Helmets Avert Tragedy

Readers write

July 17, 1991

From: Brian Meshkin

Glenwood

I am writing in reference to the "County Comments" section of theJuly 10 edition of The Howard County Sun. The question asked of fiveColumbia residents was:

"Since the passage of the bicycle helmet law, which requires bicyclists under the age of 16 to use helmets, police have issued no citations. Should they?"

I am angered by four out of the five responses and I am angered that The Howard County Sunchose all five of the citizens to be interviewed from Columbia, which only makes up 40 percent of the population.

Let me begin by explaining to the public the reasons for the creation of this law. The purpose of this law was not to necessarily punish the offenders of the law but to influence the law-abiding citizens. This law mandates the usage of bicycle safety helmets for children under the age of 16. Each child is given three warnings before a citation, and upon receivinga warning, the officer provides the child with bicycle safety material.

On the evening of April 16, 1990, many students from Glenwood Middle School, including myself, and many other concerned citizens ofthe community, gave testimony in support of this bill. During this period of time, I received letters from William Kerewsky, director of middle schools in Howard County, and from the late Stephen Duckworth,who was supervisor of physical education in Howard County.

Mr. Kerewsky stated that he, too, had experienced the tragedy of losing a friend, which may have been prevented if that person had been wearing a bicycle helmet. Mr.Duckworth explained to me that he supported thisbill because it supports the objectives taught in the bicycle education program in Howard County. Later that month, the council voted to enact the legislation with the amendment removing the words, "under the age of 16," and changing the intent of the law to "all persons."

Exactly three months later, on the evening of July 16, 1990, I returned to testify on Council Bill 58, which removed the amendment that made the law apply to all persons. After first being opposed to the change in the intent, I testified against Bill 58 and in favor of maintaining the application of the law to all persons.

However, later that month, Bill 58 passed, and the law was changed to its original form. In my testimony I stated: "Since that time, I have thought aboutthe target of the law and I have come to the conclusion that this isnot a matter of a law that is better or worse, this is a matter of safety. . . . I would like to ask the question, is the loss of a childdiminished by the fact that he or she is over 16 years of age?"

Later on that year, Montgomery County introduced legislation similar to that of Howard County. I was asked by the National Safe Kids Coalition to testify on behalf of Howard County and to write an article in the Montgomery County Journal, both in favor of the measure. In my testimony that afternoon, I stated: "For Chris (Kelley), it is too late. But it is not too late

for every other child who rides a bicycleto have a chance for protection. . . . It is simply not enough to tell your children to be careful. Children without the proper safety equipment cannot protect themselves."

If the parents of Howard County are too irresponsible to understand the reasoning behind this law, let me attempt to appeal to the children of this county by allowing them to relive my afternoon on Oct. 12, 1989.

I had arrived home from school that day and decided to stay inside and play Nintendo. All of a sudden, my father, who had been in the garage, ran in the door and told my mother to call 911 for a kid who had been hit by a car on his bike in front of our house. We always knew that someday, someone would be injured or killed on the curve in front of our house, but never a child on a bike.

I ran outside and awaiting me was a child lying disfigured on the side of the road. To me, this appeared a dream, for reality would not have allowed this to happen. I knelt down beside this person but was unable to identify him for I could not have known him. For this was not really happening. Before my eyes people arrived on the scene that I would only have seen on the 6 o'clock news or in a movie. My father and I filled out the police report and no one, not even neighbors who on a regular day would have said "Hi Chris,how are you doing?" could recognize him. That evening my family and I stood on our front lawn for four hours.

During that time, Mrs. Kelley and her daughter, Elizabeth, whom we had known for years, arrived on the scene because her son, Christopher, had been out biking andwas late for dinner. After looking at the mangled bike, she believedthat it was Chris. But considering that she had not formally identified the body, I was sure that it was not Chris because I would have recognized him.

In witnessing this tragedy, I have come to realize what a gift and privilege life can be and how quickly that gift can be taken away. Though the purpose of this law was not to condemn but to influence and coincide with education, I would like to see parents who neglect this law fined, to provide a precedent and an example.

It hurts me to hear people undervalue this law. I would even encourage the Howard County Council to amend the law with the law in Montgomery County.

"The memory of Christopher Kelley will live on in everyone I see who bicycles with a safety helmet, for Chris and others like him will not have died in vain." (Tragedy could have been averted," by Brian Meshkin, Montgomery County Journal, Oct. 31, 1990)

Editor's note: The writer will be a sophomore at Glenelg High School. People interviewed for the County Comments, which appears every Wednesday, are chosen randomly.

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