A Heads-up Bicycle Safety Program

November 21, 1993|By Adriane B. Miller | Adriane B. Miller,Contributing Writer

Dawn Blean still shudders when she remembers her 3-year-old son's close encounter with a truck as he rode in a bicycle seat behind her.

Ms. Blean heard the truck approach, then felt something hit her in the back, causing her to crash the bike in a ditch.

Both she and her son had been hit by a side-rearview mirror on the passing truck.

Neither of them was badly hurt. But the bicycle helmet her son Thomas wore was cracked like an egg.

Had he not been wearing it, he most certainly would have been seriously hurt and maybe killed.

The incident took place in Illinois, but Harford County bicycle safety advocates such as James Piccione note that it just as easily could have happened here.

As vice president of the Fountain Green Elementary School Parent Teacher Association, Mr. Piccione has launched a program to sell bike helmets at a steep discount to parents with children at the Harford County school.

Unlike other sales programs the PTA sponsors, bicycle helmet sales at Fountain Green do not raise funds for the school or the PTA.

"We didn't want this to turn into another fund-raiser," Mr. Piccione said. "We have a lot of bike riders at the school and we are hoping to give the kids an opportunity to wear helmets. If we kept the price too high, parents wouldn't buy them."

The helmets cost $18.90 each, including tax, and are available locally only to Fountain Green Elementary School students. They are made by Sportech of San Diego, and are marketed by Ride Safe Inc., a company that sells them directly to schools nationwide.

Available in three sizes and several colors, the helmets carry approval logos from the American National Standards Institute, and the Snell Memorial Foundation. Both organizations publish safety standards for bicycle helmets in the United States.

Mr. Piccione said the same helmet would sell in stores for about $35 to $50.

"Nineteen dollars for a bicycle helmet is pretty low, since the average price of a helmet is usually around $30," said Andrew Russo, manager of the Bicycle Authority, an Abingdon store that sells bikes and accessories.

"I guess it means a loss of business for us, but it's another way to get kids to wear helmets, and that's good."

Virginia Brooke, owner of Bike Line of Bel Air, another retail bicycle store, said she supports helmet programs like the one the Fountain Green PTA has started.

"I think it's a great idea," Ms. Brooke said. "If that's the only way these kids can get helmets, it's worth it. To ride without one is so dangerous.

"It's surprising, the parents who come in here to buy bicycles for their kids and they don't buy helmets," she said. "You ought to talk to an emergency room nurse, hear some of the horror stories I've heard."

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 75 percent of all cyclists' deaths involve head injuries.

One in seven children suffers head injuries in bike-related accidents. Fewer than 5 percent of all children wear helmets when they ride.

Maryland lawmakers introduced four bills in the 1993 legislative session that would have made wearing bicycle helmets mandatory for children and adults. None passed, although delegates and senators may reintroduce new versions of the legislation in the 1994 session.

Mr. Piccione said he makes certain his three children, all students at Fountain Green Elementary, wear helmets when they ride their bikes.

They haven't always worn them willingly, he admitted.

But he thinks the fear that they'll look foolish with protective headgear seems to be fading among children in his neighborhood.

He hopes the stigma will disappear altogether if many of the children get helmets all at the same time.

"They will be passed out all at once and, hopefully, all the kids will want to wear helmets," he said. "One kid won't stand out and the peer pressure will be eliminated. They'll be cool to wear."

Steve Kane, assistant manager of the Bicycle Authority in Abingdon, said one drawback to buying a helmet without seeing is not knowing if it will fit properly.

"Fit is the most important part," Mr. Kane said. "If it's too big and they wreck, the helmet doesn't do any good."

Ms. Brooke said parents should make sure the helmet fits low on the forehead, comes to the ear and covers the base of the back of the head. It should stay snug on the child even while he turns his or her head.

"They are uncomfortable to wear at first because we're not conditioned to wearing them," Ms. Brooke said.

"But everyone should wear a helmet -- kids and adults."

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