Md. Bill Would Make Helmets Optional for Most Motorcyclists

February 5, 2020

Lawmakers in a Senate committee meeting on Feb. 4, 2020, expecting testimony on Senate bill 237. The bill would exempt many motorcyclists from the state’s current helmet requirement. (Jeff Barnes/Capital News Service)

Helmets would no longer be mandatory for most motorcycle riders in Maryland under a bill expected to be heard in a state Senate committee Tuesday.

Senate bill 237 would make motorcyclists and their passengers exempt from wearing a helmet if the motorcycle operator is 21 or older, has at least two years of riding experience and has completed an approved safety course.

The legislation, in its current language, has been introduced in each session of the General Assembly since 2016 but has failed to advance out of committee each session. Last session, the bill failed to advance out of the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings committee.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Michael Hough, R-Frederick and Carroll counties, told Capital News Service before the hearing that he is hopeful the bill can advance to a vote on the Senate floor. Hough noted the bill is also supported by the chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, Sen. William “Will” Smith Jr., D-Montgomery.

Although he said he doesn’t ride a motorcycle, Hough said he agrees with supporters of the legislation who argue that it should be the rider’s choice to wear a helmet, and that helmets do not prevent motorcycle crashes.

“It’s not the role of government to protect you from yourself. The role of government is to protect you from doing harm to others,” Hough said. “As an adult in this country, you should have the freedom to make decisions like this if you want.”

In the past, the legislation has been opposed by AAA Mid-Atlantic, the Maryland Trauma Center Network, the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems and the Maryland Association of County Health Officers, among others.

The American Motorcycle Association, the country’s largest motorcycle rights advocacy group, supports voluntary use of helmets.

“Some view the helmet solely as a mechanical safety device, similar to a seat belt,” according to a position statement on the group’s website. “Many motorcyclists view the helmet as an accessory of personal apparel, and its use or non-use is connected with a chosen lifestyle and their right as adults to make their own decisions.”

Bob Spanburgh, executive director at ABATE of Maryland — the state’s largest motorcycle advocacy group — told Capital News Service before the hearing that his organization isn’t taking a position on wearing a helmet, but he said motorcyclists should get to choose for themselves.

“It’s our guiding principle,” Spanburgh said. “We don’t advocate for not wearing helmets, we advocate for the ability to choose whether we want to wear them or not.”

Spanburgh said his group has also advocated for other motorcycle-related legislation, including bills that would have allowed lane-splitting and would have prohibited residents from blowing yard waste into the street — creating potentially dangerous conditions for riders.

Spanurgh said sometimes motorcyclists’ rights can become an afterthought for some people.

“I don’t think it’s intentional,” he said. “If you don’t ride, I don’t think you really think about it.”

In a statement to Capital News Service, AAA Mid-Atlantic indicated it would once again oppose the legislation, citing state motorcycle crash statistics.

According to data released in April by the state’s Motor Vehicle Administration Highway Safety Office, the state has averaged 1,466 motorcycle-involved crashes a year over the last five years with an average of 69 fatal crashes per year.

“Because serious head injury is common among fatally injured motorcyclists, helmet use is essential,” wrote Ragina C. Ali, public and government affairs manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic, in a statement Monday. “We oppose repealing the helmet law, as it weakens existing traffic safety laws and puts motorcyclists at a greater risk of injury or a traffic fatality.”

Maryland’s current motorcycle helmet requirement — which requires all riders and passengers to wear the protective headgear — became law on Oct. 1, 1992.

According to a legislative analysis of the bill, as of December, 19 states and Washington, D.C., require all motorcyclists to wear helmets, while 28 states require only certain riders to wear helmets.

Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas have exemptions for riders similar to those proposed in the Maryland legislation, according to the analysis.

If the legislation passes, Spanburgh said, he thinks about half of the state’s riders will continue to wear helmets. Spanburgh, who said he has been riding on the streets since 1983, probably won’t be one of them.

“Honestly, I would more frequently not wear one than wear one,” he said.

By Jeff Barnes
Capital News Service

53 Responses to Md. Bill Would Make Helmets Optional for Most Motorcyclists

  1. Anonymous on February 5, 2020 at 8:30 am

    They should have called this the Darwin Bill. I am all for this and agree it is not the governments responsibility to protect you from yourself.

