ANNAPOLIS – High school students on in-line skates glided around the Statehouse Tuesday lobbying senators to amend the current bicycle helmet law to include such skates.
The group, from the Hannah More School in Reisterstown, began working on making the idea a law after a classmate, Casey Athman, 16, was struck by a car and killed while skating without a helmet in May 1998.
“It’s not only about Casey, but it’s also about my fellow peers who are out there Rollerblading without a helmet,” said Natalia Millings, 17, president of the student advisory council, which worked to create the bill. “I don’t see why anybody wouldn’t wear a helmet.”
Between 1992 and 1998, at least 27 children ages 14 and under died from in-line skating injuries, according to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign website. In 1997, nearly 60,000 children between the ages of 5 and 14 were treated in emergency rooms for in-line skating injuries, the website said.
The legislation, which would give police officers the authority to stop and warn skaters under 16 without a helmet, won’t easily pass the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. It only has two of the six votes it needs to pass the 10-member committee, said Paul Kaplan, Hannah More’s clinical services director. Sen. Ralph Hughes and Sen. Clarence Mitchell, both Democrats from Baltimore, have pledged their support, Kaplan said. The bill’s chances decreased when Sen. Norman Stone Jr, D-Baltimore County, who supports the bill, left the committee.
The legislation was drafted with the help of one of the students’ state representatives, Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County. Student council members invited her to a meeting in November 1998. She detailed the process of bill drafting to them and recommended they research the problem. The students followed Hollinger’s recommendations and sent the completed research to her office. A first draft of the bill was completed in August.
The Senate committee is a “very very conservative committee,” Hollinger told the students Tuesday. But, if committee members can be persuaded to pass the bill, it has a good chance of passing the full Senate, she said.
Kaplan said he understands the difficulty behind getting the committee’s support.
“Philosophically, some of (committee members) have a problem with legislating things for personal safety when [people] should do it on their own,” Kaplan said.
If the bill is not passed this year, Kaplan and the students said they will return next year. However, Kaplan said, “nothing will change between now and next year except more injuries and fatalities.”
The importance of helmets didn’t strike Kenneth Farinholt, 16, a Hannah More student, until he slammed his head while blading two years ago. Athman’s death and a friend’s serious concussion reinforced his belief that youth should wear helmets.
“I was thinking to myself `That’s not going to happen to me. I’m a good skater.’ But accidents happen.”
Or as Millings told Hollinger, “It’s better to have a crack in your helmet than a crack in your head.”