New laws or skate parks can't guarantee safety


WAS THERE an ironic connection between Westminster's bid for a public skating facility and the death of a teen-age skater who was hit by a car while trying to race across Gorsuch Road?

Some folks strained to draw a moral lesson from the accident, arguing that all skaters should wear a protective helmet and pads for knees and elbows.

The list of protective gear recommended for skaters was recited as though it would have had some talismanic effect on the fatal outcome.

In fact, the severity of the collision was apparently so great that a safety helmet would not have made much difference.

The fault, as best as can be determined, is with the in-line skater who challenged the rules of safety and lost. This is a reminder that caution of all types is needed when negotiating traffic thoroughfares. And a recognition that at 16 years of age, the world and its dangers look a lot different than they do at 26 or 46.

Similar peril would await the youngster who tried to pedal his bike across a highway without observing the standards of safe crossing. Again, it wouldn't matter whether the rider was wearing a protective helmet.

It's another example of the desperate search for a rule or a law that would help us vulnerable humans avert another senseless accident.

But for the lack of a park?

Other observers struggled to connect the street fatality with the lack of a safe skating facility, such as the new skating park (for boards and in-lines) planned for Westminster. They also missed the point.

It is true that a recreational skating center might deter some youth from seeking to navigate dangerous traffic. But only some of the time, and most likely for those kids who already exercise ample caution in their conduct. It's no substitute, no replacement for the street skating and sidewalk surfing that youngsters favor.

Lots of kids might use the skateboard facility, with requisite safety paraphernalia, and still put on their in-line skates to cruise the streets for a different experience.

"You can get into a rut doing the same course," Jeremy Stoner, a skateboard shop manager, points out.

Adds Sam Leppo, Westminster police chief: "When a skateboarder goes to the park, he's not going to carry his board, he's going to ride it."

What comes naturally

It's the viewpoint of youth, not the lack of safe alternatives, that drives teen-agers to challenge the fates. For the teen, it is simply what comes naturally in an uninhibited rush of spirit, one that too often ignores fundamental prudence.

Small children continue to dash into the streets no matter what playground facilities are at hand, no matter how many times they have been warned by parents.

Young bicyclists who should be learning to maneuver their vehicles off-road are too often found wobbling along the side of a busy street, threatening to lose control at any moment and fall in front of a car. Wearing a helmet or not, the cyclist is tempting fate.

Safety rules

Recognizing the danger and acting accordingly is the most important safety rule of the road.

The accident should emphasize for all of us the importance of being alert for youngsters in our motoring travels. Be aware of other travelers on the road, those who may be biking or skating or running instead of driving a car.

Watch out for children playing near the street and slow down: It's a simple precaution that can save a life.

Motorists must learn to expect the unexpected, especially in residential neighborhoods and around shopping centers.

By the way, it would also be appreciated by motorists if the non-motorists using our streets and highways would exercise similar judgment and respect for others.

With the arrival of good weather, more joggers and cyclists are taking to the pavement. They can pose a danger to themselves and others by violating common sense (and the law).

Slamming on the brakes

On a 40-mph country road the other day, the car in front of me slammed on the brakes without warning. The reason? A bicyclist was swerving into the middle of the road on a curve, and there was a line of traffic coming in the opposite direction.

While cyclists like to commiserate about the lack of respect from drivers, they are sometimes guilty of that same disrespect.

To ride in the middle of the street in rush hour is not an exercise of right but a demonstration of stupidity.

Likewise for the sanctimonious couples who walk side by side in the street, needlessly inviting an accident. Too often, they walk on the right side, their backs to traffic, instead of facing oncoming traffic by using the left side.

Yes, it's a smart idea to wear a helmet when negotiating these mean streets. It's even smarter to wear a thinking cap.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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