Helmets? Of course

Opinion: Editorials

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If Oak Park is intent on being a bike-friendly town, it is only reasonable that it take steps to protect the youngest cyclists on our streets with a bike helmet law. 

Oak Park's village board was expected to take such a step at its meeting, Monday evening, with passage expected of a requirement that those under age 17 must wear a bike helmet while riding in Oak Park. The proposal before the board Monday was slightly different from a version considered last month, which held out the option of fining any youth found riding without a helmet. Based on concerns expressed by two board members, the revised ordinance eliminates the fine and replaces it with possible community service for the parent if they cannot provide proof they have acquired a helmet for their kid.

OK, it all seems a little screwy. The chances of a youngster getting a $25 ticket from a cop for not wearing a helmet are remote. The likelihood of a parent spending four hours doing community service because they didn't see to it that their kid's noggin was protected is also slight.

So why pass the law? Because it sets a fair expectation for parents and kids that the norm in Oak Park is for young people to wear a helmet. That allows public education campaigns to drive home the point. It allows police officers and other figures of authority to strongly remind kids that helmets are required. These steps have value. And raising the consciousness level of parents and kids to this communal expectation of public safety is worthwhile. 

But let's face it, the best way for a parent to teach a kid that helmets are reasonable and expected is for that parent to wear a helmet, too. Same way a parent automatically puts on a seat belt after making sure the kid is buckled, a parent needs to wear a bike helmet also. Parent brains can be as easily scrambled via contact with a curb as any little kids. 

Reader Comments

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Realist from Oak Park  

Posted: December 11th, 2013 3:51 PM

This will simply help reinforce the modern day thinking of the Big Brother state, that the police are here to protect you from yourself.

What most OPers think but don't say... from Oak Park  

Posted: December 11th, 2013 3:35 PM

This ordinance will make it easy for police to catch the kids who come here from surrounding towns to steal bikes...odds are a west side delinquent will not be wearing a helmet when he breaks into your garage & grabs your kid's bike...fish in a barrel for the OP PD.

Snake Plissken from Escape from LA  

Posted: December 6th, 2013 3:50 PM

Snake Plissken: Got a smoke?..... Malloy: The United States is a no-smoking nation. No smoking, no drinking, no drugs. No women - unless of course you're married. No guns, no foul language... no red meat....... Snake Plissken: [sarcastic]Land of the free.

DEVO from We are not men  

Posted: December 6th, 2013 3:47 PM

Freedom of choice Is what you got Freedom from choice Is what you want

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: December 6th, 2013 1:51 PM

Apparently, sarcasm is lost on some people...

Proponent of free will  

Posted: December 6th, 2013 1:24 PM

Obedient, who appointed you the food police? Sitting at McDonald's monitoring what other people's kids are eating? You scare me.


Posted: December 6th, 2013 12:57 PM

Parent, I think it depends where you're riding, how you're riding, who you're riding with, and how much of a risk you're willing to take as to whether a helmet is the right choice. That's why you see the backlash against this law is that it's an individual, complicated decision. What's right at 25mph alone on a road bike may not be the best option pulling a bike trailer with a hybrid in residential neighborhoods at 10 mph.

Obedient Citizen  

Posted: December 6th, 2013 11:45 AM

I am sickened when I see parents eating salads at McDonald's and kids with burgers and fries. I agree, harsher laws are necessary to protect ourselves from free will. Far more deaths from heart disease than biking.


Posted: December 6th, 2013 11:03 AM

I am always amazed when I see a family on bikes and the small children are wearing helmets but the parents are not. Kids look to parents as role models. If not wearing a helmet is what grown-ups do then that is what kids will want to do. So parents - please - get your helmets on!


Posted: December 6th, 2013 10:29 AM

Great blog post on Chicago Bicycle Advocate today criticizing the new law: http://www.mybikeadvocate.com/2013/12/oak-park-wrong-to-mandate-that-children.html


Posted: December 6th, 2013 10:28 AM

I was actually arguing for the opposite, Rusty. I'd been jokingly calling it the "unsupervised older minors" law since that seems to be who the target is. The under 12 crowd is probably more likely to be directly supervised...if the parent is there, they've given permission for the child to go without obviously. But I agree with the other post about cars and better bike lanes, for sure.

