OCEAN CITY – Councilman Jim Hall is trying to literally get a lid on a public safety headache, and he might just have the support needed to make a serious change on Ocean City owned roadways.
Hall said the Mayor and Council have been wrestling for the past several years with the issue of requiring scooter rental businesses to instruct their customers to wear helmets at all times. However, the council has made little headway concerning the issue, as Maryland state law does not require riders on motor scooters to wear a helmet on any state owned roadway. Since Route 50, Coastal Highway and the downtown portions (up to 15th street) of Baltimore Avenue are state-owned roadways, the town can’t require riders to wear helmets in the city limits.
However, Hall thinks he found a loophole of sorts, and the council unanimously agreed with him on Tuesday, voting to instruct City Solicitor Guy Ayres to pen a new ordinance for Monday night’s meeting.
“It’s a sticky situation because of the law not requiring helmets on state-owned highways, but if we give them a helmet and tell them they have to wear them on town-owned roads, then what would they really do with them other than put them on their head on the state roads?,” he said.
Hall said that he has heard almost daily reports about scooter accidents and was compelled to make the motion after hearing of an accident near the base of the Route 50 bridge on Tuesday morning that resulted in a “young girl being thrown off the back of the scooter and having her head split open from top to bottom”, said Hall.
In essence, the ordinance that Ayres will write could make it a requirement for a helmet to be worn on any Ocean City side street, St. Louis Ave. and from 15th-33rd streets on Baltimore Avenue. With that said, if the ordinance passes, all scooter rental businesses would have to give helmets to all riders before they ride off the premises.
Almost all scooter rental businesses in town have helmets in stock, mostly for insurance purposes, according to one store owner, and the vast majority practice a similar tactic of offering a helmet with every rental, and asking the customer to sign, initial or check ‘no’ if they are opting against wearing the optional helmet.
“The allure of it I guess is to ride free and unencumbered and given the option, most people would opt against wearing a helmet,” said Council President Joe Mitrecic. “My concern isn’t with the owners of scooters who ride them maybe everyday, but rather with the 16-18-year-old kid that may have never ridden one before.”
Island Cycles Manager Nick Perez said that an ordinance requiring riders to wear helmets would be a “beautiful thing”.
“There’s a lot more scooters on the roads than ever before and it’s growing every year,” said Perez. “We wanted to enforce it and make it required to wear them, but you don’t want to be the only place in town that requires people to wear helmets because people just don’t want to wear them.”
Ron Croker, owner of Ocean City Scooter Rentals on 54th Street, was unsure if riders would even obey the town law, but acknowledged the town’s efforts in improving overall safety on the roadways.
“They are all about public safety and I respect that,” said Croker. “Our policy is to require any rider under the age of 12 to wear a helmet, and that’s our house law. But I’m not sure if people will wear them even if this passes.”
Ayres said that he has not been given a price on what the fine would be if this ordinance passes, but noted that under town code, a municipal infraction, which this would be considered, is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.
Yet Ayres noted that the state law holds much more water than the town ordinance ever will.
“Anytime you pass a law with a pre-emption issue, meaning the state law overrides municipal or town law you run a bit of a risk,” said Ayres, “but if you read the state’s transportation articles, it pertains to rules of the road and not required apparel like helmets.”
Several scooter businesses pointed out that the number of incidents and accidents have dropped since the senior week kids left town. noting that this time of year scooters are being rented by families and older, more experienced riders.
However, Nick Dillon of Continental Cycles said that requiring helmets would adversely affect local scooter businesses.
“If they pass this law, you won’t rent any scooters because people don’t want to put a helmet on their head. We tried it a few years ago and it just didn’t work. It’s that simple,” said Dillon.
Nonetheless, Hall is sticking to this issue and trying to get it passed, even if it’s on a small scale. Oddly enough, if the ordinance passes, Hall said his quest to improve scooter safety may not stop there.
“My next venture with the scooters is to require people to wear shoes on both drivers and passengers, but in reality, a skinned up foot or broken toe pales in comparison to a girl who gets their head split open on our highway,” he said.