At the risk of wasting food to make a point, try this experiment: Go to your local grocery store and buy a melon. A cantaloupe would suffice. A honeydew would do. Then, take it out in the parking lot and chuck it as high as you can. Note the result when it lands.
If you think that doesn’t make much sense, then consider Senate Bill 237, currently being served up in Annapolis. This wrongheaded piece of legislation would make wearing a motorcycle helmet no longer mandatory for most riders in Maryland. The bipartisan bill was expected to be heard in committee this week. If a licensed rider is at least 21, has at least two years of experience in the saddle and has completed an approved safety course, this bill would make it legal for someone to bare his or her melon while navigating traffic on Maryland’s roads.
So a young rider from 16 to 20 wouldn’t have that choice? How come? Because it would be awful for a person so young to die or suffer serious head trauma in a motorcycle accident? Isn’t it just as bad for an older rider to be killed or hurt? And you would think that anyone who has taken a state-sponsored motorcycle safety course would have heard that wearing a helmet is always a good idea.
It’s analogous to a seat belt in a car. A helmet won’t prevent a wreck, but it would certainly offer some protection should one occur.
It has often been said that tractor-trailer drivers and motorcycle operators are generally the best drivers on the road. That’s because they have to be vigilant at all times. Motorcyclists, especially, can’t let their guard down. After all, they don’t have tons of metal surrounding them.
Worst of all, highway study after highway study shows that other drivers often don’t really “see” motorcycles coming. At least, not as readily. Admit it, you drivers of cars, pickups and SUVs. You’ve stopped, and you were ready to pull away from an intersection when you spotted a motorcycle moving toward you. For a millisecond, its size or its one headlight didn’t register with you 100%, and you almost hit the accelerator. Then you didn’t.
This legislation has been introduced each year in the General Assembly since 2016 but has failed to advance out of committee every time. Here’s hoping it fails again. Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick, Carroll) is the lead sponsor. Sen. Jack Bailey (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert) is the only Southern Maryland co-sponsor among the 14 senators (11 Republicans, three Democrats) who have tagged along with Hough.
“It’s not the role of government to protect you from yourself,” Hough said. “The role of government is to protect you from doing harm to others. As an adult in this country, you should have the freedom to make decisions like this if you want.”
Indeed, personal freedom is a wonderful thing, and sharing the road is something all drivers should aspire to, but hard numbers suggest that a decision to go helmetless can be foolhardy. The legislation continues to be opposed by AAA Mid-Atlantic, the Maryland Trauma Center Network, the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems and the Maryland Association of County Health Officers. According to the Motor Vehicle Administration Highway Safety Office, the state has averaged 1,466 motorcycle-involved crashes a year over the last five years with an average of 69 fatal crashes a year. Maybe helmets wouldn’t have prevented all of those deaths, but at least they give an exposed rider a fighting chance.
The American Motorcycle Association, the country’s largest motorcycle rights advocacy group, supports voluntary use of helmets. ABATE of Maryland, the state’s biggest motorcycle advocacy group, hasn’t taken a position, but its president said riders should get to choose for themselves. At the same time, first responders don’t get to choose whether to assist a helmetless motorcyclist on the side of the road after a wreck.
Maryland’s current law, passed in 1992, requires all operators and passengers of motorcycles to wear protective headgear.
And in the 28 years since that legislation passed, traffic has only gotten worse in Maryland, so the odds of a crash involving motorcycles have increased as well.
The state Senate should do nothing to repeal or tweak this law. Sometimes the state has to legislate common sense when people fail to do so. This is one of those situations.