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Aldermen OK bike helmet ordinance

Brookhaven aldermen have approved an ordinance requiring all children 16 years old and younger wear a helmet while riding bicycles, scooters, roller skates and similar devices.

The proposal passed on a divided vote, with dissenters raising concerns about the potential burden on low-income families from purchasing helmets, particularly families with many children.

The ordinance requires anyone up to the age of 16 to wear a helmet meeting nationally recognized safety standards and to have the helmet secured with a chin strap.

The mandate applies to any child or youth riding a bicycle, scooter, roller skates and inline skates, a skateboard and motorized variants of these devices while in public places include sidewalks, streets and parks.

Parents or guardians are tasked with ensuring the ordinance is followed and may be cited for violations.

Under the ordinance, a first violation will result in a written warning, the second violation shall result in a fine no larger than $25 and all subsequent violations shall result in a fine not to exceed $100.

A provision does allow a court to waive or reduce any penalties if an approved helmet has been acquired by the time of the court appearance.

An ordinance enacting the helmet mandate was distributed to aldermen at their Feb. 20 meeting at the behest of Sullivan.

At Tuesday night’s board meeting, the alderman at large announced she had received no feedback from her fellow board members on the ordinance and thus motioned to approve it.

The helmet law is a move by Sullivan to increase the city’s chance of winning a Healthy Hometown grant awarded by Blue Cross & Blue Shield.

Up to three Healthy Hometown grants of $25,000 are awarded each year in differing population categories.

A fourth grant of $50,000 is awarded to the city or town deemed Mississippi’s Healthiest Hometown.

The fairly extensive application is due by April 1. Points are awarded according to differing criteria, one of them being the presence of a helmet ordinance.

Other questions on the application ask about the presence of parks and outdoor recreation opportunities within the city, walking trails, and the activity of a health committee.

A city can’t even apply for the grants without an ordinance barring smoking in public places within the city.

In motioning for the ordinance’s passage, Sullivan cited the benefits of the grant and the potential boost to the city’s image.

“Some very progressive cities have one,” she said of helmet ordinances.

Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron expressed significant reservations. He said he’d planned to discuss these reservations with Sullivan.

“I was concerned what it would cost the parents,” Cameron said. “Some parents have three, four kids.”

He said later, “When you really get into it, it’s a burden.”

Ward Five’s D.W. Maxwell seconded the motion and said he didn’t think the cost would be prohibitive.

“If can afford to buy a bike you can afford a helmet,” Maxwell said.

Cameron shook his head.

“I would not agree with that,” he said.

Ward Three’s Mary Wilson joined Cameron in his concerns.

Terry Bates, of Ward Two, spoke in favor of the ordinance.

“Just think about the safety part of it,” he said. “I would put safety first.”

The ordinance prevailed on a 5-2 vote with Cameron and Wilson voting against it and should go into force in 30 days.