Rusty from Oak Park   

Posted: December 6th, 2013 10:15 AM

Bikes don't generally get into accidents spontaneously. Let's be honest, most bike accidents are the result of cars. The cars may not be at fault, but cars are the cause of the majority of bike accidents. Ensuring better bike lanes and enforcing speed limits on certain biking designated streets makes a lot more sense than enforcing helmet laws.

Rusty from Oak Park  

Posted: December 6th, 2013 10:12 AM

I think that not differentiating between little children and teenagers is really dumb. Everyone under the age of 12 sounds more sane to me. But are we really going to be ticketing teenagers for riding without a helmet? This is why Oak Park has the negative reputation that it does. If anything, this law will only lead to less teenagers biking in Oak Park which is a real shame.

OP Res 253 from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 5th, 2013 10:20 AM

Yes, Anne Baker, it seems multiple head injuries are a prerequisite to supporting such an inane ordinance.


Posted: December 5th, 2013 9:28 AM

More backward thinking and paternalism. Why don't we pass laws, implement policy, and build infrastructure that will encourage youth biking and make it safer? The saddest thing is that there is already plenty of data from other areas that show that helmet laws have no effect on head injuries while being strongly correlated with a reduction in ridership. Easy riding down the quiet side streets of Oak Park is NOT a dangerous activity. Shame on this fear-mongering and overreaching board.

Anne Jordan-Baker  

Posted: December 5th, 2013 9:10 AM

I couldn't be happier that this ordinance has been passed. I have had enough head injuries in my life to know how scary and painful they are. I am proud of our village for encouraging helmet use. Bravo!

Mimi Jordan from Oak Park  

Posted: December 4th, 2013 11:38 AM

I reiterate my objection to this ordinance: It is an unwise use of limited police resources, and being stopped by police will be scary for kids. Education for kids and parents, coupons for helmets at local bike shops, would be a more reasonable approach. Lueck said it's not "either/or". True, but when an officer can't get to an incident on time because he's writing a helmet ticket, I'll suggest she reconsider.


Posted: December 4th, 2013 11:33 AM

An idea was proposed by Trustee Salzman at the meeting that would have avoided using police, but it relied on bike registrations. My feeling is that if you're a kid riding without a helmet you're just having an unlucky day if an officer decides to take the time to stop and call your parents and give you a lecture on helmet use. And it takes 3 of those to trigger the fine/service option.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: December 4th, 2013 11:23 AM

But we won't stop drivers who blow through stop signs and lights at intersections - and these generate more revenue. On the other hand, it is a moving violation which requires the officer to show up in court, so that is probably the reason this isn't enforced. So who is going to stop a kid and give him a citation for not wearing a helmet?

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: December 4th, 2013 10:42 AM

It is not the helmets. The question is who will enforce the ordinance, or the the educating. Having worked I SEARCH safety classes in the schools in a safe class room setting w/three instructors per class, I had a 2nd grader reach up under my blouse coat from behind and grab at my duty weapon.Since the Heallth Dept is in the field doing inspections, they should go to school assemblies, block parties and Farmers Market and make their own presentations and suffer the blank stare and challenges

OP Res 253 from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 4th, 2013 10:12 AM

A balanced diet, with very limited "junk" and lots of green, whole and local goodness is so good for kids. More children are presenting with grown-up, obesity driven illness like diabetes than are banging their heads on the road. So Oak Park should pass a law that a child observed consuming unhealthy food can be fined. And a parent who can't prove provision of healthy alternatives sentenced to service. Of course they should model broccoli eating, but we as a people must step in for the kids!

Eddie Pont from Oak Park  

Posted: December 4th, 2013 10:03 AM

Actually, similar laws in other states have dramatically increased bike helmet use and decreased serious injury to children and adolescents. Nothing "screwy" about that.

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