Youth bike helmet proposal pedals forward in Oak Park

Village president, Trustee Barber against ordinance

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

The wheels turned at a recent village board meeting on a longtime youth bicycle helmet issue that was parked years ago by Oak Park's Board of Health.

On Nov. 18, a majority of the village board informally supported a law requiring anyone under 17 to wear a helmet while biking around town. But Village President Anan Abu-Taleb and Trustee Peter Barber think the law is problematic.

Some of the details, however, were hashed out by supporting trustees, including questions about how police would enforce the measure and how to avoid fining offenders. While those who supported the law argued it was good for Oak Park's youth, Abu-Taleb and Barber still spoke out strongly against it.

"It's completely unnecessary and it's a drain of police resources that we really don't need," said Barber, who attended the meeting via telephone. "I would like to get rid of this. We are moving in an absolutely wrong direction of where we want to go in the village."

Barber suggested the law is not only unenforceable but said it impinges on the role of parents.

He's spoken against the proposal since it first came to the board last month. Barber thinks there are ways to educate kids without relying on a specific penalty for not wearing a helmet.

Trustee Adam Salzman was initially skeptical of the language in the draft law that stated any violator could be punished by a fine up to $25. Last month's discussion focused on enforcement through education, not fines. Other trustees agreed the law should not be punitive.

In Cook County there are at least six towns that have bicycle helmet ordinances, typically for kids under 16, including River Forest. Although Oak Park's neighbor has the law on the books, police don't hand out tickets to offenders; rather, officers are encouraged to hand out "tickets" for items like free ice cream for those actually wearing helmets.

Oak Park hired the Active Transportation Alliance in 2008 to develop a 10-year plan to turn Oak Park into a more bicycle-friendly community. This ordinance proposal, along with plans that call for more bike lanes, shared-road line markings and additional signage for bikers, may be part of a more comprehensive biking plan for the village.

Village Attorney Paul Stephanides said Oak Park's code requires some sort of fine be tied to a law like this, but said he could research the possibility of having the fine replaced with community service. Trustee Bob Tucker, who supported the measure, jumped in to say there is still room to tweak details before the board passes it.

Abu-Taleb said the ordinance has not been fully vetted and asked for a more thoughtful review. He suggested education over punishment and said police are needed for more pressing matters than enforcing bike helmet laws.

Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley said the law would not be the department's top priority, and added he hopes the measure is only passed as a way to educate youth and start a relationship with kids, not create a negative interaction.

"I'm totally against the issuance of a fine," he said. "It's going against what we are trying to do. A fine creates a negative experience. We want a positive experience."

The law as written allows for an educational component and a warning before a fine or community service is enforced.

In June, the Oak Park Board of Health threw its support behind the measure and health board member Dr. Ravi Grivois-Shah gave the initial presentation to the village board in October. He spoke Monday and last month about the dangers of head injuries connected to bicycle accidents in which riders aren't wearing helmets.  

In his initial presentation last month, Grivois-Shaw included some statistics he said the board should keep in mind as it evaluates the proposal.

"The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that injuries while riding a bicycle lead to 500,000 ER visits, 52,000 serious injuries and over 700 deaths annually, nationwide," he reported.

"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, head injuries cause 70 percent of fatal bike accidents, and 90 percent of those deaths are among cyclists not wearing a helmet."

He said the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration calls helmets the single most effective way to reduce head injuries and fatalities resulting from bicycle crashes.

Outside of the safety issue, at last week's meeting Barber questioned the validity of having a law that he doesn't think can be enforced. Kids without ID can lie about their age, and kids from other towns likely won't know about the law at all.

While he agrees parents and kids should be educated about wearing bike helmets, Barber said the ordinance was "making a mountain out of a molehill."

Stephanides and village staff will work through the text of the draft ordinance and bring it back to the village board for a vote.

No date has been announced for that vote.

