ANNAPOLIS – Despite pleas from legislators arguing helmets save lives, the Senate Thursday passed a bill to allow adult motorcyclists to ride without protective headgear.
The bill, which had 19 sponsors, won final approval 27 to 20 on the second day of debate. It would allow bikers over age 21 holding a motorcycle license for at least two years, or who completed an approved safety course, to ride without helmets.
Twenty states, including Maryland, and Washington, D.C., require all motorcycle riders and passengers to wear helmets.
Sen. Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery characterized the legislation as the same as removing the law requiring car passengers to wear seat belts.
Her Montgomery colleague, Sen. Ida Ruben told the Senate helmets save lives.
“The helmet bill has prevented injury and people from being killed or maimed for life,” she said. “It’s going to be a problem.”
The bill could also add to the state’s already burgeoning medical costs during a tight fiscal year, she added.
The state could see at least a $750,000 increase in Medicaid costs in fiscal year 2005, legislative analysis showed.
But the bill prevailed with bipartisan support.
Riders involved in motorcycle accidents are more likely to suffer body injuries, said Sen. John C. Astle, D-Anne Arundel, an avid motorcycle rider who backed the bill.
Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick, said he received post cards urging the Senate to pass the measure and open up Maryland to cycle enthusiasts eager to tour the state and patronize its businesses.
ABATE of Maryland, the state’s largest association of motorcycle riders, praised the Senate’s decision and said Maryland could benefit financially if the helmet bill becomes law.
“We’re not against helmets,” said Gary “Pappy” Boward, ABATE Maryland director. “We believe it should be the adult right to choose.”
Just before passing the helmet bill, the Senate gave preliminary approval to another contentious transportation measure: Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s transportation revenue bill, which would generate about $150 million from increases in vehicle registration fees.
The Senate Budget and Taxation committee approved the bill Monday, and the House approved it last month.
But the bill’s road was not perfectly smooth.
The bill fails to specify how funds will be used, said Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, calling it a “trust me” bill.
Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, defended the package, saying no guarantees could be made for specific projects.
Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, D-Baltimore, an opponent, proposed a change to keep registration fees at the current level for vehicles under 3,700 pounds if all the registered owners were 65 or older.
Many citizens live on fixed incomes and financial hardship had to be considered before raising the fees, she said.
The Senate killed the modification 26 to 18.
“Transportation is moving and I believe will be passed,” Ehrlich said Wednesday.