JEFFERSON CITY _ "Hey Don, I haven't seen the new BMW (motorcycle)," a friend said to Don Koening one Saturday morning in 1976. A few minutes later Koening's body was airborne. His head hit a tree. He was permanently injured.
Koening's helmet was sitting by the door of his apartment.
Koening's mother, Nancy Koening, told the story of her son's accident to a legislative committee in testifying against a bill that would lower penalties for driving a motorcycle without a helmet.
"Life after head injury is never the same," said Nancy Koening, a member of the Missouri Head Injury Advisory.
"The head-injured population are often very healthy prior to this trauma, which occurs most frequently between the ages of 16 and 24," Koening said. "They may live with their disabilities another 20, 30, or 40 years."
Lives of people who have been injured change forever, "not just for the survivor, but for the siblings, parents, spouses. The whole extended family is affected," she said.
As a result of the medical miracles many people emerge. But "What about quality of life?" she said. "What kinds of needs do people with head injury have?"
But the House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Larry Thomason, D-Kennett, said it's an issue fairness.
Thomason said he simply wants an equal treatment for the three laws requiring use of safety devices in motor vehicles -- child-passenger restraints in autos, seat belts in autos and motorcycle helmets.
"We are trying to equalize the three penalties," Thomason said.
Under current law, violation of the child-passenger law carries a $10 penalty. But riding a motorcycle without a helmet has an $80 fine and two points on the driver's license.
Thomason's bill would lower the motorcycle-helmet penalty to just $10.
Thomason has introduced bills to lower the penalty for violating the helmet law every year since 1992.
But the top official of Missouri's Safety Council warned the committee the kind of injuries Koening described would increase of the helmet penalty is lowered.
"States that have repealed their all-rider helmet laws, have increased motorcycle fatalities," said R. Dale Findlay, Executive Director of Missouri Safety Council.
"Enactment of the bill will result in reduced helmet usage followed by increased fatalities, injuries and costs to all Missourians," Findlay said.
Koening agreed. "You will encourage others to ride without a helmets," she warned, calling it the `it won't happen to me' syndrome.
The bill that has been passed by the House with pretty strong support, has not been voted in the Senate yet. Thomason says "The bill is in good shape although still has a lot of work."