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Use Your Head and Avoid Serious Injury : State’s Bike Helmet Law Aimed at Those 17 and Younger Has Proven to Be Effective

The state’s bicycle helmet law, in effect for a year, already has seemed to get encouraging results in Orange County.

The law went into effect last January and prohibits a person younger than 18 from operating a bicycle, or riding one as a passenger on public streets, bikeways and trails without protective devices.

One favorable report comes from Dr. Gary Goodman, co-director of pediatric intensive care at Children’s Hospital at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo. He notes from anecdotal evidence that most youngsters who get admitted to the hospital and who were not wearing helmets have sustained more serious injuries than those who wore them.

Youngsters appear to be getting the message. The California Highway Patrol says that more children wore helmets in 1994 than during the previous year, and the number of deaths and injuries had declined as well.

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Authorities say they are reluctant after one year to make a direct connection between a decrease in deaths and injuries to the wearing of helmets, but doctors report they are seeing children wearing helmets come into emergency rooms with less-serious injuries. The Children’s Advocacy Institute says a helmet can reduce severe head injuries by 85%.

Credit the effort by schools and local law enforcement agencies to educate students on bicycle safety. Also, Children’s Hospital of Orange County has provided a program teaching the rules of the road. Another program targets older children on safety and standards. School principals have been working with Children’s Hospital to get helmets to children who cannot afford them.

In the five-year period between 1989 and 1993, 92% of the deaths and 93% of the injuries suffered by bicyclists were to those not wearing helmets. While we await more data, the suggestions of safety experts should be heeded.

Also, youngsters should get helmets that fit properly and that meet the Snell Memorial Foundation or American National Standards Institute performance standards, which will be identified by a sticker on the inside of the helmet.

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This year, fines can be levied for a failure to wear helmets, with discretion of up to $25. But bicycle riding should be fun, and not about punishment. If people follow the law, they can avoid fines and stay well. The idea is to help young people avoid serious head injuries, and live to ride another day.


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