Confrontations between motorcyclists and Maryland legislators have produced some of the General Assembly's more embarrassing moments. Year after year, it seemed that all bikers had to do to squelch any attempt to enact sensible helmet legislation was simply show up in Annapolis. Similar measures -- requiring that motorists wear seat belts or that infants and small children ride in special seats -- are taken for granted. Bikers, however, insist that a helmet requirement would be an infringement of their freedom on the open road.
But freedom carries a price, and this year legislators are being forced to reckon that price in dollars and cents. Given the state's dire financial situation, the bottom-line cost of bikers' freedom is finally putting some starch in legislators' spines. Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee approved a helmet bill by a vote of 14-8. A Senate hearing on helmet legislation is scheduled for this afternoon.
The governor's cost-cutting commission has said the legislation could save the state $1.3 million in health-care costs for uninsured cyclists injured in accidents while not wearing a helmet. Moreover, federal incentives for helmet laws could make an extra $1.4 million available for highway safety grants over the next three years. But without a helmet law, a portion of the state's highway money will be taken away from highway construction and maintenance and directed instead into safety information and education programs.