Lawyer who fought state's motorcycle helmet law stayed true to his cause in death

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Motorcycle on driveway.

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A Florida lawyer who thought that motorcycle helmets should be a choice, rather than a requirement, died with his girlfriend in August in a motorcycle crash.

Neither lawyer Ron Smith, 66, nor his girlfriend Brenda Jeanan Volpe, 62, were wearing helmets when Smith crashed his motorcycle in Pinellas County, Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Volpe was a passenger on Smith’s motorcycle.

Smith had represented clients who violated Florida’s helmet law, according to the Tampa Bay Times. He scored a victory in June 1998, when a Florida appeals court upheld dismissal of three cases against motorcycle riders charged with wearing improper helmets.

The appeals court said the motorcyclists weren’t on notice that their conduct was illegal because Florida failed to publish updated lists of acceptable protective equipment. But the court ruled that the helmet requirement was constitutional.

Florida passed a law in 2000 that allowed motorcyclists older than age 21 to ride without helmets if they had $10,000 in insurance coverage for injuries.

It is unclear whether a helmet would have saved the lives of Smith and Volpe, according to Eric Teoh, who has researched motorcycle safety at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“It’s entirely possible that if they were wearing a helmet they might have survived, but again, we can’t say for sure. It certainly would have improved their odds,” Teoh told the Tampa Bay Times.

A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that helmets decrease the risk of deaths for motorcyclists by 37%, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

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