Big goose and little gander

July 03, 2006

Picture this scenario: Two guys hop onto their gas-powered two-wheelers - one is a heavy V-twin and the other is a small single-cylinder four-stroke - and motor down the road. Neither is wearing a helmet. The guy riding the bigger bike stays at a steady 15 mph while his friend twists the throttle until he reaches 30 mph. A cop in a parked, unmarked cruiser looks up from his morning paper as the two roll by.

Who gets pulled over? In Maryland, only the motorcycle rider gets ticketed. He wasn't wearing the mandatory head protection. The other guy, tootling along on a motor scooter, is free to let the wind blow through his hair.

State lawmakers have tried several times to include scooters under the helmet law, but each effort has failed. The latest attempt came during this past session, when Montgomery County Del. William A. Bronrott and eight other legislators pushed a bill that would have required scooter operators to don helmets and goggles. Testimony in favor of the bill was overwhelming. Citing national statistics, the Maryland chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians pointed out that bareheaded motorcyclists are more than three times as likely to suffer brain injuries in crashes as those who wear helmets. And a physician from George Washington University Medical Center said that long-term costs of caring for permanently brain-injured victims can exceed $100,000 a year. Key lawmakers were unmoved. The bill died in committee.

We bring this up because we are well into scooter season. The recent deluge aside, it has been perfect scootering weather. We like scooters. They are fun and practical. They don't pollute much and they can be parked almost anywhere. And when some can get up to 90 miles on a single gallon of gas, it's no wonder scooter dealers are having trouble keeping them in stock. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, about 113,000 new scooters were sold last year. That's more than twice the number sold in 2001. If more people drove scooters instead of cars for short distances, imagine how much more navigable we'd find our downtowns.

But scooters are vulnerable to every other motor vehicle on the road and, when the road is in poor condition, to the road itself. Which is why scooter riders ought to wear helmets. Just because it isn't the law doesn't mean it isn't good sense.

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