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By NATHAN GREGORY
If citizen input at the second public hearing on amending the cityâs bicycle safety helmet ordinance is an accurate reflection of the communityâs voice, more people want it to be left alone.
The hearing was held during the Starkville Board of Aldermenâs June 19 meeting. The proposed amendment is to allow for cyclists ages 16 and up to ride without a helmet. Current law mandates all cyclists to wear the safety gear.
Brain Injury Association of Mississippi director Lee Jenkins each year there are approximately 567,000 people who will require emergency care for bicycle-related injuries.
âWhat it gets down to is that you have to have safety laws. You canât do education and expect everybody to go by that because it doesnât work,â Jenkins said. âThatâs why weâve got the seat belt law. Thatâs why we have speed limits. Thatâs why you canât drink and drive. Itâs all about safety. Kids that are 16, I donât understand that proposal because theyâre not old enough to decide. Their parents are still in charge of them and theyâre going to be responsible if they get a brain injury or if they die. I think youâre progressive by having a helmet ordinance. Letâs not go backwards. Itâs not going to keep people from riding bikes.â
Ward 5 resident Mike Allen was the lone speaker in favor of amending the ordinance.
âI am a big proponent of helmets, but itâs a personal choice. Itâs not my right or yours to make any other adult wear a helmet to protect themselves,â Allen said. I bought a helmet for myself recently. I buy them for my kids. I make my kids wear them, but thatâs my responsibility. With texting and driving, I could hurt somebody else âŠ so I see how that could be an issue. It is not the job of government to protect us from ourselves, and I feel like this is what this is doing.â
Physician and Starkville resident David Morgan said heâs seen what closed head injuries are like as a result of his work and on a more personal level as his wife, Jan, survived a life-threatening bicycle accident in 2011.
âThis should all be about preventing head trauma. Most of you know my wifeâs story. She can answer the question because she had a helmet on. The call you donât want to hear is: âYour spouse has been hit by a car and itâs bad.â You donât want to hear that if youâre a father. If youâre a student you donât want to hear that. You donât want your parents to hear that. Youâre going to go through hell for the next several months because you donât know if theyâre going to live if they make it to a hospital,â Morgan said. âFrom a financial standpoint, you might have your life insurance but if you donât die, there are worse things than death. The closed head injury patients we have dealt with ... are nonfunctional. Iâve told people that donât wear a helmet, âWear a helmet or youâre going to wear a diaper. Somebody is going to have to change their life because of your desire to have that personal choice. Theyâre going to have to take care of you for the rest of your life.ââ
Ward 7 resident Alvin Turner and Ward 5 resident Charlotte Fuquay said the board needs to focus on other issues.
âWe need to start doing better things with our time. If you donât want to be safe, that (doesnât) mean everybody else (doesnât) want to be safe,â Turner said. âIf you want to do something then letâs pass the ordinance on texting and driving so I donât get run over.â
âYou passed a good and progressive ordinance when you passed this helmet ordinance,â Fuquay said. âYou have far more important issues to deal with in this board and I would suggest you leave this ordinance the way it is right now.â
Healthy Starkville Committee Chair Ron Cossman said the board needs to consider that the current ordinance is indicative of a larger idea regarding safety.
âI think weâre missing the broader picture, which is not only are we trying to create a healthy and safe environment we are âŠ trying to create a better way of life in the city of Starkville âŠ by providing a culture of health in this community. When we improve the quality of life, we make this a community people either want to move to or stay in.â
Ward 3 resident David Garraway was also against amending the ordinance.
âIt is (the boardâs) job to try to figure out where the landing is on that slippery slope. So far since the passing of this ordinance, this has been the right choice for the city,â he said. Iâd like to applaud you for passing the ordinance in the first place and I urge you to disregard this amendment and keep this like it is.â