Kids Pushed Virginia Beach Helmet Law
Summary: Kids influenced the passage of a mandatory helmet law in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
These Kids Made a Difference
Virginia Beach, VA
June 16, 1995
Headed for Safety
by Pam Starr, Staff Writer
A couple of seventh graders have helped persuade the City Council it is time the Beach required young bike riders to wear helmets.
It's a beautiful, sunny day, 78 degrees with a cool breeze. The perfect
day for a leisurely bike ride.
Maybe you just want to pedal over to a friend's house. Or, you decide to
make a day of it and traverse the winding paths through Seashore State
If you're 14 or under, there's something you have to do before getting
on that vinyl seat.
After July 1, you must cover your noggin with a helmet.
City Council passed a mandatory bicycle helmet ordinance for those 14
and under Tuesday stating that violators must pay $25 if they're found
riding without a helmet. First-time offenders have it easy, though. If
they buy helmets before the due date on the fines, the fines could be
Why did they do that? You may be the safest rider around and never take
chances, but statistics don't lie. Council members listened carefully as
Kempsville Middle School seventh-graders T. Jack Bagby and Aisha
Dharamsi threw out some frightening facts from the National Safe Kids
L. D. Britt, chief of the division of trauma and critical care of Sentara
Norfolk General and director of the shock trauma center, addressed the
council after the children finished.
- In the United States, 300 children are killed each year in bicycle-
- About 400,000 children are injured in bike-related accidents each
year that require emergency room treatment.
- Eighty percent of fatal bike injuries or 75 percent of disabling
injuries could be prevented with a helmet.
"Virginia Beach is in the top 10 cities in the country for raising
children," he said, "It would be an embarrassment to the city if we
didn't support this ordinance."
Another doctor, pediatrician Glenn Snyders, also supported the
ordinance. The cost of one head injury would pay for an entire year of
immunizations for all children in Virginia, he said. After a policeman
and Police Chief Charles R. Wall spoke in favor of the ordinance, it
seemed council members didn't really have a choice but to pass it.
But not everyone is in favor of another law. Even though this ordinance
doesn't affect him, Siegfried Kuhn is upset.
The 67-year-old has ridden bikes over thousands of miles of rugged
terrain in Europe and North America without ever wearing a helmet. If
you know how to "fall and roll," he said, a helmet isn't needed
"I never had any of the slightest trouble, and I've ridden
all my life," said Kuhn, a native of Germany who is skilled in
judo. "I'm into personal freedom - you can regulate everything.
I think you have to stop somewhere."
Kuhn is in a minority, though. Even people who run
Oceanfront bike rental stands, for the most part, agreed that
a helmet requirement is needed. Anyone who rents bikes
now has to make helmets available for riders 14 and under at
a "reasonable cost," according to the ordinance.
"I think it's great," said Warren Smith, manager of Cherie's
Bicycle & Blade Rentals. "We already carry over 100 helmets because
the insurance company has always required helmets for Roller Blades."
Chip Wilson, who runs Beach Bike Rentals with his wife, Laurie, said they
have helmets for rent and it won't affect their business one way or the
"It may cost us a little bit more but it's no big deal," Wilson said. "The
way they ride around here, I guess it is a good idea. I've seen a lot of bad
A dissenting view was offered by Jon Ceaser of Bonnie's Beach Bikes. The owner is
"not too keen about it" because rental helmets spread lice and are not sanitary,
"I guess we'll have to go out and buy helmets now," he said.
But Warren Smith said that helmets can be sanitized by spraying them
"We disinfect our helmets after each person," he said.
Tim Woolford of Conte's Bicycle & Fitness Equipment is especially happy to
see the helmet law passed. The avid cyclist was hit three times by cars and
suffered concussions with each before he finally started wearing a helmet. Back
then, he said, people just didn't wear them.
"We get a lot of people here who buy a helmet for their kids but not for themselves,"
said Woolford, 29. "I always tell them my story of when I got hit. I was obeying
every single rule but got hit from the rear. If parents would wear them,
their kids would."
President Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, Woolford noted, was seen riding without a helmet
in California and a policeman pulled her over. California's law requires all riders under
17 to wear safety headgear.
"The next picture you saw in the paper was of all the Clintons wearing helmets when they
rode bikes," said Woolford, laughing.
Several states and localities have adopted mandatory helmet laws since 1987.
In fact, about a third of the population lives in states that have helmet laws of some
kind. At least 20 cities and counties in the country have passed local laws
regarding helmet use.
