Maryland Needs a Helmet Law

January 27, 1992

This state's failure to re-enact a mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists is inexcusable. When you look at the facts, the benefits of forcing cyclists to don safety helmets far outweigh the disadvantages. It is sound public policy.

Some motorcyclists call it a freedom of choice issue. Twenty years ago, the Supreme Court ruled differently. Helmetless cyclists are harming other citizens around them and are costing taxpayers millions of dollars each year. The court ruled there is no constitutional issue.

Less than one percent of all roadway travel in this state involves motorcycles. Yet 8 percent of the fatalities are riders of these bikes -- and 75 percent of them didn't wear helmets. In fact, only a third of cyclists wear safety helmets, even though statistics prove that this omission doubles the risk of sustaining a head injury and more than doubles the chances that the driver will require hospitalization from an accident.

And once the unhelmeted drivers end up in a hospital, costs soar. Immediate medical care for them ($30,000) is three times higher than for helmeted drivers. Long-term hospitalization for a head injury costs between $146,000 and $460,000 per year. And the chances of head-injured riders ever working again are less than 50-50.

Maryland taxpayers could save a minimum of $1.4 million in direct medical costs if this state reinstated its helmet law, which was removed from the books in 1979. If only 20 lives are saved from serious head injuries, it would reduce medical costs by over $8 million.

Additionally, a provision in the new federal transportation act penalizes Maryland if it fails to enact helmet legislation. The loss could reach $4.6 million in 1996. But if a helmet measure is approved, Maryland would qualify for an extra $1.4 million for its highway safety program.

Last year, the House Judiciary Committee in Annapolis defeated a mandatory helmet bill by one vote. Shockingly, two Baltimore City delegates, Curt Anderson and Ken Montague, opposed this measure. We hope they have carefully reviewed the persuasive statistics compiled by the shock-trauma center and numerous other medical and safety organizations. They also should look at a new study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showing that between 1984 and 1990, 69 Marylanders died who would now be alive if these motorcyclists had worn helmets.

If automobile drivers are required to take safety precautions by wearing seat belts, why shouldn't motorcyclists be forced to guard against life-threatening injuries? The helmet bill makes sense. We can help prevent severe head injuries and save taxpayers money at the same time. It is a combination legislators should find appealing.

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