Westchester considers bicycle helmet law

Westchester lawmakers were told last night to stay out of the heads of bicycle riders.

Published October 10, 2007 by Lower Hudson Online
By Glenn Blain 

WHITE PLAINS – Westchester lawmakers were told last night to stay out of the heads of bicycle riders.

Only a handful of people attended a public hearing at the Board of Legislators on a proposed law that would require all bicycle riders to wear helmets, but most of those who did said it should be left up to the individual to decide what to wear.

"No government body, whether it is state, local or federal should tell me what to put on my head," Giancarlo Rodriguez of Bronxville said.

Of seven people who spoke at the hearing, five urged lawmakers to reject the measure. Some also argued that lawmakers' attention would be better spent filling potholes or addressing childhood obesity than mandating bicycle helmets.

"You can do more to reduce obesity and improve health and safety and lifetimes than you will with any helmet law you will ever pass," said Francis Bollag of New Rochelle, who described himself as an avid cyclist.

Westchester's proposed law would require anyone older than 14 to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. State law already requires children younger than 15 to wear helmets.

Supporters of the measure seemed undaunted by the opposition, arguing that only a small number of people showed up at the hearing.

"The vast of majority of people I speak to in my district think it is a wonderful idea, and it will send a powerful message to children that wearing a helmet is the right thing to do, and it is so important we are going to require adults to do it," said Legislator James Maisano, R-New Rochelle.

Legislator Vito Pinto, D-Tuckahoe, chairman of the board's Legislation Committee, said it would likely be at least another month before lawmakers were ready to vote on the measure. However, he predicted it would have enough votes to pass.

If the measure is enacted, Westchester would become one of the few jurisdictions in the state requiring helmets for riders of all ages. Rockland County and the town of Greenburgh are among the few that already adopted such measures.

Greenburgh Police Chief John Kapica said his town's law is rarely enforced and is low priority among officers.

"It is ill-conceived," Kapica said of the county's proposal. "It sounds good, but it is very, very difficult for police departments to enforce. … I think it is a lot of baloney."

Reach Glenn Blain at gblain@lohud.com or 914-694-5066