DES MOINES — Friends of an Iowa City teen who died when she lost control of her moped made another attempt Thursday at changing Iowa law to require young riders to wear helmets.
“Last year, we planted the seed,” Olivia Lofgren, now a student at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, said about an attempt to convince state legislators to require moped operators and risers younger than 18 to wear helmets.
This year, she hopes lawmakers will be more receptive to the idea that is “just about protecting children,” she said.
“Ecstatic” was how Lofgren and another friend, Leah Murray, described their reaction to a decision Thursday that advances legislation to require a person under 18 years of age to wear a safety helmet when operating a motorized bicycle.
Murray, 18, a freshman at Hope College in Michigan, and Lofgren, 19, a freshman at St. Ambrose, were among seven people who spoke in favor of the measure that now goes to the Senate Transportation Committee for consideration — a step farther in the process than the idea got last year.
That was big progress for two women who are motivated by the 2011 death of a friend who died when she lost control of her moped.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Murray said.
“This is a big victory here,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, a co-sponsor who attended Thursday’s meeting. “We haven’t seen progress on this issue for a very long time.”
Iowa is one of three states that do not have a helmet requirement for operators of motorcycles and motorized bikes. Senate File 37 would establish the requirement for young operators and create a scheduled fine of $100 as punishment for violating the simple misdemeanor offense.
“Helmets do not stop crashes. Training and education is what stops crashes,” said Mark Maxwell, who was lobbying for ABATE of Iowa, which he noted “adamantly” opposes the bill.
Opponents worry that a law covering young people would make it easier for the state to require motorcyclists to wear helmets. They argue that there should be a limit in government’s oversight of personal actions.
Proponents of the helmet requirement cited grim statistics for head injuries, disabilities and deaths associated with riding a motorized bike without protective gear.
“Brain injury is the last thing on your mind until it’s the only thing on your mind,” said Geoffrey Lauer, executive director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa. He said 95,000 Iowans are living with long-term effects of brain injuries and “we don’t want to add any more.”
For Murray and Lofgren, the statistics included their friend and high school classmate, Caroline Found, 17, who died in August 2011 after the moped she was operating struck a curb near a curve on Mormon Trek Boulevard in Iowa City and then struck a tree in the median. They presented subcommittee members with a petition bearing nearly 1,500 signatures, which they said they gathered in two days.
“The support across the state is huge,” said Lofgren. “If we can save one person’s life, we’ve done our part.”
While moped operators can choose to wear helmets, “some kids don’t have parents telling them to put them on,” she said to explain why a law is necessary.
Since meeting with lawmakers last year, Lofgren and others supporting the bill have been raising awareness at schools.
“This year, more people are noticing,” she said. “We have more people making a statement.”