Thursday, July 23-OC Scooter Helmet Law Near

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.

For the complete story and dozens of other news articles, see The Dispatch tomorrow morning.