Motorcycle gets attention, if not support Prop is part of plea to repeal helmet law

March 18, 1998|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

In the center of a House of Delegates committee room, beneath the Colonial-style candelabra, stood a prop yesterday that drew a fascinated crowd of spectators:

A purple Harley-Davidson.

"That's what it's all about," said Del. George W. Owings III, who parked the Harley as part of an annual crusade by motorcyclists to repeal Maryland's 6-year-old helmet law. He said he wanted to demonstrate that a motorcycle has few safety features -- and a helmet adds little protection, in his view -- so people should have the freedom to choose.

Legislators and lobbyists chuckled as the Calvert County Democrat regaled them with his tale of riding the motorcycle into the room the previous night.

The guard was gone, and the corridor was empty. Owings brought the 1991 Harley -- borrowed from Sen. John C. Astle, an Anne Arundel Democrat -- up from the garage in the elevator. Quickly, Owings looked around, then hit the gas and rode 60 feet into the room.

"We heard a vroom, vroom, and then we smelled the smoke," said Del. Sue Hecht, a Frederick County Democrat who was nearby.

His stunt thrilled 70 motorcyclists who urged passage of a bill to end the helmet law for adults.

"You're supposed to have motorcycles in your living room," said Patrick Bopp, 42, a motorcycle enthusiast and contractor from Catonsville.

But it did not amuse one member of the Commerce and Government Matters Committee. Owings removed the Harley after Del. M. Elizabeth Bobo complained he had gone too far -- and a motorcycle with gas in the tank violated the fire code.

Representatives of medical and safety organizations said they didn't get the point of the prop. They argued the helmet law has saved lives and reduced injuries.

"It's beautiful," said John Fluetsch, a 28-year-old from Annapolis in a head and neck brace, after admiring the Harley. But Fluetsch, who credits wearing a helmet for surviving a motorcycle crash last summer, said, "It's not related."

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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