WHEN THE House of Delegates' Commerce and Government Matters Committee gathers tomorrow afternoon for a public hearing on House Bill 56, which would repeal Maryland's five-year-old motorcycle helmet law, how will proponents of this step backward in highway safety argue their case? How will they challenge the fact that motorcycle deaths have dropped yearly since the law took effect, from 54 deaths in 1992 to 26 deaths last year?
Will they hold the chart upside down to make it look like deaths have spiked upward, and hope no one notices?
Will they again trot out the perverted argument that it is an individual's right to endanger his or her life on the highway?
The annual assault on the motorcycle helmet law is a pathetic exercise in bullheadedness by certain state legislators. In 1992, they lost their argument that the law was unnecessary. The cold, hard statistics have proven them wrong ever since.
Motorcycle deaths in Maryland are down by half. Costs related to health care, rehabilitation and lost productivity are also down by 50 percent, to $19 million.
Fatalities involving motorcyclists not wearing helmets have dropped four-fold, from 35 to 8. All this, despite the fact that there are more registered motorcyclists in Maryland now.
Safety coalitions and transportation and police agencies have endorsed the law before, but they are forced to waste time every winter fighting this battle anew in Annapolis. They were forsaken by the last Congress and President Clinton, too, when the federal government stopped making speed limits and helmet laws prerequisites for highway money.
Helmet advocates are concerned that House Bill 56 may crawl out of the 23-member committee, led by Del. Gerald Curran, D-Baltimore City, because its members include three of the bill's 15 co-sponsors. They are Diane DeCarlo, D-Baltimore and Harford counties; Patricia A. Faulkner, R-Montgomery, and John S. Morgan, R-Howard and Prince George's.
We hope at least 12 committee members will read the numbers right-side up and conclude that society should not have to pay the price for ignorance -- nor should any motorcyclist have to pay the ultimate price.
Pub Date: 1/27/97