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Helmet law should not be passed

By Scott Tibbs, June 11, 2004

----Original Message Follows----
From: Scott Tibbs <tibbs1973@yahoo.com>
To: R60@IN.gov
Subject: Skateboard helmet law
Date: Fri, 11 Jun 2004 19:57:34 -0700 (PDT)

Representative Welch,

A person upon a bicycle, a coaster, roller skates, or a toy vehicle may not attach the bicycle, coaster, roller skates, or toy vehicle or the person to a street car or vehicle upon a roadway. Indiana Code 9-21-11-5

On June 4, 14-year-old Matt Jennings died after a skateboard accident. According to the Bloomington Herald-Times, he was holding on to a friend's scooter when his skateboard began to go wobbly. He attempted to dismount, but was unable to do so safely because the scooter was going 15 miles per hour. He flipped over and hit his head, causing a fatal injury.

It is always tragic when a young person dies suddenly. This is no different. Jennings' death shocked the community and it is understandable why people would want to "do something" to make sure this does not happen again. I understand that you have promised to introduce a bill in the Indiana Legislature that would require children to wear helmets when on skateboards, inline skates and so forth.

I think particular tragedy is a poor example for why we "need" this law. As can be seen above, what Matt Jennings was doing was illegal, for obvious safety reasons. Yet many are calling for another new law to require children to wear bike helmets when on skateboards, inline skates and similar methods of transportation. As Bloomington resident Larry Robinson asked in the June 9 Herald-Times, "Would he really have obeyed the new law while simultaneously disobeying this one?"

Eight years ago, the Bloomington City Council passed a law requiring minors to wear helmets when riding a bicycle. I was reminded of the discussion on this bill earlier this week when I was walking down the street. I saw two youths on skateboards, without helmets. In front of them were two more youths, on bicycles, also without helmets. If a helmet law were passed tomorrow, would we look back in eight years and wonder why the law isn't being followed?

As much as we would like to protect people from themselves, government cannot (and should not) be our Mommy. People make bad choices. Jennings made a bad choice by being pulled behind a scooter. At 14 years old, youths are aware enough to understand that such a choice can be dangerous.

I consider myself a philosophical libertarian. I believe people should be free to make their own choices without interference from government, provided that they do not harm anyone else. However, there is room for some laws in terms of protecting children, who are not old or mature enough to make the kind of informed choices an adult can make. Thus, laws requiring children to wear seat belts or requiring smaller children to be in car seats are legitimate.

However, there is a limit to how much government can do to make sure children are protected from harm. If there were a clear case of child neglect resulting in the injury of a child, parents could be prosecuted for negligence. I think requiring children to wear helmets when on skateboards, bicycles, etc. falls under parental responsibility. As much as we may want to protect children from harm, government cannot take over parenting responsibilities for Hoosier families.

Scott Tibbs