San Jose Mercury News
Friday, March 31, 1995
No Bike Helmet? Listen here
Helmet-less bikers get stern lectures,
not $25 tickets.
Follow-up: Cyclists without headgear are likely
by Bill Romano, Mercury News Staff Writer
to get talk, not a ticket.
Three months after they began enforcing a state law that requires children to wear
bicycle helmets, local police agencies haven't issued many tickets to youthful
Palo Alto has handed out only 30 or 35, San Jose fewer than 10.
In most cases, police officials say they are still relying on discretion and a good talking-to to get kids to comply, rather than giving first time offenders the $25 tickets provided for in the statute since Jan. 1.
But that doesn't mean all youngsters are abiding by the rule. Just two weeks ago, a
15-year old boy died of head injuries when he was thrown from his bicycle in Milpitas'
Ed Levin Park.
Although he had a helmet, the protective gear was in his backpack. If the
boy had been wearing the helmet, assistant coroner Parviz Pakdaman said, he probably would have survived.
"Wearing a helmet takes away the risk of dying from a head Injury," said Dr. Jeffery Englander, who treats head trauma at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. "I've had a number of patients who survived because they wore helmets. Their helmets cracked, but they didn't."
Englander said California seems to be in "transition" - many people are still getting used
to the idea of wearing helmets while biking. Most preschoolers and younger children are accustomed to wearing headgear, but many of junior high school age and older are apparently not adjusting as rapidly to the practice, he said.
"The big thing kids seem to be trying to deal with is `the cool factor' " said Palo Alto police
Sgt. Brad Zook. Youngsters seem to think that the helmets "mess up their hair" or that a helmet "doesn't look cool," Zook said.
Many youngsters in Palo Alto
have helmets, he added, but some
leave them at home or choose to
ride with them slung over the
Zook said police tell them: "Better to have messed-up hair than a
Less than 100 statewide
Since January, California Highway Patrol officers have issued
only 72 citations statewide for
helmet violations, according to
spokeswoman Patricia Ryan. The
Highway patrol is responsible for
surface streets in some areas.
The numbers are admittedly
low, Ryan said. But they serve to
underscore the approach the CHP
has adopted - counting on education rather than the use of the
citation to obtain compliance.
Through an intensive bicycle
safety campaign in California's
public schools, Ryan said, the
CHP is encouraging young people
to follow the law for "positive
reasons rather than negative reasons - to protect themselves
from injury rather than to beat a
For the most part, police from
one end of Santa Clara County to
the other said they continue to
give kids a break with a "first-time" warning.
In Santa Clara, traffic safety
officer Rich Peterson said very
few citations have come across
his desk since the $25 fines went
into force. A majority of cyclers
are still being cautioned instead
But Peterson said he believes
helmet use among the young is
definitely on the rise - thanks
largely to advertising efforts and
safety promotions pitched to the
city's elementary school students.
"We began warning kids and
their parents about the fines that
the new law calls for," Peterson
said. "About 90 percent who ride
bikes to school now wear helmets."
Gllroy police Lt. Greg Giusiana
said his department had planned
last month to do some "heavy enforcement" of the helmet law, using reserve officers. He said the
operation had to be postponed
when the long rain spell kept
youngsters off the street.
Before the law went on the
books last year, Giusiana said, police rarely saw a bike rider
with headgear. Because of increased safety awareness, he
said, nearly half those riding bicycles in Gilroy are now in helmets.
Parents and legal guardians are
responsible for fines incurred by
minors, according to San Jose police Officer Louis Quezada. A
youngster who shows up in juvenile traffic court can usually get
the fine waived if he or she has a helmet or can provide proof of
having purchased one.
So far, officials say, no one has
contested a helmet ticket in Santa Clara County juvenile traffic
The money from fines goes to pay for administrative costs, education programs and to assist
low-income families buy helmets for their children. What's left over goes into the city's general fund, Quezada said.
This page was reformatted on: March 5, 2017.