ANNAPOLIS – Students at the Hannah More School in Baltimore County have joined forces with their senator, Paula Hollinger, to pass a law in memory of a classmate who died after a rollerblading accident.
In May 1998, Casey Athman, a Hannah More student, was rollerblading without a helmet when he was hit by a car and died. His fellow students and Hollinger want to try to make sure other children do not suffer the same fate by making helmets mandatory for in-line skaters under age 16.
Though the law may not have helped Athman, 17, students think it could save many children. Athman’s classmates asked Hollinger, who was at the school for a speech last year, to introduce a bill to require in-line skaters under 16 to wear helmets. Hollinger asked the children for research to demonstrate the need for a new law.
The Hannah More students found in-line skating injuries outnumber those from bicycling each year, and more than half of those injured are under age 14. According to the National Safe Kids Campaign, 60,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated for in-line skating injuries in 1997. Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent, the students’ research found.
While most states have laws requiring children to wear bicycle helmets, New York and New Jersey are the only states that require children to wear helmets while in-line skating, too.
“We’re hoping to save some lives, honor Casey’s memory, and prevent injuries and death to young people,” said Paul Kaplan, Hannah More director of clinical services.
The bill Hollinger, a member of the Democrat majority, will introduce to the General Assembly in January would add the in-line skating helmet requirement to Maryland’s law requiring anyone under 16 to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle.
Several groups already have pledged their support. The International In-Line Skaters Association supports legislation requiring children to wear helmets and has a program called Gear Up! that encourages skaters to wear helmets and other protective gear. The Baltimore Safe Kids Coalition and the National Safe Kids Campaign also have endorsed the bill.
The bill also has the support of two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kaplan said.
“These kids did fantastic research and sent data to Senator Hollinger,” Kaplan said. “We’re really dedicated to making this happen. This law would affect lives for the better.”
The students are lobbying senators now and trying to line up support.
Sen. Philip Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel, was collared by the students, but they didn’t win his unqualified backing. He said he was impressed with their efforts and will keep an open mind.
“It comes to a point where parental responsibility comes into play. Parents should direct their children and educate them about the effects of head injuries,” Jimeno said. “We can’t legislate everything – where do we draw the line?”
The students are prepared for a tough fight, Kaplan said. They are ready, he said, to counter the argument that the bill is a government mandate that infringes on individual rights.
“This is an amendment to existing law. It does not additionally burden anyone’s civil rights to ask children to wear helmets,” Kaplan said. “This is a safety issue.”
“People do like to have their freedom of choice,” Hollinger said. “These are really special students and hopefully we can be convincing enough to get this bill through. There’s no telling how many lives it could save.”