Greater Greater Washington

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Maryland considering mandatory helmets for drivers

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

Following a rash of pedestrian-car collisions across the state, Maryland legislators have proposed requiring all drivers to wear helmets. While driving activists are split on the issue, area pedestrians say it's about time drivers took responsibility for themselves.


A driver behaving safely. Photo by joelogon on Flickr.

Yesterday, state delegate Arundela Mills (D-MCDOT) announced that she plans to amend House Bill 339 to require all drivers to wear helmets. The original version of the bill, which has languished in committee, would require adult cyclists to wear helmets.

Delegate Mills notes that the number of cars hit by pedestrians in recent weeks has skyrocketed. In the past month alone, pedestrians walked into cars in Columbia, White Marsh, and Bowie, causing indecipherable damage to vehicles and making their drivers slightly late for work.

And Friday morning, three pedestrians walked into a car driven by Richard Phillips, 38, who was passing through a crosswalk in Germantown on his way to work. Phillips was unhurt, but according to a police report the car's recently-polished grille sustained minor smudges from one pedestrian's bag. The pedestrians all walked away from the scene and have not been charged.

In an interview, Delegate Mills credited the Washington Area Drivers Association (WADA) for the idea. "Helmets will protect drivers from collisions, making it safe to allow drivers on all roads throughout the state," she said. She quoted a study from the Maryland Department of Transportation that found that helmets are the "single best way to avoid head and face injuries."

Driving activists are unsure about the bill's merits. Rental-car agencies note that travelers from out of state rarely pack a helmet, while even members of WADA have distanced themselves from the legislation.

"Studies in Australia show that when helmets are required, driving declines by 35%," said WADA president Penny Farthing. "MDOT is quoting junk science."

In Prince George's County, officials welcomed the proposed legislation. Bai To Hitachi, director of the Department of Public Works & Transportation, noted that cars clearly do not belong on roads meant for pedestrians. "DPW&T cares about public safety and is concerned when members of the community ... knowingly commit acts of high-risk behavior as a mechanism to achieve a public action," Hitachi said.

Hitachi called for additional legislation to require helmets for drivers in parking buildings, where heavy pedestrian traffic puts them in danger. "I'd feel safer walking on the Capital Beltway than driving in the parking building at the New Carrollton Metro Station," he added.

Community leaders look forward to the institution of more helmet laws for any and every situation. "Fifteen years ago I wound up in the intensive care unit of the Georgetown University Hospital neurology department," said Montgomery County Councilmember Flora Noreen. "I don't really know what happened, but I do know that I was not wearing a helmet."

The bill remains in committee and with one week to go before the General Assembly adjourns, opponents of the bill are optimistic that the session will end without action.

In the meantime, police advised drivers in a recent press release to stay alert while crossing sidewalks; to drive cars in bright visible colors or even in reflective paint; to always use controlled intersections; and, before driving, to look left, then right, then left again to check for any pedestrians.

"Parents are the most important models of proper driver behavior for children," said the press release. "Remember, be an engaged driver. It may save damage to your car."

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As a volunteer for ABATE, I keep my alerts set for all helmet laws. We have long predicted that it would come to this. When motorcycle helmets were mandated, the media left people with the impression that bikers are foolish anti-government types who just don’t understand the risks.
When cities and states started passing laws requiring children to wear bicycle helmets, the bicyclists were lulled into thinking it would stop with children. Only ABATE was there to warn you that it would not stop there
And now this. Can’t you see where we are going? Wake up. It is time to **repeal all helmet laws**

Joseph Mancini
A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments

by joe@mancini.com on Apr 1, 2013 11:04 am • linkreport

I don’t see why all these drivers are objecting to wearing a helmet. Don’t they make people safer?

by Horsefeathers on Apr 1, 2013 11:05 am • linkreport

This law is not about safety. It is about the dominant culture requiring subservient drivers to wear a uniform to show their inferior status.

by Bassoon on Apr 1, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport

I am concerned that MCDOT is pushing helmets because it does not want to spend money to build wider roads.

by ThisIsNotBossi on Apr 1, 2013 11:09 am • linkreport

@Horsefeasthers: No one is objecting to wearing a helmet. The problem is with laws requiring people to wear helmets. You should have read the article more carefully.

by ADriverintheSuburbs on Apr 1, 2013 11:10 am • linkreport

Sigh.

by ARunnerOnTheMasonBridge on Apr 1, 2013 11:13 am • linkreport

As one of the authors of the Australian helmet law study, I feel that this article has conflated some of our findings, in a way that make the proposed law seem to be a better idea than the available research would support.

