LINCOLN — When it's time for a weekend ride, Scott Lucey points his motorcycle east and rumbles into Iowa.
When he and his friends roll back to Omaha, their wallets are always a little lighter.
He takes his bike and leaves his cash on the eastern side of the Missouri River, because Iowa doesn't make him wear a helmet. And he's not alone, he said.
“People simply evacuate eastern Nebraska into western Iowa every weekend,” he said.
He would love to see Nebraska lawmakers consider the dollars the state loses and repeal the 25-year-old helmet law when they resume debate on the issue today.
Supporters of the helmet law counter with economic arguments of their own.
Lots of research, including some conducted years ago in Nebraska, tips the debate in their favor, said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va.
“There is no question that the universal helmet law saves dollars and saves lives,” Rader said.
Nebraska is one of 19 states that require all motorcyclists to wear helmets, with Missouri the only bordering state also in that category.
Most other states allow adult motorcyclists to ride without helmets, while Iowa is one of just three states with no restrictions on riding without a helmet.
In the mid-1970s, nearly every state required helmets. But that started to change in 1976, when the federal government ended financial penalties against states that did not require helmet use, Rader said.
Nebraska first imposed a helmet law in 1967. Lawmakers repealed it in 1977 but reinstated the law in 1989.
Legislative Bill 393 would exempt riders 21 and older from wearing helmets, but it would require them to wear approved eye protection. State Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins, sponsor of the bill, hoped the age restriction and eyewear requirement would win the measure more support.
But his bill has hit the same headwind of past efforts to ditch helmets. Since 1989, there have been four unsuccessful repeal measures debated on the floor of the Legislature.
Higher medical costs associated with injuries suffered by unhelmeted riders probably ranks as the most common argument against repeal.
A 1992 report published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that after Nebraska reinstated its helmet law, hospital charges for injured motorcyclists declined by nearly 40 percent. More than two dozen subsequent studies have produced similar findings, Rader said.
One of the most recent was done in Michigan, which repealed its helmet requirement for adult riders in 2012.
An analysis by the Highway Loss Data Institute determined that the amount paid out for insurance claims in motorcycle accidents in that state increased by 36 percent after the helmet law was weakened. The analysis also found a 22 percent increase in average insurance payments for motorcycle injuries.
Helmets cut the risk of motorcycle accident deaths by 37 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha said that when an unhelmeted rider suffers a traumatic head injury, the resulting costs shift to taxpayer-funded disability and medical care programs.
Repeal supporters, however, argued the same can be true for someone injured in an auto accident, but the state doesn't require drivers to wear helmets. Bloomfield made the point that more head injuries are suffered each year in falls than in motorcycle crashes.
Todd Miller, state coordinator for the motorcycle advocacy group ABATE of Nebraska, said he couldn't produce a study to show what the helmet law might cost Nebraska.
But not only do resident cyclists head out of state whenever they can, he knows many nonresident riders avoid Nebraska while on multi-state road trips.
The top attendance at one of the group's rallies in Nebraska has been about 300, said Lucey, who is ABATE's legislative officer. A similar rally in northern Iowa will draw more like 6,000 riders, and he estimated one-quarter will be Nebraskans.
During the first couple of hours of debate on the repeal bill last week, Mark Bosak of Lincoln listened from a balcony at the State Capitol.
Bosak and his wife, Candy, were hit by a car in 2007 while they were stopped at an intersection in Lincoln. Both were wearing helmets. Both suffered broken bones. Mark Bosak said he also suffered head and neck injuries. Fortunately, the driver's insurance covered their medical expenses.
The 56-year-old motorcyclist said he chooses to wear his helmet when he's riding on an Interstate in Iowa or South Dakota. But once he hits a quiet country road, off it goes.
“Freedom, you know,” he said.