It’s summertime and the living is easy. Warm weather means being outside, taking walks in the sunshine and glorious bike rides around the Valley. For many Valley kids, biking is not only for fun, it is the preferred method of travel – regardless of whether one is old enough for a driver’s license or not. A bicycle provides an almost foolproof way to get from point A, say home, to Point B, a friend’s house, work, the Plaza.
And you do see legions of Sonoma kids doing just that. Traversing the Valley on bikes, scooters and skateboards. So easy to get around is Sonoma that, in fact, our town has been designated a “Bicycle Friendly City” by the League of American Bicyclists.
So, what’s the beef? Well, helmets of course. Tell me the last time you saw a teen or tween wearing a helmet? And I don’t mean a helmet hung by its strap on the handlebars either. I mean a helmet perched conspicuously on the head of the bicycle rider.
A California state law passed in 1994 makes it mandatory for those under 18 years of age to don a helmet when bicycling. Another law passed in 2003 encompasses riders of scooters, skateboards and in-line skates as well.
A quick check with the Sonoma Police Department on the rule of thumb for offenders turned up a somewhat disappointing protocol. When spotted, non-helmet wearing youth are told to get off of their wheeled vehicles and walk them. They are given a verbal warning not to continue the practice. Both parties continue on their way and, one can only assume, the bike rider mounts said vehicle again – without helmet of course – and rides off into the sunset.
I realize that the logistics of citing youngsters are problematic. They’re generally not with a parent. They don’t carry ID. Some may not even own a helmet nor the resources to purchase one, thus negating the citation completely.
But the law was put into effect for a reason – to protect our children. Wearing a helmet can literally save a life. According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, young cyclists are more likely than adult cyclists to die of head injuries, most of which are caused by motor vehicle collisions. Among children and youth age zero to 19 in the year 2000, head injuries accounted for 62.6 percent of bicycle fatalities.
Why then, don’t we come together to protect them just a little bit more? The first outreach should come from parents who don’t let their children ride without head protection and set a good example themselves. Also, as a community, we can make a pledge to say a little something to kids seen riding without helmets. A simple sentence like, “Hey, where’s your helmet?” could bring forth a little consciousness and maybe even a little guilt causing a few kids to step up to the plate. The tipping point will be when wearing a helmet is seen as cool and not wearing one seems like suicide. If we get there, we’ve done our job as a community.
C’mon Sonoma…where’s your helmet?