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Mandatory bike helmut plan gains ally

Health Commissioner David Grossman thinks Toledo City Council dumped its recent mandatory bicycle helmet proposal in his lap hoping it would quietly die.

Council would be mistaken.

For a health commissioner fresh off getting a countywide ban on indoor smoking passed - and subsequently challenged in court - the chance to get a mandatory helmet law for children passed is just another public health challenge to be met.

“They don't hope to get anything from this board, but I hope they'll be surprised,” Dr. Grossman said.

He asked for and got unanimous support yesterday from the Toledo-Lucas County Board of Health for his proposal to begin lobbying elected officials in Lucas County. The board can't pass a helmet law, but Dr. Grossman hopes to convince - with the use of statistics and information - local elected bodies that a mandatory helmet law for children makes sense.

And if lobbying doesn't work, he's open to embarrassing them. “Anything short of a complete helmet law for our kids would be remiss,” he said. “Let them explain why we don't have a helmet law. I think, shame on them.”

A proposal to pass a mandatory bicycle helmet law for children first surfaced last month when Toledo Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz proposed Toledo pass such a law. His proposed ordinance would have required police to issue a warning on the first offense and a fine not to exceed $10 for the second offense.

Toledo police said they supported helmet use, but enforcing such a law would be difficult, and lower income children who couldn't afford helmets would be unfairly targeted.

The city council committee hearing the helmet proposal tabled the ordinance and sent a letter to Dr. Grossman last week asking the health board to study the issue. The letter stated that “solely passing this ordinance is not the best solution. Somehow, there needs to be more accountability with the parents as well as education.”

Dr. John Schaeufele, clinical chairman at Mercy Children's Hospital, gave a presentation to the board. Dr. Schaeufele also tried to convince council that it should pass the ordinance.

He said Mercy Children's Hospital and St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center admitted a total of 122 children from 1997 through 2001 with bike-related injuries, and only 2 percent of the children injured were wearing helmets.

Dr. Schaeufele added that he and his grandson did an unscientific survey last week in Toledo and counted 100 children on bikes, none of whom was wearing a helmet.

Mercy officials said helmet use increases 60 percent in areas where mandatory helmet laws are passed. The Bicycle Safety Institute estimates that helmets reduce the risk of head injury by about 85 percent.

Dr. Ernest Brookfield of Toledo, who also supports a mandatory law, spoke to the board. He acknowledged enforcing a law would be hard, but said that didn't stop legislators from passing mandatory seat belt laws or child safety seat laws for children.

Dr. Schaeufele said 17 states have mandatory bicycle helmet laws, and a few cities in Ohio have, including Akron.

Akron police officials said their law was passed last April, but they couldn't provide information on how effective the law was or how many fines had been issued.

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