Although he’s likely to outrage thousands of motorcyclists, state Rep. Dan Frankel is renewing his quixotic campaign to reinstate a law to force them to wear safety helmets.
Pennsylvania’s previous motorcycle helmet law was repealed in 2003, after large crowds of angry riders gathered at the Capitol year after year to protest it.
Mr. Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, traveled to Washington, D.C., yesterday, and got strong support from a group called Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which is working to get a helmet law enacted in Pennsylvania and 29 other states without one.
Advocates President Judith Lee Stone praised Mr. Frankel for championing the cause, saying: "There aren’t many legislators willing to stick their neck out on this issue."
The group also is seeking other controversial laws, including a "primary" seat belt law, which would allow police to cite motorists for not wearing seat belts without having to stop them for some other offense; 25 states, including Pennsylvania, don’t have such a law.
Other measures would ban teen drivers from talking on cell phones and prohibit them from having teen passengers for perhaps six months after they get driver’s licenses.
Mr. Frankel and the Advocates group claim a mandatory helmet law for motorcycle riders would reduce the number of deaths in cycle accidents, which have doubled between 1997 and 2005 in Pennsylvania. In 2005, Mr. Frankel said, 205 cyclists died in crashes, accounting for 14 percent of all highway deaths and marking the first time motorcycle deaths topped 10 percent of the total.
"We need to reinstate the motorcycle helmet law," he said. "This is not going to be an easy thing to do these days."
Mr. Frankel is likely to find tough going in the General Assembly, which, after repealing the state’s 20-year-old mandatory helmet law, shows little interest in taking up the hot topic again.
Many riders say bike deaths are up because the number of licensed riders has increased.
When Mr. Frankel pushed for a mandatory helmet law last year, lobbyist Charles Umbenhauer of the Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education, or ABATE, e-mailed members, telling them to contact representatives about opposing the bill.
ABATE officials couldn’t be reached yesterday. A Pennsylvania motorcycle rider must be at least 21 and have at least two years’ experience on a motorcycle, or have passed a safety course, to ride bareheaded.
The Advocates group said action by states is needed because 43,443 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2005, the highest total since 44,599 in 1990. They held a news conference yesterday because all 50 state legislatures will reconvene this month.
The group issued a report card on highway safety, giving 16 states a "green" rating, meaning they have good highway safety laws; 31 states, including Pennsylvania, were rated "yellow," meaning they need improvement, and three were rated "red" for dangerous.
Pennsylvania got credit for lowering its blood alcohol limit to 0.08 for drunken drinking, but was criticized for not having a primary seat belt law, mandatory helmet law or restrictions on new teenage drivers.
In Pennsylvania, police can cite a driver for failing to use a seat belt only if he or she is stopped for another reason, like speeding or reckless driving.
State police Col. Jeffrey Miller supports a primary seat belt law, but many motorists consider it too much interference in their affairs by government, and the Legislature hasn’t been inclined to pass one.
"I think a primary seat belt law would save lives and prevent injuries. You never know when you’re going to be in a crash. Simply buckling up may prevent serious injuries or death," said state police spokeswoman Linette Quinn.
The safety advocates also are pushing states to enact laws banning cell phone use by teenage drivers, either while they are getting driver’s training or perhaps for a few months after they get their licenses.
Other bills would increase the number of hours of driver’s instruction to 60, including 10 at night. Currently, teens in Pennsylvania must receive 50 hours of driver training.
The safety group also would like states to prevent teen drivers from having teen passengers for perhaps six months after they get their licenses. This restriction, like the cell-phone ban, is meant to decrease the number of distractions that could lead to accidents involving teen drivers.