Police prepare to stop bareheaded motorcycle riders $50 fine will greet first-time offenders

September 24, 1992|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

Police have a message for Maryland motorcyclists: There wil be no free rides for those without helmets.

The state's motorcycle helmet law goes into effect one week from today, and various law enforcement officials said they plan to issue $50 citations rather than warnings to violators.

"We'll be enforcing the law," Larry W. Tolliver, state police superintendent, said at a news conference in Annapolis yesterday. "If you're not wearing a helmet, expect to meet a state trooper."

Officials said they believed the state's 170,000 licensed motorcyclists had been given more than adequate warning. The helmet law had been debated for more than a dozen years before the state legislature finally approved the measure in March.

While most new traffic laws went into effect July 1, the helmet HTC requirement was delayed until the tail end of the motorcycle riding season, in part to give more time for word of the new law to spread.

"We're not setting up special motorcycle patrols, but it's one of the things officers will be looking for," said Sgt. Lee Goldman, traffic supervisor in the Howard County Police Department. "I'm sure they [riders] know it's coming."

All of the surrounding states have helmet laws, and supporters ++ point out that the Maryland law is likely to save lives.

Per mile, a motorcyclist is about 20 times more likely to die in a crash than is an automobile occupant, and head injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Of the 710 state highway traffic deaths last year, 53 involved motorcyclists.

A survey of motorcycle traffic this summer in Maryland found about half of the riders were wearing helmets.

Helmets range in price from $75 to $600 or more, and state officials said yesterday they are concerned that some people may buy cheap $25 plastic and foam helmets that don't meet the requirements of the law.

At a distance, the cheap helmets are difficult to discern from legal helmets.

Approved models have a sticker at the base of the helmet with the symbol "DOT" for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"There are some unapproved helmets out there, and we're seeing them," said Andrew S. Krajewski, coordinator of the state motorcycle safety program.

"They're relatively inexpensive, and some people are buying them just to have a helmet, or to protest, or some people don't know better," he said.

Unlike the mandatory seat belt law, the helmet law will be a primary offense. That means police will need no other cause than to observe a violation to stop a motorcyclist and issue a citation. A citation carries no points on the violator's driver's license, and repeat offenders face the same $50 fine as first-time offenders.

One issue that has been raised in some police departments is what to do with a motorcyclist after a ticket has been written.

Theoretically, a police officer could have the vehicle towed, or insist the cyclist find some other transportation.

More likely, officers say, the policeman will leave the scene, and it will be up to the motorcyclist whether to risk another citation.

"We have to temper everything with common sense," Sergeant Goldman said.

"If a person doesn't have a helmet when he was stopped, you know he's not going to magically come up with one," he said.

Some motorcyclists claim that helmets should be a matter of choice and that using them can actually increase the risk of accidents by reducing their awareness of surrounding traffic.

"Most people will comply with the law," predicted Tom Bruce, spokesman for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments, or ABATE, a motorcycling group that lobbied heavily against the law. "When [Gov. William Donald] Schaefer is out of office, we'll be back with a repeal."

ABATE is holding a protest of the helmet law at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds.

HELMET LAW FACTS

* Motorcyclists and passengers must wear a helmet as of Oct. 1.

* Helmets must meet federal standards (with a Department of Transportation sticker) and offer eye protection.

* Violators face fines of $50 per infraction but no points on their licenses.

* Unlike the seat belt law, a helmet violation will be a primary offense, which means motorcycle operators can be pulled over and cited by police for failing to wear a helmet.

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