Head’s up: Council readies bike helmet ordinance

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City Council is poised to pass an ordinance that requires children ages 14 and under to wear a bicycle helmet. (Or, depending on your choice of transportation, a “motorized skateboard” helmet.) During a meeting that packed City Hall with helmet-toting cyclists and other advocates for two-wheeled transportation, councilors agreed to take up the ordinance when they reconvene on June 6. The ordinance would level a $25 fine per violation, but would let first-time offenders off with a warning. The city is also looking into ways to obtain and distribute helmets.

Virginia granted local governing bodies the power to mandate helmet use until age 15 in 1993, but Charlottesville has not enforced the rule. Henrico resident J. Tyler Ballance, a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers and bike enthusiast, wrote to council and said that he did not want his kids to wear helmets. In his letter, Balance argued that there was insubstantial evidence to support that helmets increased cycling safety, but “there is a substantial amount of research that calls into question the efficacy of these helmets.”

“If safety were the real concern, then the Council might be mandating pedestrian helmets, or banning cars,” wrote Ballance.

However, council and citizens alike seemed relatively sure of the ordinance during last night’s meeting. Crozet resident Mac Lafferty—also a biker, as well as a member of the county Planning Commission and the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Board—said that bicycle accidents tend to result in more head injuries than football. (No small concern, given the attention to football-related concussions.) Peter Castiglione, a restaurant owner in Midtown, told council that he saw five cyclists knocked down by car doors during the last year.

“Most cities in Virginia already have this law, as does Albemarle County,” wrote councilor Kristin Szakos in response to Balance’s letter. “For me, it’s not that children are terribly likely to hit their heads while riding, but that the injuries can be so catastrophic if they do.”
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