ANNAPOLIS – Beginning in October, children under age 16 likely will be required to wear a helmet while in-line skating or riding a scooter under a bill approved this session by the General Assembly.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening is expected to sign the measure, sponsored by Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, according to the governor’s spokeswoman, Raquel Guillory. The General Assembly adjourned Monday for the year.
The bill’s passage is a victory for Hannah More School students, who lost their classmate Casey Athman in a 1998 in-line skating accident and lobbied for the new law as a way to honor him.
Athman, then 16, was not wearing protective headgear when a car struck him.
This was the second time around for the bill, which was defeated last year by one vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
“It’s about time,” said Hollinger. “This is really an incredible victory for the young students and Hannah More. Rather then take out their anger in negative ways they put it into something positive to save other kids.”
In-line skating is becoming more popular for both recreation and transportation, according to the International Inline Skating Association. The association reported the number of in-line skaters has increased 300 percent since 1992. In 1996, an estimated 17.7 million people younger than age 18 participated in the pastime.
The sport is not without risks. 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. Forty-six percent of the injuries occur in skaters wearing no safety gear.
“None of us want to believe that our children could be injured when we buy them something fun, but in all sports there is an inherent risk of danger,” said Daniel Karpel, a fourth-grader at Ron McNair Elementary School, during testimony at the Feb. 13 hearing.
Opponents to the bill charged that it infringes on parental rights. They also cited a Florida case from January when a 9-year-old boy was handcuffed and searched because he was caught riding his bicycle without helmet.
“At the rate we’re going, kids will have to be delivered through the birth canal with a helmet,” said Delegate Don Murphy, R-Baltimore County, who voted against it. “I just think this is crazy. We should let parents decide how to best protect their children.”
The original bill only addressed in-line skating, but was amended to include scooters. Offenders who violate the measure will be issued a warning. The police will give them an instructional brochure about helmet safety.
“There are so many problems with trying to enforce something like that,” said Delegate Janet Greenip, R-Anne Arundel, who voted against it. “Frankly I think it’s trying to take the place of the parents. Parents know what they want for their children.”
Murphy, whose son broke his wrist in-line skating, said without a real penalty, the bill is pointless.
“(Kids) get stopped, cops give them a brochure, and they become immune to the idea that there’s a penalty with violating the law,” he said. “I think in the long run that’s harmful.”
With Glendening’s signature, Maryland would become the first state to have a law requiring children wear helmets when using scooters. Only two other states, New Jersey and New York, have laws mandating children wear helmets while in-line skating.
Research shows helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent and brain injury by 88 percent.
“We’re very excited for the students,” said Mark Waldman, president of Hannah More School in Reistertown. “We’re very happy they’ve had the experience of working through the legislative process and seeing they do have the power to save lives.”