That's what Jack and Aisha and the other 12- and 13-year-olds in Carolyn Stamm's
academically gifted class at Kempsville Middle School hope will happen with this new
law - that it will spread statewide. The students lobbied for the bill's passage as
a class project with Councilwoman Louisa Strayhorn's help.
Stamm said she's very proud and excited for her students, who also took third place in
the International Community Problem Solving Competition last weekend in
"I really believe in letting kids know they can make a difference," she said. "They've
learned life lessons - this particular group of kids seems to be interested in making a
Photo captions for staff photos by Steve Earley
Photo 1: Tim, Cecillia, center, and Julie Foley, of Mount Crawford,
already wear helmets while riding.
Photo 2: Chip Wilson, right, who runs Beach Bike Rentals with his wife,
Laurie, said they will have helmets for rent and it won't affect their
business one way or the other. "It may cost us a little bit more but
it's no big deal," Wilson said. "The way they ride around here, I guess
it's a good idea. I've seen a lot of bad accidents here."
Photo 3: Aisha Dharamsi, 13, presented the council with bicycle accident
Photo 4: "I'm in favor of everyone wearing helmets," said seventh grade
student T. Jack Bagby.
Photo 5: Joe Caeser of Bonnie's Beach Bikes, left, is "not too keen" on
the helmet requirements.
Sidebar: Bicycle Helmet Laws Nationwide
[Here was included a Chart of bicycle laws]
Source: Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
Beach accident rate rose 350 percent last summer
by Pam Starr, Staff Writer
Don't tell Dot Kelley that riding a bike without a helmet is safe. The trauma services
coordinator at Virginia Beach General Hospital saw an astonishing 350 percent increase
in admissions last year of bicycle-related accidents.
She's not talking about twisted ankles or scraped knees. Those who required admission to
a hospital suffered severe head injuries or shattered limbs. And each patient had
one thing in common - they were not wearing helmets.
"Our skull is only designed to protect our brains at the speed of walking or running,"
said Kelley, a former emergency room nurse. "Some bikes can travel at enormous rates of
speed. Studies have shown that helmets reduce the risk of bike-related injuries by 85
Kelley cited statistics from last year's caseload of 66 bicycle-related hospital
admissions. Twenty-five of the admissions were "major" (life-threatening or disabling) and
two were fatal. Seventy-four percent were male and 61 percent were under age 25. Alcohol use by the bike rider was a risk factor in 44 percent of the injuries in those under
the age of 19. Most of the injuries happened in the evening hours, when more cars are on the road and visibility is poor.
"No trauma centers call them accidents," Kelley said. "They're
predictable. You get a certain population mixing together in a
geographic location and it's going to happen. The oceanfront has the highest number of accidents because of the congestion, the traffic, tourists."
One of Kelley's missions as trauma services coordinator is injury
prevention. Her department has developed many programs on bike safety and injury prevention in general for schoolchildren which will be available to schools next fall. Kelley, a mother of three grown children, believes in the old adage of "monkey see, monkey do."
"Kids emulate their parents - if they see their parents wear a helmet, they'll wear
one," said Kelley.
"Ninety-eight percent of children wear helmets if the adults do and only 28 percent
wear them if adults don't."
The best way to encourage children to wear helmets is to start
them while they're young, Kelley said. The very first day a child
starts to ride, a helmet should be on that head.
"That way it's part of the deal," she said. "They won't question it as any different.
Kelley conceded that the city's new bicycle helmet law that starts
July 1 and requires helmets on riders 14 and under may be unpopular
with many people who don't want to be "legislated into safe behavior."
But given the proof, she said, it only makes sense to do something about
"These are preventable accidents," Kelley said. "When you
have the information, you need to use it. It's just common sense."
Sidebar: Bicycle Statistics
This information is from the Johns Hopkins Injury Prevention
- Each year in the United States, more than 900 cyclists are killed.
- Bicyclists hospitalized with head injuries are 20 times as
likely to die as those without.
- Bicycle death rates per 100,000 are highest at age 10 -14.
- Bicycle injury rates per million trips are highest at age 5-15.
- Fifty-six percent of fatally injured cyclists are 20 or
- Bicycle death rates per million trips are highest above 50.
- Head injuries in cyclists are noted in 65,000 emergency
room cases and 7,700 hospital admissions annually.
This page was updated or reformatted on: March 4, 2017.