By NATHAN GREGORY
If citizen input at the second public hearing on amending the city’s bicycle safety helmet ordinance is an accurate reflection of the community’s voice, more people want it to be left alone.
The hearing was held during the Starkville Board of Aldermen’s 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.
“What it gets down to is that you have to have safety laws. You can’t do education and expect everybody to go by that because it doesn’t work,” Jenkins said. “That’s why we’ve got the seat belt law. That’s why we have speed limits. That’s why you can’t drink and drive. It’s all about safety. Kids that are 16, I don’t understand that proposal because they’re not old enough to decide. Their parents are still in charge of them and they’re going to be responsible if they get a brain injury or if they die. I think you’re progressive by having a helmet ordinance. Let’s not go backwards. It’s not going to keep people from riding bikes.”
Ward 5 resident Mike Allen was the lone speaker in favor of amending the ordinance.
“I am a big proponent of helmets, but it’s a personal choice. It’s not my right or yours to make any other adult wear a helmet to protect themselves,” Allen said. I bought a helmet for myself recently. I buy them for my kids. I make my kids wear them, but that’s my responsibility. With texting and driving, I could hurt somebody else … 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.”
Physician and Starkville resident David Morgan said he’s 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.
“This should all be about preventing head trauma. Most of you know my wife’s story. She can answer the question because she had a helmet on. The call you don’t want to hear is: ‘Your spouse has been hit by a car and it’s bad.’ You don’t want to hear that if you’re a father. If you’re a student you don’t want to hear that. You don’t want your parents to hear that. You’re going to go through hell for the next several months because you don’t know if they’re going to live if they make it to a hospital,” Morgan said. “From a financial standpoint, you might have your life insurance but if you don’t die, there are worse things than death. The closed head injury patients we have dealt with ... are nonfunctional. I’ve told people that don’t wear a helmet, ‘Wear a helmet or you’re going to wear a diaper. Somebody is going to have to change their life because of your desire to have that personal choice. They’re going to have to take care of you for the rest of your life.’”
Ward 7 resident Alvin Turner and Ward 5 resident Charlotte Fuquay said the board needs to focus on other issues.
“We need to start doing better things with our time. If you don’t want to be safe, that (doesn’t) mean everybody else (doesn’t) want to be safe,” Turner said. “If you want to do something then let’s pass the ordinance on texting and driving so I don’t get run over.”
“You passed a good and progressive ordinance when you passed this helmet ordinance,” Fuquay said. “You 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.”
Healthy Starkville Committee Chair Ron Cossman said the board needs to consider that the current ordinance is indicative of a larger idea regarding safety.
“I think we’re missing the broader picture, which is not only are we trying to create a healthy and safe environment we are … trying to create a better way of life in the city of Starkville … 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.”
Ward 3 resident David Garraway was also against amending the ordinance.
“It is (the board’s) 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,” he said. I’d 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.”