46 pm

        Re-enacted in 1991 repealed in 1995. A federal universal helmet law has been on the table for at least 5 years now. It’s coming. The focus here should be: 1. Money 2. Loss of individuals’ freedoms. Whether it be the minimum legal drinking age, the seat belt or helmet law, there is some ulterior motive for introducing/passing such laws. If not federal funding then probably it is some insurance lobby kickback. In a state ruled by the insurance/realtor/lawyer industry during an election year, this does have the right timing since every county is now paying for Oahu’s Rail leaving less funding for roads. It’s easy to attack and impose laws on a minority since there will be less resistance. So do our elected officials actually care about safety for moped/motorcycle riders? Superficially maybe. Statistically, more people-more accidents. In the end it’s all about money. Your own safety is your responsibility. Do we need a law for that too?

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