Ski Helmet Law to Protect Children and Teenagers Passes in New Jersey Following Two-Decade Long Quest
Saint Clare’s physician helps to bring about positive change in the community
April 25, 2011
This month, New Jersey passed into law its first statewide requirement for young skiers and snowboarders to wear protective helmets, following a two-decade long quest for passage by Dr. Norman San Agustin, a physician at Saint Clare’s Health System.
The bill, which makes New Jersey the first state in the nation to mandate helmet use, came as a result of a 23-year crusade by Dr. San Agustin and his wife, Biba, to make skiing safer for young people following the death of their 12 year-old daughter, Nicole, from head injuries sustained during a school ski trip in 1988.
“We saw an urgent need to let the public know that there is a danger in letting kids out on the slopes without ski helmets, and knew we needed to do something to prevent similar tragedies. If Nikki had been wearing a helmet, I am sure she would be with us today,” said Dr. San Agustin. “We knew this bill would be an important piece of legislation that could help to save children’s lives and prevent serious neurological damages from skiing accidents.”
The San Agustins began lobbying for passage of the ski helmet law in 1989. Prior versions of the bill, which in the past received resistance for placing responsibility on the ski resort industry, had been repeatedly introduced to the State Senate by state Senator Anthony Bucco of Boonton over the past 10 years, only to be defeated in the State Assembly.
The current bill, which delegates responsibility to parents, guardians, and supervising adults, received both bipartisan and industry support – passing through the State Assembly with a vote of 71-6, and through the New Jersey Senate with a vote of 34-2 –and was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie on April 6, 2011. It will take effect on November 1, 2011, in time for the 2011-2012 ski and snowboard season.
Parents or guardians of youth who fail to wear helmets will face a $25 fine for a first offense, and $100 fines for any subsequent offenses. Local law enforcement agencies, rather than ski resort operators, will have enforcement responsibility.
"One of the things my wife and I believe in is that things happen for a reason," Dr. San Agustin was quoted in a recent Morristown This Week article, recognizing the San Agustins as local heroes for their lobbying efforts. “When this bill becomes law, what it will mean to us is that Nikki would not have died in vain. If this law saves one life and prevents a family from experiencing what we have gone through over the years, then again she would not have died in vain."
While Dr. San Agustin and his wife are pleased to see their longstanding efforts come to fruition in their community, they recognize that more can still be done to bring about positive change on a larger scale.
“Our work is not finished. In fact, this is only the beginning. Our next step will be to gather support in passing mandatory helmet legislation on a national level,” said Dr. San Agustin.
About Saint Clare’s Health System
Saint Clare’s Health System, which has served the healthcare needs of northwestern New Jersey residents since 1895, is the region’s premier provider of community-based healthcare and behavioral health services. Saint Clare’s operates hospitals in Boonton Township, Denville, Dover and Sussex Borough and other facilities located throughout Morris and Sussex counties. For more information about Saint Clare’s Health System, please visit www.saintclares.org.
Saint Clare’s is part of Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), a national nonprofit health organization with headquarters in Denver, Colorado. The faith-based system operates in 19 states and includes 73 hospitals; 40 long-term care, assisted- and residential-living facilities; two community health-services organizations; and home health agencies.