Bikers ride again against helmet law

March 17, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

Bikers ride again against helmet law

ANNAPOLIS - Smithsburg resident Gary "Pappy" Boward has come to Annapolis every year since 1981 to voice his opinion on motorcycle helmet regulations.

And he sees no reason to stop now.

"I'll keep coming as long as there's a need for this," said Boward, 48, state executive director of the motorcyclists' rights organization ABATE - A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments.

Boward and several other Washington County motorcyclists resumed their fight Tuesday when they were on hand to support legislation that would exempt adults from the state helmet law.


"It's important to me because I feel I should live my own life," said Scott MacMichael, 36, of Smithsburg.

"I know what's good for me," he said. "I don't need the government to tell me that. The government tells me enough already."

During testimony before the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee, supporters of the legislation spoke about freedom to choose and the right of adults to take their own risks, be it riding a motorcycle without helmet or skydiving.

Legislation sponsor Del. George W. Owings III, D-Calvert, told the packed hearing room that a helmet provides limited protection for a motorcyclist jockeying a 900-pound bike among 8,000-pound tractor-trailers rigs.

"There's not a doctor out here who can put Humpty back together again," he said.

But officials representing health care organizations, state agencies and law enforcement said helmets save lives.

"It's better than nothing, and it does make a dramatic difference," said Dr. Richard L. Alcorta, the state's Emergency Services director.

He and others cited statistics that show since 1992, the last year the state exempted adults of wearing helmets, the number of annual motorcycle fatalities has been cut in half, from 54 to 27.

"It's not the luck of the Irish. It's good, sound public policy," said Gael Whetstone, a registered nurse at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Boward called helmet proponents "safety nannies" who believe they can guarantee safety by forcing people to wear a "plastic hat." He said a motorcycle accident victim who testified in favor or the current law suffered a severe neck injury, which many ABATE members claim can be caused by wearing a helmet.

"Their best example is our best example," Boward said.

The motorcyclists refused to speculate on their chances of getting the bill passed. But as in previous years, when their efforts were unsuccessful, they vowed to keep trying.

"If we don't win this year, we'll be back next year and the year after that," said Scott Snow, 42, of Ringgold.

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