A driver behaving safely. Photo by joelogon on Flickr.
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.
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.”