Email: Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

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Dale Jones from River Forest  

Posted: November 26th, 2013 2:03 PM

If the goal is truly safety, it would be better served by having the police enforce existing traffic laws rather than creating new ordinances that will be ignored. Police have told me that they don't have the time to write tickets to cyclists for traffic infractions. The kids see adults ignoring the law, so they do as well. The only reason we haven't had more cyclist deaths and injuries is that drivers correctly assume 95+% of cyclists will ignore basic traffic rules.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park from Oak Park  

Posted: November 25th, 2013 6:46 PM

That's a reasonable observation and seems to resonate with some in the community and members of the board. The Village Attorney is working on a draft ordinance that may adddress the concerns that it makes "a mountain out of a molehill" or is too far reaching. The point is that there needs to be a thoughtful discussion regarding this issue and misguided jabs at people who are not involved in the decision making process serve only to distract.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: November 25th, 2013 4:15 PM

The proposal in itself is over reaching, not well thought out.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 25th, 2013 3:57 PM

The proposal was presented to the trustees by the Oak Park Board of Health. The members serve only in an advisory capacity. It is unfair to claim that their proposal was not related to public safety and instead is an attempt to intimidate. Any issue with the duties and responsibilities of department personnel should be directed to the Village Manager.

Jim from South Oak Park  

Posted: November 25th, 2013 3:25 PM

If the Health Dept. cares, let THEM focus on education. Work with D97. Show up at Farmer's Market, other events. This proposal is intimidation, not education. The Health Dept. doesn't even have the guts to do the intimidation itself; let the cops catch the crap. Will we have six-year-old, "two-time offenders"? If a 15-yr-old "mouths off" to a cop, is that obstruction of justice? (If the kid is from Chicago, tho, we just let him off; only intimidate OP kids.) This law is for bureaucrats, not kids

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: November 25th, 2013 2:39 PM

Still haven't had any Scotch. Tanksley says he will not give this law top priority. Then who will? the street dept? The Health Dept. will not spend one minute of their time coming in contact with the children they want to protect. Why?Certainly sounds like the law is empty to me.Health wont show up at Farmers Market or the schools to meet w/ the kids..Why?

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 25th, 2013 1:54 PM

Regardless of the amount of Chivas Regal you consume and when you chose to do so; there's something muddling your thought process. Directing that "cheap shot" at the Oak Park Health department for not getting "out from their desks and into the field" indicates a lack of knowledge about the important work department staff is required to perfrom. They are certainly looking out for "the safety of our children" when they inspect local day centers and restaurants, provide case management for infants of low income families and administer rat abatement programs. The health board member who spoke to the trustees are requiring bike helmet be worn by children shared real concerns about child safety. You may chose to disagree with his position and express an differing view on the matter but instead decided to single out a group of dedicated Village employees. That's my objection.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: November 25th, 2013 10:26 AM

I posted I drink scotch, not when. Completely sober. I am thankful for the senior citizens who volunteer write handicapped citations. The seniors aren't hired they volunteer, which is another job the village doesn't have to do. The Health Department should take the example of the senior volunteers and go out into the field and lend a hand to the program that they started. After all, this is for the children

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 25th, 2013 10:11 AM

Brian, could be you are letting your drinkin' do your thinkin'. The Oak Park Health Department has nothing to do with the hiring and supervision of parking enforcement personnel. Better to learn more about the responsiblities and duties of the department's staff than to go off on them without the facts. Your objection to having capable and conscienitious senior citizens issuing citations for handicapped parking violations is petty.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 25th, 2013 7:17 AM

This is really interesting. I have heard over and over "it's for the children". When someone else is paying it is a good thing. When parents are required to pay it is not so good. Guess we should change the slogan to "it's for the parents".

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: November 25th, 2013 12:36 AM

I wouldn't know a cheap shot. I drink Scotch, Chivas Regal.. Meant every word of it. We have senior citizens writing handicapped parking citations. Why cant the health department come out and meet the children they are trying to protect.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 24th, 2013 4:52 PM

Cheap shot, Brian.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: November 23rd, 2013 6:19 PM

Second that..Get the Health Dept. out from their desks and a/c and into the field for the safety of our children. For goodness sakes, this is for the children.

