Kefalas behind proposal that aims to educate, not enforce
BY P.J. NUTTING • PJNUTTING@COLORADOAN.COM • JANUARY 29, 2010
Children riding their bicycles, scooters, skateboards and in-line skates will be required to wear a helmet under proposed legislation sponsored by Fort Collins lawmakers.
Violating the proposed “Safer Streets for Colorado Children” plan would not result in any fines or other punishment for minors caught without a helmet on a public street. Instead, police would warn violators ages 2 to 17 about the risks of not wearing a helmet and advise them where to get one, if necessary.
“The intent is not to make it punitive, but to make it a learning experience for the young person,” Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins and the House sponsor of the bill, said of the decision to not attach a fine to the legislation.
The proposed legislation, House Bill 1147, also will require state departments to work with school districts and other organizations to develop a “comprehensive educational curriculum regarding the safe use of public streets …” and would likely work with successful programs such as Safe Route to School and Complete Streets.
Kefalas said he and others decided to introduce the legislation after numerous tragedies on Fort Collins roads involving car collisions with children riding bicycles.
He specifically referenced the deaths of 9-year-old Erica Forney in 2008 and Urangua “SiSi” Mijiddorj in 2009, as well as a crash that resulted in serious injury to Amanda Miyoshi, who was 15 when she survived a crash in 2007.
Kefalas said Miyoshi is expected to testify Thursday before the Transportation and Energy Committee in support of the bill.
“The motivation came out of the summertime when I had a few parents, Fort Collins parents, who were very concerned about the tragedies and bike accidents that we’ve had in Fort Collins during the last couple of years,” Kefalas said.
Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, who has been involved with the latest regulations against distracted driving practices, is the Senate sponsor. He believes it is a positive step forward.
“I taught for 30 years and was on the school board,” Bacon said. “I will pursue any legislation in order to protect children as best I can.”
Fort Collins recently conducted an in-depth study of bicycle-and-car crashes and found that more than 25 percent of crashes involved people younger than 21.
Though every cyclist benefits from wearing a helmet, Bacon said minors are the most likely to misunderstand the rules of the road and that legislation will focus, for now, on children younger than 18.
“It could be that we won’t go beyond that, but we have an obligation to protect those who are most vulnerable,” he said.
The city has included the National Complete Streets Coalition since 1997 in its bicycle safety program, but most other resources are non-associated nonprofit organizations, and Complete Streets has not been as aggressive or effective here as in neighboring Boulder and Longmont.
The proposed law would attempt to unite these programs as resources for the Department of Transportation, with education and awareness as its goal.
“Making kids wear a helmet while they ride their bike is like giving a 16-year-old a car with airbags but no driver’s instruction and telling them to just go have fun,” said Rick Price, Safe Cycling coordinator for Fort Collins Bike Co-op.
Kefalas said Price and other organizations in Fort Collins were adamant that the bill include education components.
“We’re on the cutting edge,” Price said. “But we are woefully behind on education outreach in the schools; we don’t do a good job at all about the rules of the road and giving (children) a general education. Boulder and Longmont are two communities that are way ahead of us on that.”
Stefanie McDaniel, a mother of two, supports the education aspect of the bill but does not see the point of warnings without citations.
“I think there’s different ways to inform people,” McDaniel said. “My youngest is 5 and went through Head Start; they did a whole two weeks on bike and walking safety. But helmets should be the responsibility of the parents. I don’t require my children to wear helmets, and that’s our choice.”