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Bike safety requires more than helmets

11:15 AM EST, February 21, 2013

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Although I always wear a helmet when bicycling, the feel-good bill to mandate adult bike helmets has flaws ("Helmet bill gets objections from bike advocates," Feb. 13). First, the bill would adversely impact the poor, minorities, and immigrants who don't own a car and depend upon their bicycle to get to work. Education and making inexpensive helmets available for these low-income groups would do more to increase helmet use than passing an unenforceable law.

Second, unlike the motorcycle helmet and seat belt laws that state failure to wear a helmet or wear a seat belt may not be considered evidence of contributory negligence or diminish recovery for damages from the motor vehicle operator who would otherwise be at fault, the bicycle helmet bill lacks this important provision.

Third, the bill doesn't provide any assistance or guidance for purchasing a helmet, such as proper fit, nor does it suspend the fine if the bicyclist subsequently purchases a helmet.

Mandating helmets should be one portion of a well thought out bicycle safety program that would also include bicyclist and motorist education, training for law enforcement officers, road improvements (bike lanes and smooth shoulders, for example). Maryland and some local governments like Baltimore City are just beginning to implement such a program. Also, delegates interested in bicycle safety should work with the Maryland Department of Transportation and Bike Maryland to insure the final bill will achieve its intended purpose.

While wearing a properly fitted helmet has the potential to save lives, everyone still needs to do their part. Bicyclists should pay attention and use due care. Motorists also need to be attentive, comply with the 3-foot safety law when passing, put down the cell phone when driving, and signal and yield to bicyclists on their right when making right-hand turns. Wearing a helmet didn't save the lives of bicyclists Nathan Krasnopoler, Jack Yates, and Larry Bensky, who all were riding properly when killed by errant motorists. I encourage Del. Maggie McIntosh to withdraw the helmet bill pending further study and to work with bicyclists and the Department of Transportation for a more comprehensive bicycle safety bill.

Jeffrey H. Marks, Baltimore

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