Anyone who rides a bicycle or operates a moped or scooter without wearing a helmet should, well, have their heads examined.
And perhaps the Frederick County Board of Commissioners should also get in that examination line if it approves a bill on Nov. 1 to be included in the county’s annual legislative wish list to be submitted to the General Assembly that would exempt county moped and scooter riders from the helmet requirement of a new state law.
That law, which went into effect on Oct. 1, also requires riders to obtain a $20 title fee and $5 decal proving registration, have either a valid driver’s license or moped/scooter license, and insurance. The law was passed to helped regulate the increasingly popular and affordable means of transportation.
County Commissioner Billy Shreve, a rider himself, doesn’t think the helmet requirement is necessary, citing discomfort on hot days and a lack of data that helmets would actually help a scooter or moped operator in a crash under 30 mph. Adult bicyclists don’t have to wear helmets, so why should scooter operators, he asks.
Others cite the lack of freedom of choice in the helmet requirement, raising implicitly again Maryland’s infamous reputation as a “nanny state” that forces people to be protected from themselves. Similar arguments were made in the debate over whether motorcyclists should wear helmets, or motorists should be made to use seatbelts.
Such arguments would have greater validity if the impact of personal choices such as not wearing a helmet didn’t affect anyone but the person making the decision. But scooter riders can put others at risk in unintended ways.
When a motorist, motorcyclist, scooter rider or even a bicyclist is hurt in a crash, especially with a serious head injury, guess who has to help pay for it? You do. If the injured party doesn’t have health insurance — as is the case with hundreds of thousands of Marylanders — and is taken to the emergency room, we all end up paying for that in the form of rising hospital costs. Even if the person is insured, we pay for that, too, in the form of possible rising premiums for our insurance.
So is it too much to require people to take the steps necessary to help protect themselves from injury? Even if you are going 10 mph on a moped and a car doing 40 mph hits you, wearing a helmet may save your life, which is the most important reason for wearing one in the first place.
The AAA Mid-Atlantic thinks it it is not too much to ask of moped riders, noting that, “We are surprised and concerned that the Frederick County commission is considering legislation for the 2013 General Assembly to exempt Frederick resident from the helmet requirements for mopeds and motor scooters.”
Emergency service officials who must deal with the aftermath of too many traffic crashes that result in serious injury agree, including the Maryland State Police, which testified in favor of the helmet requirement when the bill was being debated before the state legislature. And even the Frederick County Fire and Rescue Services Division — which has seen no particular uptick in local scooter crashes — supports the value of all riders wearing safety equipment.
Fortunately, Del. Galen Clagett, chairman of the county legislative delegation, doesn’t see much hope of the bill being introduced in the legislature even if the commissioners approve it, calling the effort a waste of time and energy that “... has two chances, slim and none.”
He sees no need to challenge the statewide policy at this point, concluding accurately that scooters can go too fast not to require safety equipment for riders. He said that even if the delegation does decide to introduce it, he would fight it on the floor of the House.
In the end, it is hoped that cooler heads prevail, and the law remains as passed for Frederick residents. It has already been debated once before the legislature where it belonged; it doesn’t need to be debated again by the commissioners.