A new ordinance proposed by Supervisor Lori Water (R-Broad Run) that would require children 14 years old and under to wear a helmet while riding bikes and motorized devices split the board during its Tuesday, May 15, business meeting. The board voted 5-4 to send the ordinance to its July 10 public hearing.
While some supervisors said requiring children to wear a helmet was a simple safety issue, others were concerned about ticketing children and overreaching the government into personal issues.
"I think we should ticket the parents," Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) said. "I think the parents need to be the ones to be chased on this. I don’t know how effective it is to ticket a 14 year old or 9 year old."
Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run) also said he was concerned about ticketing children and "labeling those kids criminals by making what they are doing against the law." Staton added that the way the ordinance was written it could apply to those who use motorized wheelchairs.
"There are times when the government really starts intruding on our lives," he said. "Kids getting hurt riding down sleds in the winter time. What about kids riding in car? A car ride can do a lot more damage than just falling off a bike. Where does it stop?"
WATERS SAID SHE proposed the ordinance after seeing the effects a head injury can have when her sister was injured in a bike accident six years ago.
"She is still recovering and will never be the same," Water said. "This will prevent injuries."
Waters added that other area jurisdictions including Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier and Prince William counties, the City of Alexandria and Montgomery County in Maryland have similar laws.
"This is about a public-education campaign," she said. "It is about promoting health, safety and welfare for children in our community."
Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) said an accident his son suffered while snowboarding this winter convinced him of the benefits of helmets.
"When we collected him there was a two-inch rip in his helmet," he said. "If he hadn’t been wearing it, he wouldn’t have made it."
FOR SUPERVISOR Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) protecting people’s individual freedoms was the most important thing. He said he believed that trying to govern people’s behavior took away their personal rights.
"I think everyone is born with a bag of freedoms and as you go through life someone reaches in and takes away one of your freedoms," he said. "At what point do we pass that bag of freedoms along to our generations and it's empty? It’s a good idea, but I don’t think you should use government to enforce a good idea."
Chairman Scott York (I-At large) joined Snow, Staton and Delgaudio in opposing sending the ordinance to a public hearing, saying personal governance had to take over at some point.
"Even this weekend as I took the opportunity to go on a leisurely ride with my wife and child, we all waived our rights to wear a helmet," he said.
Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg), chair of the board’s public safety committee, however, said it came to one issue.
"Safety is paramount," he said.