Helmets Protect On The Outside, But What About The Inside? Abiding By The Law Means Being Odd-man-out

October 10, 1990|By Russ Mullaly

I am in the midst of a dilemma.

My family and I are law-abiding citizens. There is a law in our county that went into effect as of Oct. 1 stating that those under 16 years of age must wear bicycle helmets when riding on county roads. We all are aware of that by now. It's been on TV and in the papers.

My son, who is nearly 7, has a bicycle helmet that we recently purchased for him. He wants to wear the helmet. He likes it. He has no problem with it. It is a good-looking black helmet that meets with approval from all the necessary organizations. We want to comply with the law as well as safeguard his head from injury.

So what is the problem?

The problem is the kids in our neighborhood -- or maybe their parents, I don't know. The first day my son rode with his new helmet, which, incidentally was before the law went into effect, a boy came up to him and rapped on his helmet with some object. It seems that my son was the only one in the neighborhood with a helmet.

Fortunately, the only damage was some scuff marks, which I buffed out with some plastic cleanser. The damage could have been worse; we were fortunate. The helmet we got him is a thin-shell helmet, which is between a no-shell and a hard-shell type.

The no-shell helmet appears less durable for everyday kid use, and has had conflicting reports over its safety because it may not slide on impact, but dig in and cause a neck injury (so says Consumer Reports). The hard-shell is the best; however, it is heavy. So I compromised by getting a thin-shell because it is light and offers protection to the inner Styrofoam-like liner, and the surface is smooth so it won't dig in on impact.

Still, because these are helmets, I think some children confuse them with football or motorcycle helmets and think that they are indestructible.

Not so. If you beat on them with hard objects they can be damaged. They are good for only for one hard impact to save your head, and it is recommended that they be thrown away after such, and a new one purchased.

To get back to my point, I don't want to have to pay another $65 for another helmet ($47 with one-time discounts) if my son's helmet is going to be treated this way. He is being singled out as kids always are because he is now different -- a bicycle helmet wearer.

So my wife and I decided, reluctantly, to have him keep the helmet at home to protect it until the law took effect.

Can you believe this -- protecting the helmet?

We reasoned that by then all the rest of the kids would have their helmets because it is the law, and it would not be unusual to wear a helmet, so there would be no problem, right?

Wrong. It has been a number of days now since the law has taken effect, and there are still no helmets on the other kids. We still live on a county road in Howard County -- no other county has annexed us. But still no bike helmets on any of the other kids!

We want our son to wear his helmet, but we don't want someone to damage it before it can be used to save him from damage. Sort of a Catch-22 situation, don't you think? One child told my son, "I'm not going to wear any bicycle helmet." I don't know whether this was just the child talking or the child's parents.

Students in Howard County schools have been talked to about the subject and given literature on bike safety. What more can be done? I wonder if other neighborhoods in the county are having similar problems.

Are people ignoring the law, thinking it will just go away? Do they even realize that there is a law? Are they waiting to be ticketed before they comply? Waiting for a Supreme Court decision? What is the problem?

How much longer must we wait for the rest of the kids -- or their parents -- to comply? You can see the dilemma we have here. Do you follow the law and have a relatively expensive helmet destroyed, or do you break the law to keep from having your child singled out because he is being "different" and have him risk possible injury? All in all, paying $65 for a bicycle helmet on a regular basis should not have to be part of one's budget. What's a parent to do?

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