Decades Old Battle Nears End: Winter Sports Helmet Requirement Closer to Becoming Law

For more than two decades, efforts have been made to require the use of safety helmets by young downhill skiers and snowboarders. This month those efforts have come closer to making that requirement a law. (1)

The State Assembly Tourism and Acts Committee recently approved a bill requiring all skiers and snowboarders under 18 to wear safety helmets while on New Jersey slopes. The bill had passed the State Senate last August and is now pending approval by the full Assembly. (2)

The bill is intended to decrease the number of head injuries suffered as a result of accidents on New Jersey ski slopes. Recently Morristown Memorial Hospital conducted a study which showed that while wearing a helmet may not significantly decrease injuries suffered in high-speed incidents, it could prevent 30% to 50% of injuries suffered in moderate-speed falls. (2)

In the past, other versions of this bill failed to pass, in part, because the onus for enforcing helmet use was put on the ski resorts. As a result, the bills were met with opposition. The current bill, however, places responsibility on parents and guardians. Under this bill, parents or guardians could be fined for failing to require their children to wear safety helmets. Those fines would start at $25 for first offense, increasing up to $100 for subsequent offenses. (1)

Supporters of the bill are optimistic that it will receive full Assembly approval this time around. There has been an increase recently in voluntary helmet use. According to surveys conducted by the National Ski Area Association, voluntary helmet use is up to 76.9% for children 8 and younger and 66% for children 13 and younger. Reports attribute some of this to examples set by Olympic and extreme athletes. (3)

More attention has been given lately to efforts to reduce head injuries in New Jersey’s young athletes: helmet laws while bicycling, skateboarding and in-line skating already exist in this State and last month Gov. Christie signed a law requiring coaches to remove any athlete showing signs of concussion from a game and not let that player return until cleared by a physician. (4) While such laws are aimed at keeping our children safe as they enjoy sporting and athletic activities, it is hoped that adults will adopt these safety practices as well.

(1) http://www.nj.com/opinion/times/editorials/index.ssf?/base/news-1/1296197110310560.xml&coll=5

(2) http://www.mycentraljersey.com/article/20110120/STATE/110120054/NJ-Assembly-committee-passes-winter-sports-helmet-bill

(3) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/01/morris_county_doctor_pushes_fo.html

(4) http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local/new_jersey&id=7829067