DES MOINES — Iowa City teens pushed Thursday for legislation that would require young mo-ped riders to wear helmets, but the bill ran into a brick wall of personal responsibility and political reality at the state Capitol.
Students from West High School told a Senate Transportation subcommittee that no matter how much sense wearing a helmet makes while riding a mo-ped and no matter how many times teenagers hear that from their parents, they’re more likely to strap on a helmet if it’s the law.
“There are already many laws put in place to protect young people: graduated driver’s license, restrictions on cigarettes and alcohol and required vaccinations,” Leah Murray told senators. “Why can’t helmet laws be added to this list?”
But that list might be getting too long, civil liberties advocates countered, and they had some support among the senators.
“I have to tell you, this is a tough one for me,” said Transportation Committee Chairman Tom Rielly, D-Oskaloosa. “I’m not trying to be a bad guy, but where does it stop?”
The West students were motivated to push for a helmet law after the August 2011 death of Caroline Found, 17, of Iowa City. Found died after the mo-ped she was riding struck a curb near a curve on Mormon Trek Boulevard and then struck a tree in the median. Police said Found was killed upon impact.
Mark Maxwell, who represents the Iowa Motorcycle Dealers’ Association, wondered why Found wasn’t wearing a helmet. Caroline Van Voorhis, a West student, said Found would have been wearing a helmet if it was the law.
“Look, we’re teenagers,” added Murray. “We can’t always like think for ourselves. We need the government to do it for us.”
Rielly saw that as the crux of the discussion.
“At what level does government get into your personal life?” he said. “It’s not just this. A lot of people are getting concerned.”
While he said he admired the students’ passion, Sen. Tom Hancock, D-Epworth, offered little encouragement.
“Sometimes life can be tough,” the volunteer firefighter said. “I just want to be upfront and very blunt and frank with you. I’ve tried to pass some mandates in the Iowa Senate and mandates just don’t cut it. I don’t care what the subject matter is.”
Lawmakers have a responsibility to protect the public “as much as we can,” added Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale. “It’s getting to the point where are we going to have to bubble-wrap everyone to protect them from everything?”
“At this point, no,” Rielly said when asked if the bill would move to the full Transportation Committee.
That left an opening, the students said, one their friend would have seen as a challenge.
“If anyone told her she couldn’t do something, she redoubled her efforts and made it her personal mission to prove them wrong,” said Olivia Lofgren. “In that spirit, we will continue to move forward with this cause and will not give up.”