Despite a call from the National Transportation Safety Board urging states to require all motorcyclists to wear helmets, it will be "an uphill battle" to change the 2003 Pennsylvania law that allowed bareheaded riding, a helmet law advocate said yesterday.

Across the country, the number of riders killed in motorcycle crashes has more than doubled in 10 years, according to the NTSB. In 1997, 2,116 motorcycle deaths were reported; in 2006, the death toll reached 4,810.

Annual motorcycle fatalities in Pennsylvania averaged 126 a year from 1997 through 2003, but increased to 183 from 2004 through 2006, when it reached 187, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

State Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny), who has introduced legislation to reinstate helmet laws, said: "There are only a handful of us who have a high level of interest in this," but added the increasing death toll may change some minds.

Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis O'Brien (R., Phila.), said after years of debate many lawmakers have firm positions on the issue and may not want to revisit the debate.

"It has not been at the forefront this year," he said.

Nevertheless, he said, "the issue is still percolating."

Pennsylvania law says motorcyclists over age 21 can ride without a helmet, provided they have either two years of riding experience or complete a rider-education course.

All motorcyclists under the age of 21 must wear helmets.

The 2003 law repealed a 35-year-old helmet law requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets, and ended a long battle waged by motorcyclists, including the Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education (ABATE), which contend the decision to wear a helmet should be a personal choice.

"We definitely support the law in its present state," ABATE lobbyist Charles Umbenhauer said.

Chuck Ardo, spokesman for Gov. Rendell, said: "While the governor believes that riders should wear helmets, he also believes that individuals should be allowed to make their own choice."

Rendell supported the 2003 law.

Helmet advocates say the long-term health effects that accidents have on motorcyclists, and the economic impact of caring for motorcycle injuries, are often overlooked in debate.