Bike safety advocate holds high hopes for helmets


It's only been about three years since safety helmets for bicyclists became fashionable, and bike safety advocates like Jim Wayne are hoping everyone will eventually hop on the bandwagon.

Helmets are gaining popularity as more people have become aware of the dangers of bicycling without protective gear, said Mr. Wayne, who tours the state promoting bike safety and who spoke yesterday at a program sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

"Some kids used to feel like others would make fun of them if they wore helmets," said Mr. Wayne, a cycling enthusiast and manager of a Princeton Sports store in Baltimore. "But times are changing and more people are using it."

"Wearing helmets is important for safety," he said. "I think that the more people use it, the less people there will be who are afraid to try it."

Two Maryland counties -- Howard and Montgomery -- now require youngsters to wear helmets when riding their bikes on local roads.

At yesterday's program, children from ages 6 to 12 -- all patients at the Hopkins center -- listened intently as Mr. Wayne explained how to choose a bike and safety equipment. "I learned that you have to wear helmets and use reflectors when you ride your bike," said 9-year-old Jason Clark of Baltimore. "I ride most every day and wear safety equipment, too."

More than 1,000 people -- half of them children -- are killed in the United States every year in bicycle accidents and 90 percent of the deaths are due to head injuries, according to the Bicycle Safety Institute.

Accident-injury specialists believe the use of helmets could prevent about 85 percent of those fatalities.

"I don't think a lot of parents know about bike [safety] rules," said Mr. Wayne. "I've heard a lot of kids say, 'My mom said she didn't wear a helmet when she was my age, why should I wear one now?' "

"That's why I've been going around to schools, Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops since 1972, lecturing about how to use a bike safely," Mr. Wayne said.

Price may also be a reason that many people do not use helmets. A good helmet, meeting the standards of such safety organizations as ANSI or the SNELL Memorial Foundation, can cost more than $30.

"I can't afford them," said Bonnie Reynolds as she watched the program with her 7-year-old daughter, Kate. "They're just too expensive, especially since I'd have to buy it in triples for all of my children. I do think they're valuable, though."

Mr. Wayne agreed that prices are a problem, but said that there are some programs that include a helmet with every bike sold or offer coupons to ease high costs.

"It's a thing a lot of bike companies are getting involved in," he said. "If we can help save one person from being injured, it makes quite a difference."

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