Our study was based on traffic analysis of mobile cell phone usage. We never said that people drive fewer miles when they have to wear a helmet. We merely concluded that people spend 30% less time driving. It is possible that through risk compensation, people simply are driving 30% faster and thus have 30% less time to talk on the phone.

Clearly more research is necessary before any more mandatory helmet laws are enacted.

by Dorothy Robins on Apr 1, 2013 11:15 am • linkreport

@ADriverintheSuburbs: I read the article carefully.

by Horsefeathers on Apr 1, 2013 11:20 am • linkreport

Ha. Ha...This one actually isn't funny. Drivers and passengers are required to wear seat belts. In addition, all new cars are required to have front and side airbags, stability control, etc.

Yet, when cyclists are required to wear helmets they revolt. Other than proving the fact that most cyclists in the area are indeed the self-righteous pricks we though they were, even more shockingly it shows that they don't actually care about safety.

I know many cyclists feel that they can do no wrong and that every car-bike collision is ALWAYS the motorist's fault (just read any report on GGW), but to ride around an urban/suburban environment without an helmet is STUPID.

by K Street on Apr 1, 2013 11:20 am • linkreport

Let me be the first to comment (and ruin this)... people - look at the calendar.

by Andy on Apr 1, 2013 11:22 am • linkreport

It's about time these drivers wear helmets. Just yesterday, I saw a driver go through a stop sign. Apparently these scofflaws don't realize that the roads are meant for pedestrians.

by SJE on Apr 1, 2013 11:22 am • linkreport

So a here the one about the liberal who got into heaven?

THAT'S NOT FUNNY!

by ARunnerOnTheMasonBridge on Apr 1, 2013 11:27 am • linkreport

@notbossi: I agree. I can’t help but wonder whether all these 8-foot lanes are part of the problem. Did the road dies go too far?

@K Street: every car-bike collision is ALWAYS the motorist's fault (just read any report on GGW), but to ride around an urban/suburban environment without an helmet is STUPID.

Helmets increase the risk of neck and rotational injuries. So if you are already strapped in--with airbags--the additional protection of the helmet is probably outweighed by the additional risk, at least for some drivers.

by JimT on Apr 1, 2013 11:29 am • linkreport

@Horsefeathers: You did not.

by ADriverintheSuburbs on Apr 1, 2013 11:32 am • linkreport

Most bicyclist in DC (75% by DDOT's count) are wearing helmets.

http://ddotdish.com/2012/12/07/2012-dc-bicycle-count-summary/

We've been over this again and again, wearing a helmet is smart, requiring helmets for all trips is not smart. Mandatory helmet laws lead to less biking which means less of the benefits of bicycling like increased exercise, health outcomes from that, and less of the "safety in numbers" effect (which probably outweighs the safety benefit to those remaining few people who don't wear helmets now).

by MLD on Apr 1, 2013 11:36 am • linkreport

There is certainly safety in numbers in driving.

I mean just look at how safely people drive on the non-HOV lanes of I395 from Edsall to Seminary at AM rush hour. I doubt they've had a fatality on that road (well other than say someone expiring from thirst while waiting to get to work) at that hour in years.

Requiring helmets, by leading to less driving, will lead to more collisions on our roads, for sure.

by ARunnerOnTheMasonBridge on Apr 1, 2013 11:40 am • linkreport

@ARunnerOnTheMasonBridge

You make a good point. It is well known that the safety in numbers effect is particularly important for rental cars, especially at National Airport where people get lost if they do not have another rental car to follow. I'm not clear how the Airport rental offices will handle this anyway, since the law would only apply to Maryland.

by ADriverintheSuburbs on Apr 1, 2013 11:49 am • linkreport

Well played!

by Del. Sam Arora on Apr 1, 2013 11:53 am • linkreport

Smells like April 1!

by Alan B. on Apr 1, 2013 11:54 am • linkreport

In Sydney, the airports all have helmet vending machines.

But in Melbourne, the rental car companies persuaded the City Counsel to mandate that the helmets be provided with the car. You have to clean the helmet before you return the car, or pay a drycleaning fee. One rental agency discovered that they make more money on the fees for failure to clean a helmet than they do on the fee for failing to fill the tank with petrol.

by Dorothy Robins on Apr 1, 2013 11:54 am • linkreport

@ADriverintheSuburbs: How do you know?

by Horsefeathers on Apr 1, 2013 11:57 am • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by 20011 on Apr 1, 2013 11:57 am • linkreport

@20011: Having spent countless hours to help secure Maryland's enactment of a vehicular criminal negligent statute two years ago, I take strong exception to your suggestion that vehicular homicide is a laughing matter.

