Northeast Tarrant

June 8, 2014

North Richland Hills eyes bike, skateboard helmet mandate

Some council members question whether it’s government overreach.

An ordinance requiring children to wear helmets for skateboarding, rollerblading or cycling was taken up by the City Council, and some members suggested that it would represent government overreach.

No vote was taken at the workshop.

The city’s Youth Advisory Committee proposed such an ordinance to keep children safe and reduce injuries. Committee members cited statistics from Helmets on Heads, a project launched by the Schwinn bicycle maker, that showed that 677 cyclists were killed in 2011 nationwide in accidents with motor vehicles and 48,000 were injured. About 16 percent of those injured were 14 or younger. And 2009 statistics showed that 90 percent of bicyclists killed were not wearing helmets.

The committee, composed of local high school students, successfully lobbied last year for a stricter smoking ordinance that forbids smoking in most public buildings, including inside restaurants, stores, offices and healthcare centers. Smoking is allowed in bars and private clubs and on outdoor dining patios.

The helmet proposal would require that children up to age 14 wear helmets for riding bicycles, skateboards, scooters or inline skates. Parents would be fined $50 to $100 after the first offense. Fines would go to a fund to buy helmets for families that cannot afford them.

“Why does North Richland Hills need a helmet ordinance?” asked committee member Mason Chaney, a Richland High School senior. “Well, for the safety and well-being of children. To decrease the injury rate and therefore, healthcare costs. And to keep in line with some neighboring cities.”

Some council members balked.

“Why do you think the city ought to be the parent?” Mayor Oscar Trevino asked.

Councilman Scott Turnage asked, “What about some people who say that we want to govern everything in their lives?”

Committee Chairwoman Rebecca Cooper responded that the ordinance may reinforce to some parents the importance of helmets.

Councilwoman Rita Wright Oujesky said some parents do not think about or care about the issue.

“Some people just don’t know what’s good for them,” Oujesky said.

Trevino suggested options such as an education campaign about helmets or limiting the helmet requirement to city parks. Trevino said he wears a helmet when he rides his bike. He leads a monthly 10-mile bike ride around the city. He suggested the committee try another approach.

Cooper, a Richland High School senior, said she expects the committee to pursue an educational campaign in elementary and middle schools. But she will have to leave the task to others. She plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin this fall.

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