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FOR THE KIDS : Picking a Bike Helmet Is Not Always a Snap : Shop owners urge parents to bring the child in for a proper fit. The safety headgear is now the law.


Some kids may think that it's nerdy, but it's the law. As of Jan. 1, kids under 18 are required to wear helmets when riding bikes on public streets or trails.

No more hopping on the bike and whizzing through the neighborhood bare-headed. In case your kid is helmet-resistant, here are a few facts to pass on about the new law.

During 1994, riders found without helmets risk only a warning from police officers. But beginning Jan. 1, 1995, the law gets tougher. Then, violators or their parents face a fine of up to $25.

Because of the new law, bike shop owners report that helmet sales are hot. If you are in the market for a helmet, here are a few tips.

Don't buy a helmet without your child being present, recommends Jon Avery, owner of Avery's Open Air Bicycles in Ventura. Odds are, it probably won't fit--and the fit is crucial.

"Also, presenting a kid with a helmet and telling him he has to wear it doesn't go over well," Avery said. Kids, he suggests, are more likely to wear them if they help choose them.

Knowing how the helmet should fit is important. Avery noted: "A number of times, I've seen people riding down the road with their helmet on backward." Others don't realize that the helmet should be worn level, on the top of the head close to the eyebrows, and not tilted toward the back of the head.

Choose the smallest helmet that fits. And don't buy it large for your child to grow into. Many come with adjustable padding on the inside.

"It should be a snug fit," said Mark Eaton, owner of Bill's Bike Shop in Camarillo. "It's most important to have the strap adjusted properly."

The more ventilation the helmet has, the cooler it will be. Avoid dark-colored helmets; instead choose ones that are more visible. Some helmets come with reflectors and even lights.

Also, keep this in mind: The helmet law also applies to children riding in a child carrier on the bicycle, as well as those riding in little trailers behind the bike.

Under the law, young bicyclists must wear a helmet that meets the standards of the American National Standards Institute or the independent Snell Foundation. In fact, all bicycle helmets sold in California must meet these standards and be so marked. Look for the stickers when you buy a helmet.

Helmets generally run from $20 to $120, with the higher-priced ones providing a better fit, better aerodynamics, more ventilation and a lighter feel, according to shop owners.

The law has built-in help for families that can't afford a helmet. It provides that 72.5% of the revenue from the fines to go to county health departments for bicycle safety education and to help low-income families obtain helmets.

However, even after Jan. 1, 1995, violators and their parents may not get stuck with fines. According to the law, charges will be dismissed if an admission is made under oath that the charge is the first violation by the child.

The whole idea behind the helmet law is to prevent serious head injuries, according to Assemblyman Louis Caldera (D-Los Angeles), author of the bill. Fewer than 6% of California's children wear helmets when bicycling, and almost 18,000 California kids end up in emergency rooms with head injuries each year.

Bike shop owners say helmets are becoming more acceptable to kids, and they tend to think of them as less nerdy.

"It's becoming cool now," Eaton said. "Attitudes are changing." Flashy helmets with snazzy markings on them help.

Local police who see helmet-less riders will probably issue a verbal warning during 1994. And some said there won't be the manpower or the time to track down a parent when an infraction occurs.

"It's not practical to take every kid home who is not wearing a helmet," Simi Valley Police Sgt. Jeff Malgren said.

The first year of the new law will be "a free ride," he said. During that time, officers will probably spend some time explaining the law at school assemblies.


This is Southern California, but kids can still make a snowflake at a free workshop at 1 p.m. Saturday at Gull Wings Children's Museum, 418 W. 4th St., Oxnard. For information, call 483-3005.

Storyteller Jim Woodard will be spinning some yarns at Heritage Square at 2 p.m. Sundayat 2 p.m. in downtown Oxnard. The theme for the monthly program will be "Great Folk Tales." Woodard will tell three stories at the one-hour program. Music will be provided by Craig Newton.

The program is primarily for kids 6 to 12 years old. It's not recommended for preschool children. The cost is $2. Heritage Square is at 7th and South A streets. For information, call 483-7960.

Ventura County Life contributor Jane Hulse is a parent and knee-deep in kids' activities. If you have any family news, send it to her at Ventura County Life, 5200 Valentine Road, Suite 140, Ventura 93003, or send faxes to 658-5576.


* FYI: Ventura County's PTA organization is working through local schools to educate children about the new bicycle helmet law. For information about the law or help in locating helmets for needy families, call the county PTA office at 388-4220.

Other contacts for information include the California Department of Health Services' Childhood Injury Prevention Program, (916) 657-3051, or the Children's Advocacy Institute/Coalition for Children's Safety and Health, (916) 444-3875.

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