Yet Another Helmet Law?
Let's Skip It
(Originally appeared on the Op-Ed Page of the Daily News, Jan. 10, 2001)
See if you can guess my choice for vehicle of
the year. It's an environmentalist's dream,
completely nonpolluting and practically
inaudible. It's small and nimble, perfect for
traffic-clogged cities and suburbs.
Yes, it's slow, with a top speed below 10 mph,
and it carries only one person - the driver. But
because it's so slow and small, it's harmless. At
$99 or under, it's dirt-cheap. And it's fun!
Sound too good to be true? A lot of people seem
to think so. Dozens of states and cities -
including New York City - have laws in the works
that would keep people away from such vehicles.
As you've probably guessed, my vehicle of the
year is the folding push-scooter. Push-scooters
have sold like wildfire - several million in
their first year. But here comes the crackdown,
under the dubious guise of safety. With so many
scooters in use, there were bound to be some
injuries. In September, federal safety officials
totaled the sprains and fractures and issued an
advisory. The media snapped it up. Then, a week
later, a car ran over a 6-year-old on a scooter
in Elizabeth, N.J.
So a half-dozen burgs in the Northeast, including
Elizabeth, have banned scooting unless the child
wears a helmet. And tomorrow, the New York City
Council's Health Committee will hold a hearing on
a bill to require helmets for scooter riders 14
No one is questioning whether this is really in
the kids' interest. In fact, it's not. Helmets
won't save scooter kids. That would require doing
something about cars - slowing them down, for
example, and making drivers observe kids' and
other pedestrians' right of way.
The boy in Elizabeth was one of the thousand or
so children killed by cars in U.S. residential
neighborhoods each year, including 15 to 20 in
New York City. Typically in these cases, the body
is crushed or the impact to the head is too
severe for a helmet to help. A helmet wouldn't
have saved the boy in Elizabeth, the police
officer at the scene said.
Fortunately, scooting is done mostly on
sidewalks, in schoolyards and in parks where
motor vehicles aren't permitted. In those
settings, serious head injuries are extremely
rare. Once a kid has mastered it, scooting isn't
much more hazardous than running or even walking.
If scooters require helmets, then so does an
afternoon at the playground.
With a helmet law, scooting would be a lot less
natural, simple and convenient.
Scooters aren't a problem, they're a solution. We
should be encouraging, not stifling them.
Scooting is good for kids, and not just athletic
ones. Almost any child can scoot and feel cool
doing it. It doesn't take special equipment or
facilities - although wider sidewalks would be
Kids have little independent mobility as it is,
and childhood obesity reportedly is reaching
epidemic proportions. Scooting is a simple and
inexpensive way for kids to get the exercise and
regain the autonomy that previous generations
enjoyed as their birthright. If we really want to
make kids safer, we'll curb adult behavior that
endangers them - aggressive or oblivious driving,
But somehow, that's not in the legislation. We'd
rather make the kids pay the price for adult
privilege. And spend their childhood in perfect
safety, in front of the TV, pining for the keys
to the car.
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