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Should Utah make motorcyclists and children on bikes wear helmets?
A new national report says Utah ranks 21st in the nation for fatal injuries and urges the state to adopt stronger laws on seatbelts, helmets and teen dating violence.
Released Tuesday, The Facts Hurt: A State-by-State Injury Prevention Policy Report says millions of injuries could be prevented each year if states adopted the research-based policies it highlights. California and New York won its top rankings, with both states implenting nine of the 10 laws it recommends.
Injuries, including those caused by accidents and violence, are the country's third-leading cause of death, the report says.
"This report focuses on specific, scientifically supported steps we can take to make it easier for Americans to keep themselves and their families safer," said Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health, in a statement.
The report was created by the trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Utah scored points for requiring booster seats for children up to age 8, putting ignition locks on the cars of convicted drunk drivers and monitoring prescriptions to track abuse.
It also tracks the causes of emergency room visits, allowing researchers to discover trends, and has what the report considers a strong concussion law. Children with a suspected concussion must be removed from a sporting event and cannot return until they receive a medical clearance.
But Utah is one of 18 states that do not have a primary seat belt law for adults. An officer can only stop a vehicle for a seatbelt violation if the person who is unrestrained is under the age of 19.
Nineteen states require motorcyclists to wear helmets, while 21 states require bike helmets for kids.
In Liberty Park on Tuesday afternoon, Christy Smith kept a watchful eye on five year-old daughter, Megan, riding on a scooter in front of her.
Megan was not wearing a helmet, and Christy doesn't think Utah needs a helmet law.
"That's a tough call to make," Smith said. "A lot of parents are responsible enough to make the decision for themselves, but there are also those parents you don't trust to make that decision for their children. Even if you do make a law, I don't know if those parents would necessarily put helmets on their children anyway."
Smith said that Megan wears a helmet when riding a bike, but for their afternoon scooter ride through the park, she didn't think it was necessary.
"It's kind of like the seat belt law," Smith said. "If you're a good parent, your kid is in a seat belt. I don't know if the government should necessarily be requiring you to (wear a helmet), and have police driving down the street giving you a ticket if your kid is riding without a helmet on.
"I think most parents are capable of making that decision for their children."
May Romo, coordinator of Safe Kids Utah in Salt Lake County, said passing a state law requiring motorcyclists and children on bikes to wear helmets would be an uphill political battle.
"We haven't really approached the legislature yet," Romo said. "It's unpopular. It's just one of those things where it's [seen as] government infringing on our rights. We also have a lot of resistance from motorcycle clubs."
But as professional hockey players and football players speak out about concussion-related health effects, parents should be equally concerned about bike safety, she said.
"Part of it is that we have not created enough awareness," Romo said.
Passing helmet laws is also difficult because lawmakers are prioritizing stricter seat belt laws, said Jenny Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Health's injury and violence prevention program.
"We would love to see a universal helmet law put into place (but) I'm not sure if the political will is there to do that right now," Johnson said.
Many cities are considering some form of a helmet law, but they would be largely ineffective without backing from the state, she said.
"There are a lot of things that Utah does really well, but there are definitely areas we need improvement in and helmets are one of them," Johnson said.
Utah also lost points for receiving a grade below A in Break the cycle: 2010 Survey of Teen Dating Laws.
Based on data from 2007-2009, the report ranks Utah second in the nation for poisonings stemming largely from prescription drug overdoses.
But 2007 was Utah's peak year, when 317 deaths were attributed to overdoses of such legal drugs. The state kicked off a 10-year effort that year to prevent and reduce overdoses, which includes education campaigns for both doctors and patients, improved monitoring of prescriptions and other tactics.
In 2010, 236 Utahns died of unintentional overdoses from prescription pain pills, according to the Utah Department of Health.