Police want helmet law with teeth Taneytown council asked to adopt measure to cite guardians of violators

August 19, 1996|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Taneytown police hope citations and fines will prompt young bicyclists to obey Maryland's nearly year-old helmet law.

Chief Melvin Diggs, frustrated with the lack of enforcement powers in the state law, has asked the City Council to adopt an ordinance that would allow officers to issue citations to parents whose children ride without helmets. Parents of repeat offenders could be fined $25.

The City Council has asked its attorney to draft an ordinance.

The measure was prompted by a July accident involving a 6-year-old bicyclist who wasn't wearing a helmet. The boy rode into the path of a car on Carnival Drive, police said. He suffered head injuries and was flown to Johns Hopkins Children Center in Baltimore, police said. He was released the next day.

Diggs said officers have found "a lot of kids without helmets." Along with requesting the ordinance, Diggs said police hope to get a local organization to donate helmets for children whose families cannot afford to buy the required headgear.

The state law, which became effective Oct. 1, requires bicyclists younger than 16 to wear helmets but sets no penalties for violations. Law proponents contend helmets save lives and reduce the medical costs of biking injuries.

Statistics aren't available on how effective the law has been. The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is using a grant TTC from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to study helmet use in 14 Maryland counties. Twelve Marylanders died in bicycle accidents in 1994, according to the health department. The agency does not have fatal accident statistics for 1995, but noted that 32 percent of the 414 bicyclists hospitalized in 1995 suffered head injuries.

Seven Carroll County residents were admitted to hospitals after bicycle accidents in 1995; five of the seven were 18 or younger. The state agency doesn't have statistics on how many of the injured bicyclists were wearing helmets or how many suffered head injuries.

Police in other Carroll County communities report compliance with the helmet law.

In Sykesville, "The majority [of young bicyclists] do have helmets. We've had very good compliance," said Police Chief Wallace P. "Mitch" Mitchell.

Sykesville adopted an ordinance last summer that makes helmets mandatory for riders younger than 16. Violators can be fined $25 for a first offense. The fine can be waived if the rider buys a helmet within 30 days.

Police have not had to issue citations, Mitchell said.

Hampstead Police Chief Ken Meekins said his officers usually give verbal warnings to children they see riding without helmets.

"We do seem to have a great deal of compliance in Hampstead," he said.

Westminster police are relying heavily on education to get children to wear helmets, said Cpl. Michael Bible, community education officer. He said it hasn't been necessary to take action stronger than warning young riders.

Meg Gobrecht, safety coordinator for the Carroll County Health Department, said the agency used an $8,000 state grant to buy helmets for children whose parents couldn't afford them. About 200 helmets were distributed.

One of Gobrecht's goals is to educate parents to wear helmets voluntarily when they ride.

"Kids see adults not wearing helmets, and they wonder why they have to," she said.

Pub Date: 8/19/96

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