Collingswood to reward young helmet wearers

Posted: June 18, 2013

A crackdown is coming to Collingswood this summer. It's going to go down like this:

A person of interest approaches on a bicycle. Appears to be age 12. A police officer moves in quickly and issues the tween a ticket.

What did the kid get nabbed for? Wearing a bike helmet.

The ticket awards one free water ice.

Starting Friday, when school lets out for summer, borough police officers will be on the lookout for youngsters 12 and under who are doing the right thing: wearing their helmets while they ride their bicycles or scooters or while they skateboard or skate.

"We always want to encourage people to wear their helmets. A lot of kids don't think it's cool," said Cass Duffey, Collingswood's director of community development.

After Duffey heard of a similar program elsewhere, she pitched the idea to Mayor James Maley, she said. Collingswood's "Friendly Ticket" program will continue through the summer.

Earlier this month, the police chief in Brimfield, Ohio, announced that he was imposing a quota on his officers. This summer, they each have to issue at least one ticket per shift redeemable for a free ice cream cone at a local drive-in to children wearing helmets while they ride bikes.

Maley was quick to endorse the idea. About 20 years ago, his son Matthew, now 31, was cycling home from an archery lesson when the back of his bicycle was clipped by a car. Matthew flipped up, hit the car's windshield headfirst, and landed on the ground behind the car, Maley said.

Matthew sustained no major injuries; he was wearing his helmet. "So it's very important to us about kids wearing helmets," Maley said.

The mayor said he asked Daniel Bradford, owner of Cabana Water Ice on Haddon Avenue, what he would charge for 500 water ice vouchers.

"He said, 'Mayor, I'll donate them,' " Maley said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls helmet use the single most effective way to reduce head injuries and fatalities resulting from bicycle crashes. While nearly 70 percent of fatal bicycle accidents involve head injuries, the safety administration says only 20 to 25 percent of all bicyclists wear helmets.

New Jersey's helmet law requires anyone under age 17 to wear a helmet while riding a bike, skateboarding, or using roller or in-line skates. If they don't, their parents can get fined - $25 for a first offense and up to $100.

Collingswood's approach, however, is a carrot rather than a stick.

There's no word of borough officers being given quotas, but they are being encouraged to issue as many tickets as they can.

"We can't stress enough how important helmets are, and we're happy to be involved in anything that encourages kids to wear them," Police Chief Rich Sarlo said. "Plus, it's a great way for neighborhood kids to get to know their police officers."

Water ice aside, what could be sweeter?

Contact Rita Giordano at 856-779-3893, or on Twitter @ritagiordano.

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