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Sides bump heads over helmet law

"Health advocates knocked heads with libertarian-minded bicyclists over a proposed helmet ordinance Wednesday.In a sometimes animated hearing before the city council, several riders argued that even if helmets protect bicyclists' safety, the city has no business mandating their use.People are making smart choices, they're doing it in the privacy of their homes, said longtime bicycle commuter Jennifer Sampson, and they don't need the mommies and daddies of the city council telling them what to do.Echoed Nick Beer, who rides 10 miles a day on the island: I don't smoke, and I do wear a helmet. But those are the informed choices of a free citizen.The council is considering twin ordinances, one that would mandates helmet use by riders under age 18, the other for all-ages.Local public health advocates have backed the ordinances - similar to those adopted by several other area cities - as sound policy to prevent needless head injuries. Making the law all-ages would set a good example for young riders, they argued. Several also cited the cost incurred by both families and society at large in treating riders who have suffered brain damage or other maladies. We all pay for the individual's freedom of choice, said proponent Linda Sohlberg.But rider Greg Poels, who has spoken against the ordinance on several occasions, argued that it would be largely unenforceable. He and several other riders cited poorly maintained bicycle lanes and an abundance of speeding drivers as the chief threats to their safety.Ask any pedestrian when was the last time they felt safe walking in their own neighborhoods, Sampson said. They'll either tell you 6 a.m. Sunday morning, or not in the last 10 years.Citing the slippery slope of eroding civil liberties, several suggested facetiously that if the council is concerned with safety, it might ban smoking, drinking, high-fat diets, eating meat and allowing people over age 65 to drive.I'm an adult, and I'm allowed to do dumb things, one rider said.But supportive testimony came from several islanders who have been involved in crashes, have lost loved ones to head injuries, or have been saved by their helmet.I wouldn't be here today to take care of my children, said Sue Hylen, who credited helmet use for saving her from injury in an accident two years ago. And they'd be very angry if they had to take care of me.Art Biggert, a former emergency room nurse, said that if even 90 percent of riders obeyed the law, it would be worth adopting.Ten percent of the people aren't going to follow it, Biggert said. Evolution will take care of them.The ordinances were referred back to the council's community relations committee for further consideration. "

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