Law to Criminalize Your Kid's Bike Ride  

Posted: November 23rd, 2013 3:47 PM

Is the goal education? I doubt cops are best for that. Traffic stops are tense today: One cop in a SWAT suit/vest, another at the rear bumper, hand near his holster. So, do cops change uniforms and attitude for a 9 yr old down the street? If the kid turns out to be a 14-yr old bike thief and flees? Can cops pursue? Let the gung ho Board of Health find a way to teach; it builds content and works with D97 where the goal is education. Otherwise, this law simply criminalizes a kids bike ride.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: November 23rd, 2013 12:43 PM

The BOH says that this ordinance is important because data showed,in other communities,an increase in helmet use when applied to the largest demographic failing 2 wear them. That group R those under the age of 17.My ? is:Do we have any stats,specifically for OP, re: helmet use? Do we know how many "offenders" R out there that we R trying to protect from themselves?Relevant data seems 2 B missing from this conversation,and this seems 2 B about feel good platitudes that fall short on practicality.

Mimi Jordan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 23rd, 2013 9:35 AM

Whether a fine or a lecture, I don't think it will be a positive experience for kids to be stopped by the police. It will be scary and stressful. Do not pass this law. Have the Health Dept offer bike safety seminars to parents instead.

Adult Bike Rider from Oak Park  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 5:21 PM

I would like to mention that District 97 is still resistant to the idea of installing bike racks at every K-5 school. The racks are needed by bike-riding adults who work at the schools and need a place to park their bikes.! Cars have places to part, but no place for bicycles. If Oak Park wants to be "bike friendly", this needs to change!

Helmet Advocate, just educate! from from Oak Park   

Posted: November 21st, 2013 2:04 PM

If you were at the original presentation of this silly ordinance you will see that most of the board ignored the Oak Park Police chief that tries to talk them out of this! This issue seems to be decided upon before it was presented. Look at local stats not national accident stats! One board member said he wants this so that he can tell his kids it's the law, they have to wear one! I say be a parent, not a prosecutor! What else has the Health dept done to advocate safe cycling, beyond this?


Posted: November 21st, 2013 1:19 PM

OP has way too much government. Completely unnecessary and a parental issue.


Posted: November 21st, 2013 12:31 PM

the drain on police resources is officers who would otherwise be available for service "downing" his car to speak to children about bike safety. If the officer from Beat A is talking to kids about bike helmets and a robbery occurs in Beat A you can bet your butt his response may be slower and someone else will probably leave their beat to compensate for his delay because he was parenting the village's kids...when no crime was committed. Time is one of our most valued commodities in this field.


Posted: November 21st, 2013 12:25 PM

RF from OP, you want data? You'll never get that. As a police officer myself I can tell you from my experience that you feel like an idiot when something big happens and you are too far away or are busy doing something else that seems like a waste of time to respond to the serious incident. Far too many people are satisfied with data as if data actually is infallible. The most important thing I learned in stats is that you can make numbers represent whatever you want them to.


Posted: November 21st, 2013 12:03 PM

Helmet, I've been against this from the beginning. Still am. That said, the village board has been very receptive to improving some of the language in the ordinance. We'll see what is in the next draft. This isn't going to be a police priority and if a child is stopped they will have to be a multiple no-helmet offender to risk community service...which I'm suggesting be bike-oriented. IF the trustees are going to move forward, it could be worse. I think we can find middle ground.

Another Great Idea from Oak Park  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 11:50 AM

How about as an additional revenue stream, force kids to license their bike helmet as well, with $50 annual permits. $100 fine for any scofflaws with unlicensed helmets.

RF from OP  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 10:24 AM

"drain of police resources"? I would like to see data to support this. my impression is they have plenty of time to sit in their cars doing nothing; or harassing teens out of boredom

Helmet advocate but not a Crime from Oak Park   

Posted: November 21st, 2013 9:20 AM

So you have the health department saying that the main objective is to educate! You have the chief of police saying "no fine" and this is not the way to educated students. You have many neighboring communities that have stopped enforcing this law, but you still continue to push fines? Educated, and reinforce, don't criminalize this! This law will only lead to less students biking! And then you can safely drive them all over Oak Park!

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