Most Motorcyclists Abide by Helmet Law, Authorities Say

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Only a handful of bare-headed motorcyclists on Orange County roads have flouted the new helmet law since it went into effect on New Year's Day, authorities said Thursday.

"Most everybody seems to be abiding by the law," Anaheim Police Sgt. Harold Parkinson said. Motorcyclists "have known about it for a long time, so we have only written four or five citations," Parkinson said.

Under the law signed last May by Gov. Pete Wilson, riders of motorcycles, mopeds and motorbikes caught without helmets will be fined $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second and $250 thereafter. The helmets must be approved by the state Department of Transportation, and bear the DOT sticker.

While some law enforcement agencies are allowing a grace period for riders to comply, most began enforcement on Jan. 1. And so far, officials say, they have seen nearly total compliance, which will mean fewer deaths.

"Absolutely, there is no question that this law will save lives," said Parkinson, an accident investigator. "When you walk up on someone who impacted the curb at 45 m.p.h. . . . it makes you a firm believer" in the helmet law.

Newport Beach Police Sgt. Andy Gonis said his department is not allowing a grace period because immediate enforcement may save lives.

"The citation is the only way to educate them," Gonis said of the community's beach crowd, where he estimates that bare-headed motorcyclists are barely outnumbered by those with helmets.

"I wouldn't wear a helmet if I didn't have to," said Kit Clark, who buys and sells used Harley-Davidson motorcycles at American Motor Exchange in Anaheim. But he said he will start wearing one now.

Despite the apparent safety benefits, some riders said the helmet law deals a serious blow to their fun.

"When you have a full face shield . . . you might as well drive a car," said Cook's Corner bartender Tony Castanza. He said that in 36 years of riding, he has worn a helmet only on rain-slicked highways.

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