Many Hawaii kids breaking the law when riding bikes

 UPDATED 9:57 PM HST May 10, 2013
Kids on Bikes_No Helmets
HONOLULU -

May is Bike Month and part of the effort is to get more kids to ride their bikes to and from school.  But, if your child is under the age of 16, he or she is breaking the law if they ride their bicycles without wearing a helmet.

"For the most part, I don't think it's put out there as much as it should be," Carl Brooks, manager of BIKEFACTORY, said of the law. "But most parents are happy to hear about it, because what parent doesn't want to protect their child?"

However, the Hawaii Bicycling League is concerned the law has become a paper tiger. Executive director Chad Taniguchi wishes police would actually cite violators so that young cyclists can be better protected. After all, it's been said that any law is only as good as the enforcement that backs it up.

"If the helmet law is not enforced, then people are not going to do the action that they're supposed to do," said Taniguchi. "They're not going to wear helmets."

According to statistics kept by HBL, of the last 22 cycling fatalities in Hawaii, only two riders were wearing helmets. That's why Taniguchi remains somewhat frustrated whenever he sees children under the age of 16 not wearing helmets, riding their bicycles past police officers.

"If a few of them get tickets, the word will spread that you're going to get ticketed, and then they'll start wearing helmets," said Taniguchi. "HPD should feel good that they're setting the example of what the right behavior is, and they're basically going to save people's lives."  

The bicycle helmet law was passed by the state Legislature in 2000 as Act 255, and became effective on Jan. 1, 2001. But in 2012, Honolulu police issued a total of two citations, which  include a fine up to $25.

"Bicycle helmets reduce injuries and save lives, so we hope that parents will voluntarily comply with the law for their children's sake," HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said in a statement.  "While officers have the discretion to warn or cite, our main concern is the children's safety."

When approached by KITV4, many parents were unaware about Hawaii's bicycle helmet law. When asked about its existence, Marc Imamura of Honolulu said he had no idea, but that he would soon be purchasing a helmet for his 9-year-old son Elvis.

"Now that I know it's also a law, it's the right thing to do," said Imamura. "I was just being lazy. I knew he needed one, but a lot of other kids don't have it, so I didn't think it was a big deal."

According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, using a helmet reduces the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent, and the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent. Taniguchi said he suffered a close call several years ago when he hit a branch while peddling his bike along the Pali Highway.

"I landed on my head, so the left side of my helmet was totally scratched off, and I had no other bad injury from that," he said. "My helmet was badly damaged and I replaced it, but I had my head. If I hadn't, I would probably be a traumatic head injury victim right now."

However, getting a child into his or her teen years to wear a traditional bicycle helmet may be asking too much. After all, what kid wants to be seen in something that makes you look like an egghead?

"It's not a hard sell for the parent," said Brooks, "it's a hard sell for the kid because most kids don't want to wear helmets."  

Brooks says that's where less traditional-looking bicycle helmets come into play. Head gear designed in the fashion of skateboard helmets are more readily accepted by boys and girls in their teenage years.

"They want to look cool more than anything else," said Brooks. "They're more likely to wear it if they like it, so whatever they like, let them wear it if it protects their head."

The price for a traditional bicycle helmet starts at about $30, while a skateboard style helmet starts at about $45 to $50.

The Hawaii Bicycling League sells bicycle helmets to children for just $15, and gives them away to anyone who participates in one of the organization's bike rodeos. To visit their web site, go to www.HBL.org.

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