Committee Approves Bill to Keep Kids Safe on Ski Slopes

March 23, 2011

Senator Yee's legislation would require children to wear helmets on ski slopes

SACRAMENTO - Today, the Senate Health Committee overwhelmingly (8-1) approved legislation to help make California ski slopes the safest in the nation for kids. Under SB 105 by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) minors would be required to wear helmets while skiing and snowboarding.

Last session, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Los Angeles) signed an identical measure - Yee's SB 880 - but vetoed a companion bill that called for ski resorts to develop and publish safety plans. Enactment of SB 880 was contingent on the signing of AB 1652 - authored by then-Assemblyman and now Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) - and thus the helmet mandate did not go into effect.

This year, Yee has reintroduced the bill as a standalone measure.

"It is imperative that we do not have another ski season in which children are left at such serious risk," said Yee. "California's ski slopes are perhaps the last area of recreation where we do not have basic safety standards in place for children. I am very pleased this bill received broad, bipartisan support today and I look forward to this legislation becoming a national model for other states to follow."

"Despite repeated warnings from public health experts, professional athletes, and ski resorts, each winter brings news of hundreds of unnecessary tragedies for the failure to wear a helmet," said Yee, who is a child psychologist. "SB 105 will significantly reduce instances of traumatic brain injury or death for such a vulnerable population."

According to the National Ski Areas Association, 19 of 38 people who died on ski slopes in the 2009-2010 season were not wearing helmets at the time of the injury.

SB 105 will also require resorts to post signs about the law on trail maps, websites, and other locations throughout the property. Following the lead of California's bicycle helmet law, SB 105 will imposed a fine of not more than $25 on the parents of children who fail to wear a helmet while skiing or snowboarding.

In signing Yee's legislation last session, Schwarzenegger wrote: "This measure will help prevent avoidable injuries to children while engaging in dangerous activities. While I am signing this bill to demonstrate my support for this measure, I recognize that it will not take effect"

Last year, the Dr. Phil Show focused on the need for greater helmet use by children while skiing and snowboarding. On the show, Dr. Phil McGraw announced his support for Yee's legislation

"I think this is a very timely and important issue to address as kids do dangerous things, and as adults, we have to use our foresight to protect them from themselves," said McGraw.

Half of all skiing deaths are caused by a head injury. Recent studies show that when helmets are used, the incidence of traumatic brain or head injury has been reduced 29 percent to 56 percent. The Federal Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has found that more than 7,000 head injuries per year on the slopes in the U.S. could be prevented or reduced in severity by the use of a helmet. The CPSC study also showed that "for children under 15 years of age, 53 percent of head injuries (approximately 2,600 of the 4,950 head injuries annually) are addressable by use of a helmet.

"How can California not set minimum standards for children's ski safety when the data is so conclusive that helmets save lives and reduce severity of head injuries," said Yee. "We correctly do not allow parental choice for car seats and seat belts or basic vaccinations for children attending schools; nor should a helmet for kids on ski slopes be optional."

In March 1999, Shelby Ganitch was not wearing a helmet when she lost control of her snowboard and her head hit the packed snow. She was knocked unconscious and airlifted to San Bernardino Trauma Center, where she laid in a coma for 3 ½ weeks.

"I had to relearn how to do everything," said Ganitch. "If I had been wearing a helmet, my injuries would not have been nearly as severe."

Yee's legislation is supported by the California Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, California Brain Injury Association, American College of Emergency Physicians, California Chiropractic Association, California Emergency Nurses Association, California Hospital Association, California Medical Association, California Nurses Association, California Psychiatric Association, California School Nurses Organization, California Ski Industry Association, California Society of Industrial Medicine and Surgery, California Society of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Child Abuse Prevention Center, Children's Specialty Care Coalition, Consumer Attorneys of California, and National Ski Area Association, among others.

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Contact: Adam Keigwin
916-651-4008