    • You sound stupid on February 5, 2020 at 10:26 am

      “It’s not the role of government to protect you from yourself.”

      So this will be accompanied with the removal of the seatbelt law?

      • scott on February 5, 2020 at 8:07 pm

        Seat belts are part of the cars equipment. Motorcycles do not come with helmits.

      • Anonymous on February 6, 2020 at 7:36 am

        Motorcyclists are a much, much smaller community. This is why they can get away with allowing motorcyclists to chose. But if you don’t want to wear your seat belt, go right ahead. Darwinism applies either way. Riding without a helmet is stupid. A 30 mph spill can kill you when you crack your head wide open on the asphalt.

      • Wally B. on February 6, 2020 at 7:40 am

        Helmet definitely saved my life a few times. But if someone wants to go without more power to them. That’s there choice.

      • Anonymous on February 6, 2020 at 8:30 am

        Fine with me. The only people that should be regulated are children. As we know some parents are too irresponsible to have the safety of their children in mind and it isn’t the child’s fault they were born into that situation. However, if the parent wants to ride around without a seatbelt endangering their own life that should be their choice. Government should be there to take care of shared resources and ensure our freedoms. They should not be responsible for how we use that freedom as long as it doesn’t infringe on other peoples freedoms. If the government keeps taking things away because a very small percentage of the population can’t be trusted we all become less and less free.

      • Anonymous on February 6, 2020 at 10:34 am

        I hope so

    • Ridge_boy on February 6, 2020 at 3:52 pm

      helmets are pretty much useless after 40 mph. they just make for a better looking corpse is all.

      • You sound stupid on February 7, 2020 at 2:14 pm

        Shows what you DON’T know.

  2. Shawn on February 5, 2020 at 8:33 am

    Since they are doing that then they need to ban sport bikes off Maryland roads. Those things are death traps

    • itiswhatitis on February 5, 2020 at 8:57 am

      Its not the bikes that are a death trap, its the certain people flying up/down the road that makes them a death trap!

      • Shawn is right on February 7, 2020 at 8:56 am

        The general population is not smart enough to govern themselves, much less think for themselves so eliminating these bikes that go 150MPH would save countless lives.

    • Joe on February 5, 2020 at 9:07 am

      And ban knives because a lot of people are stabbed to death. And ban illegal immigrants because they kill hundreds of Americans each year. And ban abortion because it kills thousands of Americans each year. And ban you from breeding since it would undoubtedly be better than allowing you to have offspring.

      Let’s all jump on the anti-freedom, anti-personal responsibility “BAN WAGON”!

      • itiswhatitis on February 5, 2020 at 9:46 am

        HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Love the response! Can’t fix stupid can ya?

      • Jack Wagon on February 5, 2020 at 11:21 am

        Also ban Americans, because they kill thousands of Americans a year as well.

    • Anonymous on February 6, 2020 at 7:21 am

      I think you missed the entire point of the proposed bill…

  3. Anonymous on February 5, 2020 at 8:37 am

    Why not? what could go wrong?

    It probably would NEVER happen to you, right?

  4. Jacy on February 5, 2020 at 9:09 am

    As a long time motorcyclist, and helmet wearer, I say let them opt out of helmets. We need more organ donors. This is one way to get them.

    • You are correct on February 5, 2020 at 12:59 pm

      Agreed

      • Anonymous on February 5, 2020 at 2:23 pm

        Agreed

        • Fellow motorcyclist on February 6, 2020 at 7:22 am

          Agreed

  5. Anonymous on February 5, 2020 at 9:12 am

    Adjust their insurance rates accordingly, including motorcycle, medical, and disability/life insurance rates. Just don’t raise rates for auto insurance.

    • Helmets-save-lives on February 5, 2020 at 2:58 pm

      I agree.

      These no-helmet people seem to scream about their personal liberties until they hurt themselves and then expect society to pay their medical bills. If the insurance company didn’t pay out for their senseless injury, maybe they might start to see the bigger picture.

      • Anonymous on February 6, 2020 at 7:24 am

        Chances are they won’t have medical bills because they will be dead. So don’t worry.

