Thursday, October 9, 2003

Blue Ash may require helmets

Some young cyclists chafe at law

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Outside her Blue Ash home, Alex Norris, 11, wears a helmet. Her parents make it a rule when their children ride bicycles.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
BLUE ASH - Aaron Theriot figures he won't be riding his bike to the library or to pick up last-minute groceries for his mother here anymore if a mandatory helmet law for children under age 16 passes today.

The 13-year-old, who lives in Sycamore Township close to the city's border, would give up cycling there altogether rather than be forced to wear a helmet.

"I think it should be the parents' decision because they know what the kid is capable of doing, what the kid is likely to do, and should enforce wearing a helmet or not. I think it should be up to them," said Aaron, whose mother, Kandy Theriot, has never pushed him to wear one.

A Blue Ash councilman thinks otherwise. Urged on by a local pediatrician and neighbor, Mark Weber said he has the five votes needed to get the legislation passed.

The law would make it illegal for children under 16 to pedal on public property without protective headgear. Parents of helmet scofflaws would face written warnings and fines of up to $50.

If approved, the ordinance would go into effect immediately, putting Blue Ash in the company of Glendale, Madeira and Waynesville - the only other local communities to require younger cyclists to wear helmets.

"The ordinance is more for education purposes," Weber said. "What I was most concerned about are the kids whose parents don't supervise them enough or are just oblivious to the fact that a helmet is a good thing to wear when you are riding a bike."

He also sees it as a tool for parents whose children are resistant to wearing helmets. They will be able to say, "Hey, it's the law," Weber said.

First-time offenders and their parents will get a written warning. A second violation carries a fine of up to $25, and the ticket price could double for subsequent violations. Children riding on private residential property are excluded from the requirement. The law does not apply to skaters or skateboarders, although Weber said it could be expanded to include them in the future.

Jennifer Ringel, a young mother and pediatrician, is behind the push to put helmets on young cyclists here.

She said she has seen her share of children who will never walk or talk again because they were not wearing helmets and crashed their bicycles. It's something she makes a point of telling young patients at her Mason practice. She asks them to promise they'll wear their helmets. She does it in front of their parents.

"Immunizations used to be voluntary and we found out how important vaccines were. So now they are mandatory ... The same with car seats," Ringel said. "I think this is just the next step. I've seen so many kids without helmets, and it's just frightening to me."

Still, some Blue Ash residents have reservations.

Mike Norris has enforced his own helmet rule for his three school-age children since the day they learned to ride. He's adamant about having them wear helmets.

Trish Glass, of Peppermill Farm, questions whether the age limip isn't too high. She makes her four kids wear helmets now, but she doesn't know what to expect when her oldest son, soon to turn 11, reaches his early teen years.

"Basically, we're letting kids drive at 151/2, saying they are responsible at that point to drive a car. They should be able to use their own responsibility to decide to wear a helmet," Glass said.

Glendale passed a mandatory bike helmet law in 2000. Madeira followed last year. Both ordinances were suggested by medical professionals who live there.

Waynesville, in Warren County, led the way in 2000 after a youth was seriously injured on a dangerous hill favored by teen daredevils, Police Chief Ken McCloud said. The laws in all three communities include in-line skaters and skateboarders, activities police say are just as dangerous.

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute in Arlington, Va., estimates that 20 states and more than 125 communities nationwide have helmet laws. A statewide measure in Ohio - where juvenile motorcyclists are required to wear helmets - was proposed several years ago, but failed.

A joint study recently published by researchers at the University of Texas Arlington and University of Arkansas suggests that helmet laws reduce juvenile bicycle fatalities by about 15 percent.

Glendale Police Chief Matt Fruchey said having an ordinance on the books, and making people aware of it, has made a difference. His seven officers have issued only five warnings and one citation since that city's law was passed.


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