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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

The Beacon
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 Park.

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 suspended.

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 Campaign: 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.

"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 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 is a good idea. I've seen a lot of bad accidents here."

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, Ceaser said.

"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 with Lysol.

"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 Rhode Island.

"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 real difference."

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 statistics.

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 percent."

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 it.

"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 Center.