Chau Nguyen

Proposed legislation may put a price on the heads of Ohio’s cyclists caught without helmets.

State Representative Michael Skindell (D-Lakewood), who sponsored companion legislation to state Senator Tom Roberts’ (D-Trotwood) bill, gave sponsor testimony Jan. 9 before a committee from the Ohio House of Representatives regarding the legislation.

“It is a very important as far as public safety,” said Sarah Harrigan, legislative aid for Skindell. “Bicycles produce the most injury out of any consumer product besides automobiles. In addition to that, the injuries are also quite severe and can also come at quite a high cost for tax payers when those injured become incapacitated.”

If passed, the bill would require bicycle operators or passengers under the age of 17 to wear helmets on roadways, making Ohio among the 20 other states and the District of Columbia that have similar helmet laws.

“The figures have been there, but there has been a rise in children not wearing proper safety equipment and people getting hurt from it,” said Damien Hardy, legislative aide for Roberts.

Although the proposed legislation is designed to protect minors, Principal Vicki Brunn of Talawanda High School said the legislation would not have much impact on Oxford students.

“We’re a large district as far as land mass,” Brunn said. “We have a bike rack and it’s usually full so we probably have 15 or so students who ride their bikes, but most of the kids ride the bus or drive to school.”

Regardless, Brunn believes the choice to enforce helmet safety lies with the parents, not the state.

“If parents want their kids to be safe riding bikes, it should be the parent’s responsibility to make sure their kids wear a helmet, not the government’s,” she said.

If the law is passed, only warnings will be issued for violations during the first year. Following that, parents or guardians of minors caught without helmets would face a $25 fine.

According to Harrigan, money from fines will go to the Bicycle Safety Fund, through the Department of Public Safety, which would provide means for low-income families to purchase helmets.

“The goal isn’t to punish people,” Harrigan said. “It is to encourage safety. The fine can be repealed in court if you can prove if a helmet has been purchased for the child.”

Oxford Mayor Prue Dana, a local advocate of bicycle use, also mentioned the benefits of using a helmet and is in favor of the bill. Dana recalled a woman she saw at the Reflecting Pool in Washington D.C. who cracked her helmet after cycling into a low tree limb.

“I think (the legislation is) a good idea,” she said. “There are a lot of bike accidents, not necessarily from traffic, but from hitting a stone or putting on the break where you shouldn’t have or if you flip over the handlebars. Wearing a helmet is the best possible thing.”

Dana also said individuals should develop a habit of wearing a helmet similar to the habit of wearing a seat belt in a vehicle.

According to Harrigan, Skindell expressed interest in proposing similar legislation in the House, a method used to expedite the approval process by introducing legislation in both chambers.

Skindell has had first-hand experience with the importance of helmet safety.

An avid bicyclist, last August Skindell was struck by a car during a 12-mile bike ride, hitting his head on the car before hitting the pavement.

“He was told that if it wasn’t for his helmet, it would have been catastrophic, if not fatal,” Harrigan said.

According to Harrigan, the legislation is currently being reviewed by the infrastructure committee and will then move to proponent, opponent and interested party testimony before moving to the floor for a vote.

“Should the chair of the committee decide to move this bill forward, it is completely up to the chair’s discretion regarding when it will be voted upon,” Harrigan said. “It will most likely have four more hearings before it would be considered on the floor of the House.”