ANNAPOLIS – Maryland may soon become the ninth state to make children wear helmets when riding their bicycles.
The bill was passed by the Senate 39-8 Thursday and sent to Gov. Parris N. Glendening. The governor has not made up his mind on the legislation, but is in “support for its concept,” said Glendening spokesman Chuck Porcari.
If signed into law, any cyclist under 16 caught riding without a helmet would receive a warning from police and be given educational information about the importance of helmets and bicycle safety. There is no fine.
“We don’t want people to be penalized,” said Bobbi Seabolt, a lobbyist for the Maryland chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We don’t want people to be fined. We don’t want them to be hassled. We just want them to wear bike helmets.”
Bicycle helmets already are required for youths in Allegany, Howard and Montgomery counties, according to a Department of Health and Mental Hygiene memo. The Howard County law has increased helmet usage from 4 percent to 47 percent.
Maryland would join New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Oregon, Tennessee, New York, California and Massachusetts in implementing such a law for children, the department said. No state requires adult riders to wear helmets.
The bill’s sponsor, Del. Mary A. Conroy, D-Prince George’s, had originally included all bicyclists regardless of age, but said she was “real happy” with the compromise.
Another concession helmet advocates made was an amendment exempting riders on the Ocean City boardwalk. Ocean City bike riders frequently are vacationing away from home and may not have helmets, Seabolt said.
Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, a Republican who represents the resort town, supported the amendments. “It would be devastating to Ocean City to have to have helmets on everybody there,” he said.
And for bike riders throughout the rest Maryland?
“I think it’s a call that should be made by the individual,” said Stoltzfus, who voted against the measure. “I think it’s just the government reaching into personal choice. Parents should be able to make the call for the children.”
Sen. Arthur Dorman, D-Prince George’s, opposed the Ocean City exemption and said he may try to remove it after the legislation becomes law.
“You can get hurt as badly in Ocean City as you can in … Baltimore City,” Dorman said.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene memo said 85 percent of bicycle-related deaths are caused by head injury, and the use of bicycle helmets reduces the risk of head injury up to 85 percent.
The average cost of a bicycle-related hospitalization for a skull and brain injury is $7,543, the memo said.
The law would take effect on Oct. 1.