Howard County police will give youngsters three months to adjust to the landmark bicycle helmet law that takes effect Monday by issuing only warning tickets to those caught riding without headgear before Jan. 1.
The new law requires all bicyclists under age 16 to wear a helmet when riding on county roads or pathways. It does not apply to federal, state or private roads.
Officer Gary L. Gardner, a police spokesman, said that in addition to a warning ticket, youths caught without a helmet between now and January also will get a flier about the law and bike safety and their parents will be notified.
"This is a new law, so we want people to be aware of it and what to expect," Officer Gardner said in explaining the three-month grace period.
Police plan to continue stressing education even after the grace period ends.
Under the department's policy, a cyclist cited after Jan. 1 still must rack up three warnings before a civil violation will be issued. Those violations are punishable by fines of up to $50 for a first offense and $100 for subsequent offenses.
The offender then would have to accompany his parents to meet with the police Youth Services staff, which would waive any court action if the youth shows up with a helmet.
"Essentially, the department's goal is to promote bicycle safety through education and prevention, and the enforcement will come as a last resort against flagrant violators," Officer Gardner said.
Howard County became the first jurisdiction in the nation to adopt a helmet law when the law passed May 18. Initially it required all cyclists to wear helmets, but in response to an outcry from adult riders the bill was amended Aug. 2 to apply only to those under age 16.