Attorney Who Defended the Right to Ride a Motorcycle Without a Helmet Dies Because He Wasn’t Wearing One

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Ron Smith, an attorney, fiercely pushed to have Florida’s motorcycle helmet restrictions repealed in the late 1990s. He and his companion perished on August 20, 2022, while operating a motorcycle without a helmet.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Smith was a part of the ABATE organization, which stands for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments and American Bikers Aimed Toward Education. The organization battled for many years to overturn a Florida rule mandating bikers to wear helmets.

Smith defended many clients who disregarded the helmet regulation, and many claim that these court battles ultimately assisted in the state’s helmet law being overturned. In 2000, the state changed the rule, allowing motorcycle riders over 21 to do without a helmet as long as they had $10,000 in available insurance coverage for injuries sustained in motorcycle accidents.

A year later, an investigation reported in the American Journal of Public Health revealed a 48.6% rise in the number of fatalities involving motorbike occupants.

According to Dave Newman, a friend of Smith’s whom he met through an Old Town American Legion post, Smith was a staunch supporter of independence and disliked being told what to do. He believed that each individual should have their own choice.

Insider claims that Smith appeared to enjoy making fun of the helmet rule when it was in effect. He traveled 90 miles on his motorcycle in 1996 without wearing a helmet while “looking for a ticket.” Smith told the Tampa Tribune, “I passed at least a half-dozen cops, and all I got was a sunburn.”

On the day of the collision, 66-year-old Smith and his girlfriend, 62-year-old Brenda Jeanan Volpe, were traveling with a group of bikers from the American Legion Post 173 south along U.S. 19 in Pinellas County. They were making their way to attend a funeral.

Smith attempted to slow down for traffic along the way, but he lost control of his bike, spinning out in a clockwise direction, and colliding with the back of a trailer that was hooked up to a pickup vehicle in a different lane. Smith and Volpe perished in the collision. Both were not wearing helmets.

The cause of death for Smith was determined to be blunt head trauma, and for Volpe it was determined to be the same in a report from the Hillsborough Medical Examiner’s Office. Of course, it’s hard to say whether or not the bikers’ lives might have been saved by wearing a helmet. However, the Tampa Bay Times was informed by Eric Teoh of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that “it certainly would have improved their odds.” Motorcycle riders are more at risk on the road than passengers in enclosed automobiles, according to Teoh. It is therefore crucial that they take precautions to safeguard themselves.

He said that early data indicated a nine percent increase in motorcycle fatalities even from 2020 to 2021. In 2020, 57 percent of fatal accident victims were not wearing helmets. That percentage was only 11% in states where wearing a helmet is required. Indeed, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research discovered that wearing a helmet reduces the chance of fatality for motorcyclists by 37%. According to a different NHTSA study, 41 motorcycle fatalities could have been avoided if the rider had been wearing a helmet.

Smith and Volpe’s friends, meanwhile, remembered pleasant memories of the couple.

Gary Pruss, fellow American Legion member, described Smith to the Tampa Bay Times as “a guy that you went to for advice.”

Volpe was “funny,” Gary Pruss’s wife, Connie Pruss, said. “She had the biggest smile.”

The first time I met her, she acted like we’d known each other our entire lives,” Dave Newman added.

Following the fatalities of Smith and Volpe, the Holiday American Legion Post instituted enhanced security procedures.

Although they are not mandatory, helmets are now strongly advised. According to the post’s rider director, Eddie Rodriguez, prospective riders must complete a motorcycle safety course and pass a road test before they can ride with the group.

Rodriguez did observe that motorcyclists in his organization appear to be taking safety a little more seriously these days, despite the fact that the club does not force members to wear helmets. Rodriguez saw the riders during the group’s first ride following the fatalities and noted that “every single one had a helmet on.”


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