Two US states, New Jersey and California, appear close to passing laws that will be similar to those currently in force in Italy and parts of Austria, requiring children below young-teenage to wear helmets.
The legislation is at its most advanced stage in California where Austrian-born governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is now considering whether to make the draft bill law (SB 880) after it successfully passed through the state’s senate with a two-thirds (22-11) majority in favour last week. The measure by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, mirrors bicycle helmet laws already in place in California.
If passed as it current stands by Governor Schwarzenegger, it will be the most extensive helmet law yet in that it will require all children aged up to 18 to wear helmets, older than the age requirement in countries that already have helmet laws in place.
However breaking the law would by contrast be the least severely punished, in contrast to California’s infamous ‘Three-strikes’ law which can see repeat offenders jailed for life for committing a succession of occasionally relatively minor offences. Parents may face a $25 fine if their children are caught skiing or snowboarding in California without a helmet.
Ski resorts will be required to post signs about the law on trail maps, websites, and other locations throughout the property, but it has not been reported whether they too would face fines if they failed to enforce the law, as is the case for Italian resorts.
Half of all skiing deaths are caused by a head injury. Recent studies show that when helmets are used, the incidence of traumatic brain or head injury has been reduced 29percent to 56 percent. The Federal Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has found that more than 7,000 head injuries per year on the slopes in the U.S. could be prevented or reduced in severity by the use of a helmet. The CPSC study also showed that for children under 15 years of age, 53 percent of head injuries (approximately 2,600 of the 4,950 head injuries annually) are addressable by use of a helmet.
The legislation has sparked a debate following the themes of safety versus personal choice. Some older teen snowsports participants said they wanted the law as it would act against peer pressure they said they felt to not wear helmets even though they wanted to. Others said such a decision should be made by parents not by legislators. "It's a tough call, I have real issues in terms of liberty and letting parents make their own decisions ... but we are talking about a situation with minors, not adults, and a lot of serious injuries can occur on the ski slopes", said Assemblyman Ted Gaines, the only Republican in the Assembly who voted for the bill. "I've skied since age 5 and I am very fortunate to still be here to talk to you. I think it's a reasonable approach".
Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, who carried the bill on the Assembly floor, noted that ski resorts did not oppose the bill. The ski industry had fought a proposal by Jones that would have required ski resorts to publish reports on how many people are injured or killed on the slopes, increase safety measures, and force minors and employees to wear helmets.
Jones amended that bill, AB1652, which also was approved by lawmakers this week. It now requires ski resorts to develop and publish safety plans, and submit reports to state safety officials only when a fatal accident occurs.
In addition to the California Psychological Association, SB 880 is supported by the American College of Emergency Physicians, California Brain Injury Association, California´s Children´s Hospital Association, California Chiropractic Association, California Hospital Association, California Medical Association, California Nurses Association, California Psychiatric Association, California Travel Industry Association, Children´s Advocacy Institute, and the National Academy of Neuropsychology, among others.
The Governor must sign or veto both bills by September 30.
A number of leading resort groups in North America including Aspen Skiing Company, Intrawest and Vail Resorts have already made helmet-wearing compulsory in various scenarios including for on-mountain staff and for vguests taking ski school lessons.