ANNAPOLIS – Suzanna Greenbank told state senators Tuesday that she doesn’t want to wear a motorcycle helmet.
“I don’t want a group of people that have ridden on a motorcycle once or never ridden telling me how to ride,” she said.
At 14 years old, Suzanna doesn’t even have a driver’s license. And the bill before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee wouldn’t allow her to hang up her helmet until she turned 18.
But Suzanna and other motorcyclists from around the state want lawmakers to know they like a proposal to repeal a 1992 mandatory helmet law in favor of a minors-only law.
“Fatalities aren’t the issue. It’s about freedom and choice,” Gary Boward, executive director for ABATE of Maryland, a motorcyclists’ rights group, said in summing up suppporters’ arguments.
Motorcyclist Bill Isennack made the point by asking lawmakers if they would require all swimmers from Ocean City to Deep Creek Lake to wear life jackets.
But opponents of repeal said that the mandatory helment law has made a difference. According to the Maryland State Highway Administration, the number of motorcycle-related fatalities dropped from 55 in 1992 to 30 in 1994.
Dr. Richard L. Alcorta, a trauma specialist at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, said helmets kept down medical costs by preventing serious injury in many cases.
“As motorcycle helmet usage increases, the fatalities decrease. The all-rider law is the driving force that is saving these lives,” Alcorta said in a written statement.
Motorcyclists contend that education – such as the Motor Vehicle Administration’s motorcycle safety class – is the key to saving lives.
Sen. George W. Della Jr., D-Baltimore, sponsor of the repeal bill, said he became interested in motorcycles after he bought one and took a safety class.
“Helmets are an obstruction,” Della said. “The helmets that are supposed to provide safety do not.”
Many motorcyclists agreed, testifying that helmets obstruct sight, impair hearing and cause fatigue.
Currently, motorcyclists are required to wear helmets that have been approved by the MVA. However, Della said the agency had never issued its list. Without it, a motorcyclist could put “a piece of foam and a bucket” over his head, Della said.
W. Marshall Rickert, MVA administrator, said Tuesday that the agency accepts helmets certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation and did not intend to publish its own list. In Maryland, there are 187,000 licensed motorcyclists and 48,000 registered motorcycles. -30-