Two bills are working their way through the State legislature. One would rely on ski area enforcement of the new rule for helmets, the other would actually call for police enforcement and fines of up to $25. I'm sure a $25 fine will make enforcement of this legislation cost-effective for the local police departments around Heavenly to assign officers to monitor activity on the bunny hill at Heavenly.
2 bills would require helmets for minors on ski slopes
California children must wear a helmet to ride a bicycle, skates, skateboard or non-motorized scooter – but not to zoom down a snowy mountain at high speeds without brakes.
That could change soon.
Two lawmakers have proposed separate legislation to require skiers and snowboarders under 18 to wear helmets, too.
The measures by Sacramento Assemblyman Dave Jones and San Francisco Sen. Leland Yee, both Democrats, would make it clear that the constitutional right to pursue happiness does not include skiing bareheaded.
"Lots of Californians take advantage of some wonderful skiing and snowboarding opportunities, and we want to make sure that they are as safe as possible," said Jones, whose bill also targets other aspects of snow-sport safety.
Yee said families would abide by a mandatory ski and snowboard helmet law, realizing that the goal is to reduce the number of head injuries in a sport where one fall can cause permanent harm.
"People will understand that the culture has changed and that (wearing helmets) is the way we do it now," he said.
Helmets vary in cost, from about $40 to $160, or they often can be rented from ski resorts for less than $10 per day, officials said.
Research by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1998 concluded that 53 percent of ski and snowboard head injuries to children under 15 – 2,600 of 4,950 – could have been reduced or prevented by helmets.
Shelby Ganitch, 29, of Costa Mesa, supports mandatory head protection. She suffered a fall while snowboarding 11 years ago, without a helmet, that left her in a coma after which she had to relearn how to walk, talk, eat, feed and bathe herself.
"Because I wasn't wearing a helmet, my life was changed forever," she said.
Opponents criticize the new legislation as "nanny government" in which lawmakers usurp parents in deciding what is best for children.
Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, characterized the proposal as "kind of silly."
"I think it's overregulation," he said. "I'm sensitive to sometimes the government watching out for people, but people need to learn to take care of themselves, and look out for themselves."
Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R- Irvine, said life and sport inevitably pose risk of injury and overzealous government, left unchecked, someday could require thrill-seekers to wear a full crash helmet and cover themselves in bubble wrap.
"Where do we stop?" DeVore asked.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken no position on Jones' Assembly Bill 1652 or Yee's Senate Bill 880, which have not yet been debated in legislative committees.
Both AB 1652 and SB 880 bills would require children to wear helmets while skiing and snowboarding, but Jones and Yee propose significantly different methods of enforcement.
Jones' bill would require ski resorts to adopt and enforce the helmet requirement, while Yee's bill would leave enforcement in the hands of peace officers, who could issue citations subjecting offenders' parents to fines of up to $25.
Jones's bill extends into other areas of snow safety, requiring resorts to create a standard policy for padding various ski and snowboard hazards, adopt standard safety signage, require employees to wear helmets, prepare annual safety plans, and disclose their injury record to the public.
"We just want to make sure that skiers and snowboarders have all the information they need to make informed decisions for themselves and their families," Jones said.
AB 1652 is being promoted by a physician, Dan Gregorie, who said his 24-year-old daughter, Jessica, was killed four years ago after sliding over an unmarked cliff while carrying her snowboard at a Sierra ski resort.
"She was unaware that below her was a cliff, there was no signage warning her of the cliff, and no fencing to protect her from going over that cliff," Gregorie said Monday.
Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Association, a trade group for ski resorts, said the group conceptually supports Yee's helmet bill but objects to Jones' effort to place the onus of enforcement on its members.
"We don't have police powers," he said.
Roberts also questioned other provisions of Jones' AB 1652, saying the measure could spawn frivolous lawsuits and that maintaining extensive injury reports could be difficult because resorts are not apprised of patrons' diagnoses after they receive initial first aid and leave the premises.
"We feel there are strong legal implications to parts of Jones' bill," he said.