ANNAPOLIS – School-age children led by Hannah More School students piled into a Maryland Senate hearing room for the second time Tuesday to back a bill requiring children under age 16 to wear a helmet while in-line skating.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, on behalf of the students, would add in-line skates to the existing Maryland law requiring children under 16 to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. Under the proposed legislation, police could stop and warn children skating without helmets.
“I am interested in the safety of children,” said Daniel Karpel, a fourth- grader at Ronald McNair Elementary School in Germantown. “By introducing and aiming to pass this bill you aim to protect the children of today and tomorrow from accidental head injuries.”
Students from Hannah More School in Baltimore County began working on the bill after the in-line skating death of classmate Casey Athman, 16, in May 1998. Although he had protective headgear, he was not wearing it when a car struck him. His father, John Athman, of Carroll County, told senators he believed a helmet could have saved his son’s life.
In 1996, an estimated 17.7 million people younger than age 18 participated in in-line skating. About one of every 25 in-line skaters, is injured seriously enough to warrant a hospital visit each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Last year, Senate Bill 17 was defeated by one vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. This year, with the addition of Sen. Larry Haines, R- Carroll, as co-sponsor, students are confident the proposed legislation will become law.
“It’s going to go through this year,” said Nicole Ferry, a social worker at Hannah More School. “We have eight, I believe, for it and three against (in the committee). “They (students) have hung together to keep working on it, to keep lobbying . . . They have really learned the reality of legislation,” she said. When Hollinger delivered a speech at the school in November 1998, student council members asked her to introduce the bill. With her help, they conducted more research about the dangers of in-line skating and learned how to draft the bill.
Opponents charge it infringes on parental rights. They also cite a Florida case from January when a 9-year-old boy was handcuffed and searched because he was caught riding his bicycle without helmet.
“The preferred solution is education not legislation,” said Crofton resident Bill Gawthrop. “The intent is to create a limited government, trusting the judgment of educated people. This is police-based parenting.”
Supporters include the International Skating Association, the Maryland Recreation and Parks Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“It’s important for communities to take care of their children,” said Kalinda Mathis, executive director of the International In-line Skating Association. “The benefits to have children outside and doing activity, we believe if you can reduce the potential of injury, should be greatly encouraged.”
While most states have laws requiring minors to wear helmets while bicycling, only New Jersey and New York have extended the law to include in-line skating.
Research shows helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent and brain injury by 88 percent.
“Last year, I received in-line skates for my birthday,” said the young Daniel Karpel. “Although it was not law, my parents made me wear a helmet. Thank God they did. I fell backwards and hit my head but I was wearing a helmet and was not injured.”