Crowning moment:
Assembly votes for helmet law

February 22, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Annapolis Bureau Thomas W. Waldron of the Annapolis Bureau contributed to this article.

ANNAPOLIS -- Despite grumbling from bikers who had staved off a helmet law for 12 years, the Senate yesterday enacted a bill requiring Maryland motorcyclists to wear protective headgear.

The 31-15 vote sent the measure to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who had made the helmet law part of his legislative package. Maryland is the 25th state to require motorcycle helmets.

"I just commend all those who stood up under pressure with all these guys riding around," Mr. Schaefer said, referring to this week's frequent motorcycle motorcades in Annapolis.

"I don't go for this 'You're taking away part of my freedom,' " the governor said. "What you're trying to do is keep them from busting their heads open."

At least one erstwhile motorcyclist agreed: Doug Wilson, a 23-year-old Potomac man still recovering from head injuries he suffered in an accident last year.

"It would have saved me a lot of time if someone had made me wear a helmet," Mr. Wilson said yesterday after the Senate approved the bill.

"You don't ride a motorcycle thinking you're going to wreck," he said, "so you don't wear a helmet."

Mr. Wilson is still in therapy for the brain injuries from the accident during his senior year at the University of South Carolina. He has difficulty walking, talking and using his left hand.
Yet he became an important player in the debate over the helmet law by convincing one of the swing votes on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which had blocked the bill's progress for years.
Maryland had a mandatory helmet law until 1979. Since then, efforts to revive it usually have died in House and Senate committees. But the momentum changed this year, powered by fiscal concerns, and the bill swept through the House of Delegates earlier this month.

The day before the Senate committee vote, Mr. Wilson visited his senator, Republican Howard Denis of Montgomery County. Their brief conversation convinced the senator to vote for the proposal, Mr. Denis said later.
"When I went to talk to people, I was asked where were the other people like me?" Mr. Wilson said. "I said, 'Well, they didn't live.' "

Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel, provided the other swing vote on the committee, influenced by testimony that the state paid $1.3 million in health-care costs last year for injured cyclists who were on Medicaid or had no health insurance.

The bill also survived an attempt on the Senate floor to add a secondary enforcement amendment that the bill's proponents said would gut the measure. The amendment would have made riding without a helmet an offense only if a cyclist were stopped for another traffic violation.

When efforts to amend the bill failed Wednesday, its passage was all but assured. Yesterday, the Senate passed its own version and an identical House version after little debate.

Those who had opposed the bill -- a group of leather-jacketed men and women -- watched the vote quietly, leaving the State House without comment.

Some motorcyclists had distributed a news release last week threatening to cut off all their charitable donations if the bill passed.

Maryland already required minors to wear helmets.

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