Kill this bill

April 09, 2004

LET'S SAY you're a state senator and confront a proposal to kill some Maryland residents, leave many more with traumatic brain injuries, increase health care costs for everyone and burden area hospitals with a stack of unpaid bills. Would you:

A. Tear the bill into tiny pieces while shaking your head and muttering; or

B. Support it enthusiastically.

Seems like an easy call, right? That's why you're not a state senator. Yesterday, the learned members of Maryland's upper chamber voted 26-21 to approve a bill that would repeal Maryland's mandatory motorcycle helmet law for most adult riders. Apparently, examples of brain impairment are not limited to helmet-less motorcyclists.

Seriously, what were these 26 senators thinking? A sidecar full of studies show that while wearing a helmet is neither fun nor cool, it reduces the incidence of death and serious injury in motorcycle accidents. In Maryland, the motorcycle death rate dropped by 56 percent after the state adopted a mandatory helmet law in 1992.

This is not just about personal freedom - not when the rest of us are picking up the tab. Health experts say about 63 percent of the medical costs of a motorcycle crash are covered by taxpayers. A non-helmeted victim can cost more than $1 million to treat. The average for someone wearing a helmet? About $80,000.

This isn't the time to increase Maryland's Medicaid costs. Nor, frankly, is it ever a good time to make our highways less safe. Motorcycle enthusiasts have to realize their pursuit carries some social and financial responsibility. What's next? Get rid of seatbelts? Airbags? Safety glass? Bumpers? The possibilities are limitless.

Blunders like this will start to make voters think the folks in Annapolis can't be trusted with matters of public safety and welfare. Now it's up to the House of Delegates to do the responsible thing and kill this bill.

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