ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, saying the state’s failure to publish a list of approved helmets does not invalidate the law.
William Michael Lewis — a St. Mary’s County man whose motorcycling headgear includes bandanas, baseball caps and a fleece-lined Santa Claus hat, all with chin straps — had contested the law because no list of acceptable helmets was available.
He argued that the helmet law required that the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) publish such a list. Without it, he said, there was no way of telling which helmets were safe.
Rather than compile a list, however, the MVA decided to accept any helmet with a “DOT” label, meaning it met federal Department of Transportation standards for helmet safety.
A St. Mary’s Circuit Court judge last year sided with Lewis. But that ruling was stayed, allowing the helmet law to remain in effect while the state appealed.
The Court of Appeals rejected Lewis’ argument that the MVA’s helmet regulations were too vague. It noted that, in addition to the DOT label that manufacturers put on their helmets, the federal government publishes a brochure telling consumers which helmets conform to regulations.
“In this light, there is nothing impermissibly vague about Maryland law or regulation,” said the ruling, which was written by Judge Alan Wilner. “There is nothing to guess at.”
An MVA official said the ruling validated the agency’s policy of using federal law to determine helmets’ acceptability, eliminating the need for the state to compile its own list of approved makes and models.
“There is no need to tweak the existing law,” said Caryn Coyle, an MVA spokeswoman. “The state of Maryland does not test or approve helmets.”
But Terrence M. Nolan, one of Lewis’s attorneys, said it was unconstitutional to enforce the 1992 law in the absence of the required list.
“I believe it to be a fundamental obligation of the state to obey the statute,” he said.
Lewis’ attorneys also pointed to evidence that some helmets that bear the DOT label do not meet federal standards, arguing that state residents could not know if their helmets were in compliance.
But the state argued that was irrelevant to Lewis’s case, given a court finding that the Lexington Park man does not wear “anything even approximating protective headgear” when aboard his bike.
Nolan said he would decide after consulting with Lewis whether to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.