        • Anonymous on February 6, 2020 at 6:17 pm

          Too bad the EMTs and hospital staff will have to waste their time attempting to resuscitate one of these helmetless wizards. Should be an automatic DNR for anyone without the common sense to wear a helmet. Save the ambulance and the ER space for a real medical emergency!

          • Anonymous on February 8, 2020 at 1:51 pm

            Oh, like diabetes or cardiac arrest or any other emergency caused by obesity?

  6. RR on February 5, 2020 at 9:48 am

    This is also known as the No Brains, No Pains Bill. If you are too stupid not to wear a helmet then there is not a lot up there to protect anyway so you might as well forgo the helmet.

    • Anonymous on February 5, 2020 at 1:00 pm

      !!!!!!Right??!

  7. Buck Mulloy on February 5, 2020 at 10:01 am

    I believe you should let those who ride decide. Local riding is much more enjoyable when you are not strapping a cage on your head . Maybe have helmet mandatory places such as on I95 or any interstate. Rides with more than 3 lanes … But personally I enjoy riding in States with no helmet laws. The weight of the helmet increase the pressure on your neck the helmet can restrict your vision. Causes head bumping between Rider and passenger. Let those who ride decide not some pencil neck law maker who lines his pockets with taxpayers dollars.

    • BIker for life on February 5, 2020 at 10:37 am

      You go Buck! The people who are up in arms about it are people who don’t ride or are “weekend warriors” who think they are bikers because they bought a Harley to be cool, a fashion accessory.
      Some people have commented on the bikes cutting in and out of traffic and causing accidents. In all my years of riding, the majority of people who do this are on “rice rockets”. Most of the more seasoned riders who would opt to not wear a helmet do not ride this way. They ride in a manner to ensure everyone’s safety and well being. The people in cages on their phones are more harm to other motorists than bikers.
      Being a biker is a huge responsibility and it is not taken lightly. We do not ride with a death wish. We ride as a means of enjoyment and freedom. Taking in the sites, sounds, smells, and just the wonderful experience of being on two wheels. Nothing better than wind in your face and a thousand miles to nowhere. Frees the soul.
      Helmets can be used as weapons in fights so they can try to ban them like they do guns. (That is a joke by the way.)

      • You know your wrong on February 5, 2020 at 1:05 pm

        “…Taking in the sites, sounds,…”

        You can’t hear anything but ‘wind’ when traveling over 50mph with an uncovered ear. And on your straight piped wheeler, you can’t hear much at any speed.

    • itiswhatitis on February 5, 2020 at 10:48 am

      ok Buck Mulloy….when you are laying on the side of the road let us know how that works out for you. You have too many people that are distracted driving and hits a motorcyclist or dumb motorcyclist who fly up and down the road, weaving in and out of traffic. If your getting too old and the helmets weight is bothering your neck then get in a car. Too many knuckleheads in the tri-county area! The “pencil neck law maker” is trying to save your lives. They are gaining nothing by making helmets mandatory or not

    • Jack Wagon on February 5, 2020 at 11:23 am

      You know what else reduces your vision? Being dead because your brains are scattered all over the road.

    • U R a Cheapskate on February 6, 2020 at 7:59 am

      If your vision is reduced, it’s because you cheaped out on your helmet

  8. Jack on February 5, 2020 at 10:41 am

    While they are at it why not make seat belts optional too. If the government does not have the responsibility to save you from you. If you want to ride around on your motorcycle without a helmet please do. Please make sure you are a organ donor first.

    • Anonymous on February 6, 2020 at 11:09 am

      That’s a no brainer. Seat belts should definitely be optional for adults.

  9. MarineVet on February 5, 2020 at 11:06 am

    Hmmm sort of like the old Bell helmet slogan

    $5 head $5 helmet

    • Been riding over 40 years on February 5, 2020 at 1:13 pm

      Yup. Just as stupid as the one’s who buy a DOT decal for their non DOT helmet because the helmet ‘looks’ cool.

      I’m sure they will still think it’s worth it when they are being spoon fed and getting their drool wiped by some stranger, while in a permanent long term care facility.

