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Helmet law foes rev up for another run

February 23, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Motorcyclist Gary "Pappy" Boward of Cavetown asked a Senate committee Tuesday to give him the right to ride without a helmet.

Boward, executive director of the motorcycle rights groups ABATE of Maryland Inc., has tried to get the state's helmet law repealed nearly every year since it was enacted in 1992.

This year, as in previous years, ABATE's efforts are opposed by state and federal transportation officials, insurance companies and emergency medical directors statewide.

But one hurdle to repealing the law has been lifted. The helmet law is no longer a requirement for receipt of federal highway money, Boward said.

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"The real issue is about money," Boward told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee during a hearing on a proposed bill to repeal the helmet law for adults.

Boward presented statistics from the Maryland Department of Transportation that show the death rate from motorcycle accidents has increased since the helmet law has been in effect.

The bill's opponents, however, said the figures speak for themselves.

Fewer motorcyclists have died since the helmet law was passed, they said. There were 427 deaths in the six years before the law was enacted compared to 265 deaths in the six years since.

"Helmets save lives and they save money," said Motor Vehicle Administrator Anne S. Ferro, a motorcycle rider herself.

Since the helmet law was passed, there has been a 17 percent decrease in the number of motorcyclists admitted to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Unit, said Richard L. Alcorta, chairman of the Maryland Motorcycle Helmet Coalition and medical director for the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.

The average hospital stay is six days for motorcycle accident victims who were wearing helmets and nine days for those not wearing helmets, he said.

But members of ABATE, an acronym for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments, argued that wearing a helmet can increase the chance of neck injuries.

"If it can help or injure I want the right to decide that for myself," Boward said.

Kathleen Loerich of Frederick, Md., testified that motorcyclists like herself have had a hard time figuring out whether their helmets meet safety standards.

"I still don't know if this is legal," Loerich said, holding up her black helmet.

ABATE has a new advocate on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, where earlier bills have died.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, appointed to the committee this year, co-sponsored the bill along with Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, pointed to the written opposition of GEICO insurance company, which said, "some rights are not worth having."

"What kind of an attitude is that? I don't know what other rights they want to take away," Mooney said.

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