Your implicit suggestion that drivers and passengers who fail to wear a helmet are somehow blameworthy is appalling. There is no such thing as contributory negligence in a manslaughter case.

by JimT on Apr 1, 2013 12:07 pm • linkreport

Why is there no post re: the Federal Law mandating seat belts and jock straps for bicyclists?

April fool's!

by ceefer66 on Apr 1, 2013 12:09 pm • linkreport

Happy April, Fools!

Wait a minute is that comma in the right place?

In all seriousness, this was very well put together. We need safer drivers in order to make safer roads. Everyone, let's go get matching car helmets for our automobiles!

by Road Diet (nom nom nom...) on Apr 1, 2013 12:21 pm • linkreport

There is certainly safety in numbers in driving.

Where some see congestion, savvy urbanists see safety.

by Hautbois on Apr 1, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

If people just had to carry a helmet around in their cars, not even wearing it, they might learn something:
http://cyclemoco.com/2013/03/the-bike-helmet-challenge/

by Jack on Apr 1, 2013 2:46 pm • linkreport

Ironically, motoring helmets have been invented, in all seriousness. With 35,000 traffic deaths a year in America, they would be a rational idea. The Australian government did a study that showed that even with seatbelts and airbags, head protection for car occupants is a wise idea.

see http://motoringhelmet.com for a number of articles on the subject.

by Mikael on Apr 1, 2013 5:05 pm • linkreport

No adult should ever be mandated to wear a helmet.

Long live natural selection!

by Darwin Rules on Apr 1, 2013 5:12 pm • linkreport

Unlike many officials who simply want to inflame the War on Drivers, the Delegate from MCDOT is even-handed. While requiring drivers to wear helmets may seem patronizing, she has also proposed a law to protect drivers from cyclists, by requiring the bikes to ride on sidewalks.

by Prince Sea Turtle on Apr 1, 2013 7:08 pm • linkreport

Maryland, what not a friendly state to live in. I live in West Virginia and hopefully it stays....WILD AND WONDERFUL. Maryland is such a dictatorship for a person to live, a business to make money, and I thank the good lord I only have to work there. At least I get out of Maryland everyday.

by KittHawkNDT on Apr 1, 2013 8:06 pm • linkreport

This may have been published as a joke but wearing a helmet at the wheel is not a bad idea: Dr. Dean Edell said it would do a lot more to reduce injury in wrecks than airbags or even seat belts.

I would like to see it at least allowed. (I don't know about Maryland, but where I live, if you wear one while driving a car, the police will assume you are racing and arrest you.)

by jdgalt on Apr 1, 2013 9:14 pm • linkreport

@KittHawkNDT

I'm glad you don't live here either. That would certainly be an unpleasant feeling.

by Ben on Apr 1, 2013 10:29 pm • linkreport

Stating wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle makes the cyclist a safer rider is like saying someone who wears a seat belt while in a car makes a driver a safer driver.

It simply IS NOT true. Wearing a helmet while riding bike does not make someone a safer cyclist. A cyclists safety is solely dependent on his or her skills at handling a bicycle. Whether or not a cyclist wears a helmet has no impact on their individual skills at controlling their bike. That comes with time and actual on the bike operation.

The only thing a helmet will do is reduce the injury sustained if/when there is an impact to a cyclists head. Just as the only thing a seat belt does is reduce the risk of a driver being injured more in the event of a collision than if they did not wear a seat belt.

Everyone please stop saying wearing a bike helmet will make cyclists safer riders. It simply is not true.

by SUX VR40 Rider on Apr 1, 2013 11:53 pm • linkreport

@hautbois
We erudite musical types know who you really are.

by Oev Ets on Apr 2, 2013 6:58 am • linkreport

I live in Australia where we have had cycling helmet laws for many years. Generally, these have done little apart from killing bicycle use. It's only now after 20 years that cycling is starting to recover to its pre-helment rates.

But our studies (of which there are many, and yes, lots of them are junk science) show that drivers are actually at more risk than cyclists.

I applaud Arundela Mills for taking a fair approach in this. I don't think helmets in cars are needed. But why single out cyclists? If you are going to force cyclists to wear them, then why not everyone doing more risky things.

And some of those more risky things include climbing a ladder and getting into a bath (check research from Maquarie University on this, possibly junk science, but so are the studies that say we must have bicyle helmets). Let's either add those to the list with drivers, or more sensibly, repeal needless mandatory helmet laws for everyone, including cyclists.

by John G on Apr 4, 2013 7:03 pm • linkreport

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