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Informed Opinions on Today's Topics : Bicycle-Helmet Bill: Benefit or a Burden?


According to proponents of a bill that would require California bicyclists under the age of 19 to wear a helmet, bike-related crashes are the primary cause of death and brain injury among children age 5 to 14. The bill, which has passed both the state Senate and Assembly, will take effect Jan. 1 if signed into law by Gov. Pete Wilson. After a one-year grace period where violators would receive only warnings, in 1995, they or their parents would face fines up to $25 for each offense. Critics of the measure have questioned the additional burden it would place on police and the fact that it does not include the state's adults.


Should bicyclists under 19 be required to wear helmets?

Lorna Bashara, manager of Canoga Cycle Center, which caters to both adult and children:

"As an industry and as a retailer, it would be very beneficial to the business. As a person, I think it's almost a necessity to wear a helmet. Not just kids--everyone should wear a helmet. The downside is you don't want to turn kids off to the adventure and fun of riding."

Steve Barrow, legislative director for the Children's Advocacy Institute, which sponsored the bill:

"Eighty percent of bike accidents involve a head injury. The problem is that the brain doesn't heal like an arm or a leg when you injure it. California spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on insurance for bicycle injuries. We know from studies that 85% of all head injuries could be prevented by having a helmet on the kid's head."

Rick Denman, program director for the Encino Velodrome:

"I have no doubt it will do a good job of saving some lives. Personally, I think it's a fine idea. I don't know why it should be restricted to 18. I don't see the distinction between over 18 and under 18. The law will certainly make people who don't want to wear helmets resent it."

Bill Wilkinson, executive director of the Bicycle Federation of America:

"Our organization has always advocated helmet use. It's cheap insurance. I personally have a problem with mandating helmet use by law in the United States. I think it's premature public policy. I don't think we've done enough education and promotion. I'd like to see a lot more effort in promoting helmets."

Gary Hart, Democratic state senator from Santa Barbara who opposed the bill when it came before the Senate:

"I have a lot of ambivalence about it. I feel like it's very easy to apply laws to people who can't vote. There were also some concerns about poor children being able to purchase helmets. Certainly, the police have more important things to be doing (than ticketing children). I was really torn."

Eric Savader, director of public policy for the National Head Injury Foundation:

"We strongly support mandatory helmet laws for children. People have often reduced the helmet debate to a question of personal choice, but we mandate things for minors all the time. You have to put the good of society over the choice of a few people."

Louis Caldera, Democratic state assemblyman from Los Angeles who wrote the bill:

"There are two reasons why kids don't wear helmets. One is a lack of awareness of how serious the problem is. The second is because of peer pressure. Kids don't want to be uncool being the only one wearing a helmet. There have been studies which show educational programs alone don't solve those problems."

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