OCEAN CITY – Helmets are just one step away from becoming the rule rather than just an option for anyone renting a scooter in Ocean City.
The City Council unanimously passed the first reading of a new ordinance on Monday night requiring all occupants of rental scooters on city-owned streets to wear a helmet.
Although the town cannot force riders to wear helmets on state-owned roadways, such as Coastal Highway, and portions of Baltimore Avenue (up to 15th Street), the town is allowed by state law to pass stricter provisions on roadways owned by the town, such as St. Louis Avenue and the northern portion of Baltimore Ave.
The theory, according to some on the council, is that if you give riders a helmet and tell them they’ll be fined if they go on any town-owned street sans a helmet, they will have little choice but to place the helmet on their head for the entire ride.
“It’s not like they can just throw the helmet in the back seat on a scooter,” said Councilman Jim Hall. “If we give them one, where else are they going to put it but on their head?”
Maryland only requires riders under the age of 16 to wear helmets by law. After age 16, helmets are deemed optional for both drivers and riders of motor scooters.
Despite making the move in hopes of keeping Ocean City’s streets a bit safer, some town officials pointed out they would still like to see a statewide rule that goes even further.
“I understand the purpose of this, and how it applies specifically to rentals at this time, but we still support the initiative that we sent to the Maryland Municipal League and to our local delegates about our desire to make it a law to require those who operate these vehicles to be wearing helmets on Maryland roadways,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “So we aren’t abandoning that, but this will just apply to those renting, because that’s where we can apply our laws.”
Coastal Highway has gotten increasingly crowded with motor scooters in the past few years, and many in local government have been trying to find a way to deal with the number of new factors.
“Personally, I think they are all dangerous out there on Coastal Highway,” said Councilwoman Margaret Pillas. “Bikes, mopeds, scooters, rickshaws, and those scoot coupes. I’d like to see them all go from Coastal Highway, but if that’s not an option [according to state law]. I want to at least see helmets on their head sooner than later.”
City Solicitor Guy Ayres plans to clearly state in the second reading of the ordinance what the definition of a helmet is and will emphasize that all rental scooters in town be easily determinable to be a rental rather than one owned by a private user.
“I just want to make sure that we clearly define what we consider to be a helmet, so someone just doesn’t wear a ball cap and say that’s his helmet,” said Ayres.
Some in the scooter rental business were pleased with word of the new ordinance, while others were skeptical that the move would be effective at all, and some thought that it would be completely detrimental to business in general.
“The town certainly is in their rights to pass an ordinance like this, and I support them in that, but I’m just not sure anyone will listen,” said Ron Croker, owner of 54th Street Ocean City Scooter Rentals.
For insurance purposes, most scooter rental businesses already have more than enough helmets in stock for customers, according to sources in the local scooter rental ranks, but an increase in the amount of accidents and close calls involving motor scooters could have prompted the desire to the forefront of the discussion.
In addition, if this ordinance passes through second reading, scooters will not be rented to applicants who are not wearing shoes.
“You can’t rent to them unless you have shoes on, but if they take them off down the road, that’s a violation of the law too,” Ayres said.