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The actual effect of these laws has been to convince the public that the streets are too dangerous for children to ride bikes on, period. Since most adults in America also ride like children, this also convinces adults that the roads are not safe for them. Net result? People just stop riding bikes.

I never wore a helmet, and I still don't. I went a everywhere on a bike when I was a little kid, to school and friends' houses, through elementry school, and middle school, highschool, college, and now to work. Keep in mind I was riding thought Baltimore City as a kid, which is not the best area, but people are more careful around children. You don't believe me? Well, it's true.

Anyway, beinng over-protective with children is the best way to screw them up.

Try to see it from the kid's eyes, dad forcing you to wear a foam helmet on you head. Something stinks about that, like they don't trust you. I wouldn't be the confident, risk-taking, self-sufficent person that I am today, if my parents hadn't trusted me and allowed me to make my own mistakes.

I think children are only inept and dependent as you let them be.

Sadly, these days Americans are filled with irrational fears about of a lot of things.

The best way to teach kids is to lead by example. If you really believe in helmets, then start wearing one in the car when you drive your kid around. Because, cars are way more dangerous for your head than bikes are, statistically.

If you don't wear the helmet in the car, the kid will think bikes are more dangerous than cars, which of course isn't true. Are you teaching the kid to think logically, for his self, and leading by example, or are you simply filling them with irrational fear?

The easiest way to get a kid to wear a helmet (as my dad did to me) is the cantaloupe test. Buy 2 melons, put one in a bike helmet leave the other bare....drop both melons from 6 feet. Point out that that is about the same as a fall off a bike....make the kid clean up the busted melon...take the other cantaloupe out of the helmet and cut it open to serve.

It makes quite the impression on a 6 year old and gets them wearing helmets for life.

While I agree that "I think children are only inept and dependent as you let them be." the last thing I want is to be taking care of a vegetable of a kid who didnt wear his helmet and now has signifigant brain damage. If you are willing to spend $80 bucks for a lock for your bike, but not willing to buy a helmet and use it, are you saying your bike is worth more than your brain?

Charming demonstration, I'm sure, but melons don't have motor skills, skulls, recourse to brakes, the ability to tuck in a slow-speed tumble, the capacity to judge situations and act accordingly, or any of the other things that mitigate or prevent accidents.

Load that unhelmeted melon into a backpack, take it for a ride (with or without a helmet on your head--your choice), and, even though I don't know you, I'm betting the melon comes back wholly intact, without so much as a bruise, and perfectly edible.

Having said that, I'm not sure where I stand on the issue of children and helmets. Personally, I see no harm in kids wearing helmets until they're old enough to make their own decisions on the issue. Because they lack the capacity to make that decision completely on their own (melon demonstration notwithstanding), it's probably better to err on the safe side. Mandating helmet use by law, on the other hand, worries me, since it presumes the State or other governing body knows what's best for your child and hints at the possibility that, while your body may be sophisticated enough to produce a child, your mind isn't sophisticated enough to properly care for it.

Let the ripostes rip...

BTW, making the kid clean up the busted melon detritus is no way to go about teaching personal responsibility, ha!

Although I am pro-helmet, I am anti-mandatory-helmet laws and especially against fining scofflaw children or their parents. If parents want their kids to wear helmets, they should lead by example.

When I was doing traffic counts on the Crescent Trail in Bethesda, the only age group that consistently did not wear helmets was teenagers. Kids younger than that mostly did, and adults older than that (especially more "serious" bikers such as commuters) almost always did. So whatever we are doing now to encourage helmet usage works pretty well. [Oh, wait--I think there is a law that minors in Maryland have to wear a helmet--IF they are riding on the road. This is a little cockeyed, considering asphalt trail pavement and sidewalks are as hard as asphalt road pavement. People seem to think that helmets exude some sort of force field that repels motor vehicles. Car crashes are NOT the main source of injury to bikers. Bikers fall off their bikes for any number of reasons, but being hit by a car isn't the most common one.]

Sorry for the digression. I think kids can be encouraged to wear helmets if their parents care about it. I'm not sure anything can be done about teenagers. As soon as they get out of sight of the house, they take off their helmet and hang it on the handlebars.

I know I shouldn't bite, and this is a pretty pointless argument, like arguing over whether kids should eat right, but... Lee, are you really blaming HELMETS for making parents afraid of putting their kids on bikes? I'd say cars and general fear of everything has a lot more to do with it. Are you really calling helmets for kids overprotective? They're tremendously important when you bump your bare head on bare pavement, which is a simple, almost trivial accident with a helmet. It can happen on a path or in a driveway, especially with kids. But it can cause a life-changing head injury without a helmet. Parents are afraid of letting their kids ride in the street because of cars, but most parents aren't afraid of letting their kids ride elsewhere. Helmets have a lot to do with that... they make parents less afraid, not more. For kids, the helmet drill teaches responsibility and hardly makes them run around afraid of everything. Sure, don't require adults to wear helmets. But we need to protect kids from parents who rationalize away the importance of helmets.

I am not the same Lee Watkins as above, I'm his father. I'm not sure whether I made Lee wear a helmet as a kid ... probably not (it was the 1980's, I was younger and stupider), but I know that I made his little brother wear one, who was so accident-prone that he may not have survived childhood if I hadn't! Yet now they're both confident, self-sufficient and most definitely risk-taking adults.

But the point I'd like to make here is that I used to think that motorcycle helmets shouldn't be mandatory, even though I wore one, until I had a 20MPH accident that put me in the hospital for 17 days and that would have killed me outright if I hadn't been wearing a helmet. There is paranoia (like not letting your kids play freely in the neighborhood because they might get snatched by a pedophile - unless one lives next door, the odds are vanishingly small), and then there is actual risk. Having your kids wear a helmet falls into the latter category: the risk is real, kids fall off bikes a lot, and a simple fall can easily lead to serious injury.

So making kids wear helmets is a wise choice, just like parents putting their little kids in car safety seats (and requiring that adults wear seatbelts in cars, rather than helmets) - it does save lives and prevent injury. Here where I live in Maryland (Anne Arundel County), youth bike helmets has been the law for several years. Judging from the hundreds of people -- adults and children alike -- who ride down my street and behind my house on the B&A Bike Trail every day, they haven't yet stopped riding bikes due to fear inspired by helmet laws.

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