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 5 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.