The Carroll County Health Department has put its bike safety program into high gear in concert with a new state law that will require children age 16 and younger to wear helmets when riding bicycles.
The new law takes effect Oct. 1.
"We started before the law was passed and we're glad we did, because a lot of kids are going to need helmets," said Meg Gobrecht, Health Department injury prevention coordinator.
A $10,000 grant helped the local department purchase helmets for children whose parents can't afford them.
The grant came from the Division of Injury and Disability Prevention in the State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The Health Department was aided in its efforts by Carroll County Public Schools, which received 75 free helmets through Cycle Across Maryland's Bike Helmet Distribution Program.
The schools gave those helmets to Ms. Gobrecht to hand out through the KIDS (Keep Injuries Down with Safety) Club, which targets children up to age 12.
"We sent the helmets to bike stores around the county, then we gave the Maryland State Police, Sykesville police and Westminster police vouchers to give to kids without helmets," Ms. Gobrecht said. "We're leaving it up to the policemen and troopers to determine who to give the vouchers to if they think someone can't afford to buy a helmet."
The Health Department ordered an extra 125 helmets in small and extra small sizes for children from about 3 to 6 years old, Ms. Gobrecht said. Those helmets will be distributed by White's Bicycle Shop in Westminster.
Other stores with helmets include Mount Airy Bicycle and Kmart in Westminster. The 75 helmets from Cycle Across Maryland should fit children age 7 through mid-teens, Ms. Gobrecht said. Two dozen helmets are available in large sizes.
The bike safety program includes educational literature, along with the helmet distribution.
When children come into one of the participating stores, they will be fitted for helmets.
Employees at the two bike shops also will discuss bike safety with them.
The grant money also purchased two $600 bicycles for Westminster city police and the Westminster state police barracks for bike patrol programs, Ms. Gobrecht said.
Her office will sponsor booths at local fire department carnivals to distribute bike safety literature. "We will also be giving people a chance to win a bike helmet at the fire carnivals this summer," she said.
Ms. Gobrecht cited statistics showing that bicycle accidents are the cause of 41 percent of all head injury deaths and 76 percent of all head injuries to children age 15 and younger in the United States.
Carroll County had 21 bicycle accidents in 1992, 15 involving children under 18. Bicyclist error was listed as the primary cause of most of the accidents.
"Using a bicycle helmet can reduce your chances of injury by 85 percent," she said.
Based on 1990 population figures, the Carroll County Planning Department estimates that 31,444 children age 14 or younger live in the county. The 1990 census showed 27,794 children age 14 and under.
The U.S. Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that bicycle helmet usage is less than 5 percent nationally.
For information on the KIDS Club program, call Ms. Gobrecht at 876-4448.