Brian R. Ballou – “No bike helmet? Lose your wheels”

No bike helmet? Lose your wheels

Brian R. Ballou | September 11, 2008

If you’re young and ride a bicycle through town without a helmet, you may end up walking back home. Police here are looking for scofflaws and will snatch the pedals from your feet if you’ve been warned numerous times but still forgo headgear.

Holliston police, frustrated in trying to drive home the point that riding without a helmet is dangerous and illegal, are hoping the tactic will finally get the attention of young riders.

“We’re not looking to take bikes away from the kids who forget their helmets,” School Resource Officer David Gatchell said yesterday. “This isn’t something where we’re looking to collect a hundred bikes. We don’t want to seize bikes, but for the kids who repeatedly ignore the warnings, it will happen.”

Riding a bike – or scooter or in-line skates – without a helmet is illegal for anyone younger than 17 in Massachusetts. But Gatchell said he’s noticed crowds of youngsters riding in his town without head protection. Bradford Jackson, Holliston school superintendent, said that outside the schools, he’s seen an increase in bike riders, given the warm weather.

“Officer Gatchell was standing next to me a couple of weeks ago and we both noticed that too many students were not wearing their helmets,” he said.

About two weeks ago, an 8-year-old boy riding a scooter in town was struck by a truck, he said. “The boy was wearing a helmet, which we believe prevented injuries that could have resulted.”

Some youths say the law bumps up against their right to be cool, to have the wind breeze through their hair as they zip through town. Yesterday, a teenage boy was spotted pedaling near downtown without a helmet, his blond locks fluttering. But several others were wearing helmets.

Ten-year-old Tyler Varrell unstrapped his maroon-colored helmet as he walked his mountain bike into his yard. “He rides a lot, and has never had a problem wearing his helmet, so that is one less thing to worry about,” said his mother, Patty Varrell.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, head injury is the leading cause of death in bicycle crashes, and helmets are the single most effective way of reducing head injuries and fatalities. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a national survey of helmet use among high school students, and 67 percent of responders indicated they rode a bike in the previous 12 months. And of that group, 85 percent indicated they never wore a helmet.

Gatchell said no bicycles have been seized yet, and the department isn’t likely to start taking away bikes from every youth police see without a helmet.

“We’ll start a public campaign, with the hopes that it will let kids and parents know how important it is to wear a helmet.”

Gatchell spoke with hundreds of Holliston students earlier this month, at the start of the school year, telling them about the law and how they can get a free helmet from the Police Department if they need one.

The law allows police to hold the bicycles for as long as 15 days, but Gatchell said parents can reclaim them early if they show that their child has a helmet.

Nancy King-Bolger, president of the Holliston Parent Teacher Student Association for the past two years, said she also has noticed that most Holliston kids, especially older teens, ride through the town center without headgear.

“Parents of younger kids have more control because their children aren’t riding that far from home. The earlier you get your child to put it on, the more likely the child will continue to wear the helmet when he or she gets older.”

King-Bolger said it wasn’t easy getting her two boys to wear helmets. “I was the helmet witch. When my kids were younger and riding bikes and skateboarding downtown, I felt strongly that they wore helmets. This is a small village and I had my spies out there, asking other parents if they had seen my boys without helmets.”

One of her sons is now 16 and the other has left home for college.

“Yesterday, I saw my younger son leaving out of the driveway with his helmet on. I was kind of impressed.”

Published in: on September 18, 2008 at 9:43 PM  Leave a Comment  

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