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Big Mother government & Kristen Olsen

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POSTED May 27, 2014 1:07 a.m.

Kristen Olsen doesn’t like “unnecessary nanny government policies.”

Once such policy was California’s American with Disabilities Act requirement that all press boxes at football stadiums, regardless of size, had to have handicapped access. That meant expensive elevators. 

Olsen, a Republican Assembly member from Modesto who also represents Manteca and Ripon, was approached by Big Valley Christian High for help. They simply could not afford to meet the state ADA requirements as it was cost prohibitive.

So Olsen did her research. She discovered the state exceeded federal ADA standards. So she introduced legislation to have state ADA standards comply with federal rules. That meant press boxes less than 500 square feet do not need elevators. The law passed.

Now Olsen has her sights on another state law she believes falls into the realm of “unnecessary nanny government policies.” She wants to eliminate the state requirement that adults have to wear a helmet when driving off-highway recreational vehicles. These are typically designed for non-paved roads and have a steering wheel, non-straddle seats and a maximum speed of 30 mph.

Olsen believes existing law treats these vehicles like they are motorcycles, Instead she views them as “golf carts” for outdoor enthusiasts.

If off-highway recreational vehicles and golf carts are from the same family tree, then one is a 900-pound gorilla and the other a spider monkey.

Olsen’s measure passed the Assembly on a 43-21 vote despite objections from the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association and folks like the California Medical Association.

The manufacturing trade group is obviously concerned eliminating a helmet requirement under state law for adults would open them up to liability claims. They point to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report that cites statistics noting not wearing a helmet was a contributing factor in over half of all injuries and deaths involving off highway recreation vehicles. The medical association zeroes in on statistics that show in 7 out of 10 off-highway vehicle crashes passengers are ejected.

The recreational off-highway vehicles (ROV) are often confused with all terrain vehicles. The Consumer Protection Safety Commission doesn’t confuse the two.

The commission researched 329 reports of ROV-related fatally and injury accidents nationwide between January 2003 and September 2010 that involved 169 fatalities and 299 injuries. That’s about 24 fatalities a year.

At least 53 percent of them were not wearing helmets. The number could be higher as 44 percent did not have a helmet status noted on reports.

So should the state have a nanny rule to protect adult ROV users from themselves?

First, consider the annual national statistics:

• There are 24 ROV-related deaths.

• There are 54 skiing and snowboarding related deaths.

• There are 327 ATV-related deaths

• There are 800 bicycle related deaths.

• There are 4,800 motorcycle deaths.

• There are 5,300 pedestrian deaths.

• There are 8.600 deaths from unintentional public falls.

• There are 35,900 motor vehicle deaths.

Based on the numbers California should require helmets for pedestrians and those riding in cars.

That may sound absurd but no more so than people who believe government must legislate rules to protect us from every possible thing we could do to hurt ourselves.

There is also a practical matter: Exactly how is government enforcing the mandatory law for adult helmet use on ROVs?

Governor Jerry Brown several years ago vetoed a bill that would have required under age skiers and snowboarders in California to wear helmets. How could the governor do that when the death rate nationally is twice that of ROV users? The reason is simple. Surveys show the vast majority of people who ski wear helmets. The group that doesn’t soar above 50 percent in terms of helmet use while skiing are males between 18 and 25 years of age. No surprise there.

Brown, by the way, was downright eloquent in the words he chose on Sept. 8, 2011 to veto the proposed ski helmet requirement: “While I appreciate the value of wearing a ski helmet, I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state. Not every human problem deserves a law.”

The governor also termed it an overbearing and expensive proposal for state regulation.

I appreciate the value of helmets. I’ve broken five of them over the years in bicycle crashes including one at 45 mph going downhill. I will not ride without a helmet nor will I ride with anyone who doesn’t have a helmet.

But should the government tell me I have to wear a helmet? Some would argue if adult motorcyclist have to do so then adult bicyclists should have the same requirement.

There needs to be a line drawn somewhere.

Just like there is a danger in moves toward Big Brother government, there should be equal concern about the Big Mother government movement.

Government should not regulate every aspect of our lives 24/7.

One cyclist I know thought I was a wimp for wearing a cycling helmet arguing that people who wear them aren’t alert enough to potential problems. He changed his tune when he crashed hitting a dog in a fairly low speed crash. He now won’t go near a bicycle — or allow anyone else regardless of their age to do so — unless they have a helmet on. 

Freedom means people often make bad choices.

But you can’t see the value of good choices if you aren’t allowed to fail.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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