      • MarineVet on February 6, 2020 at 1:10 pm

        Amen!!

  10. Pam442 on February 5, 2020 at 1:39 pm

    If this is all true about everyone is responsible then also eliminate the seat belt, cell phone and drunk driving laws. People are running traffic lights, stop signs, not using turn signals and are clueless about signs and paint stripes. Bet 90% of you can’t say the length of the white dash or space between them on the road way. What does it mean when the dashes are closer together? Might as well eliminate those rules as well. Hopefully the Governor will veto this ill advised law and make the Democrats over ride his veto so they can own the law!

  11. Jr on February 5, 2020 at 3:18 pm

    If they can ride without a helmet I wanna be about to dive drunk the government isn’t responsible for keeping me safe right

    • Diving Dunk is the bomb.com on February 6, 2020 at 7:55 am

      Already typing drunk, you might as well “dive” drunk too.

    • Mr., You're drunk on February 6, 2020 at 8:02 am

      By your post, I would say you are already ‘primed’. Sober up.

    • Anonymous on February 6, 2020 at 11:44 am

      You can’t be this stupid. The difference between driving drunk and the helmet law is the drunks are a danger to others and this law is only to protect someone from themselves. It does not help or hurt anyone but the person who makes the choice of helmet or no helmet.The only one at risk is themselves. Having this law is the same as if the Maryland government banned alcohol completely so a small group of addicts wouldn’t kill themselves through alcoholism. Or they banned sugary and fired foods because a small group of people are killing themselves with diabetes and heart attacks.

  12. Peter on February 5, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    We do need more organ donors…….

  13. John on February 5, 2020 at 3:48 pm

    Sure why not thin out the morons

  14. Rocky on February 5, 2020 at 3:58 pm

    This article mentions that certain organizations support laws that mandate helmet usage. Our lawmakers are supposed to represent the voters not lobbyists. It’s not in the government’s capacity to prevent crashes, that belongs to the motorists. All highways have a speed limit which is the maximum safe speed in ideal road conditions and most highways are not conditioned for high speeds, in that regard motorists should not exceed the posted limit because it is safe. Most motorist ignore the speed limits posted, much less factor in the maximum safe speed and following distances when road conditions diminish in wet weather, after sunset, dawn and dusk. If speed limits are optional (and you all know see that they are) helmets should be the same.

    • We dont need no stinkin speed limits on February 6, 2020 at 7:58 am

      I disagree. “Most” motorists in Southern Maryland feel they must drive under the speed limit, right next to someone else who drives under the speed limit. Building a line of vehicles behind them for 20 miles

      • ...And they're leadin' on February 6, 2020 at 11:55 am

        It’s a parade!

        • Nice on February 7, 2020 at 10:15 am

          Touche! I guess that there one chance all day to be top dog, lol

  15. Mick Moss on February 6, 2020 at 8:07 am

    I grew up in MA on the border of NH, and NH had no helmet law (Live Free or Die as they say). Their only rule was that you had to have eye protection (sun glasses counted as eye protection). So all the bikers would stop at the state line and remove, or put on their helmet depending on which direction they were headed.

    My opinion on it is simple. The insurance documents for a motorcyclist should force the rider to dictate their style of riding. They can choose helmet, or no helmet. And pay insurance rates based on that. Obviously, no helmet would mean more expensive insurance. And if you have elected to ride with a helmet, and are involved in an accident without a helmet, or are stopped by the police and you arent wearing it, there should be huge penalties (to avoid everyone electing helmet just to pay less). This should not be a “shared” cost among all motorists. I feel the same about seat belts, make that an insurance elective. If you want to ride without a helmet, or drive without a seat belt, more power to you, I wont tell you what to do, and dont want you telling me what to do. However, those that dont use safety equipment should pay more, and those that use it, should get a cost benefit for being safe.

  16. gi joe on February 7, 2020 at 8:13 pm

    I becauseonce owened a Harvey Davidson motorcycle, I carried a extra spark plug in my pocket. eating bugs at 70 mph is similar to being to being a vegatarian

    • Anonymous on February 12, 2020 at 5:11 am

      Cool. Eating bugs for all those years in the 70s ‘splains a lot about this post.