Parents or Police: Who is the Best Authority on Bicycle Safety?

The issue has become a hot topic in town after some moms and dads were upset by how police chose to enforce the helmet law recently. Other parents supported officers.

The first day of school in Coronado was a busy one for kids and the Coronado police. As students made their way to campuses on bicycles, the police reportedly handed warnings or tickets to riders who were in violation of the Youth Bicycle Helmet Safety Law: They were either not wearing a helmet properly buckled or were not wearing one at all.

Some parents were upset that police chose Aug. 23, the first day of school, to enforce the helmet law and they made their sentiments known. Others publicly expressed their support for law enforcement officers doing their jobs by issuing citations and warnings to ensure our children's safety.

(For the exact text of the law on helmets and minors, see the California V C Section 21212).

Many kids and adults in Coronado use bicycles as their primary form of transportation around the island. It is a convenient way to get around the congested streets and two wheels are easier to park than four given our limited parking.

Though many are familiar with the laws and regulations regarding riding their skateboards, scooters or bikes on sidewalks, and are also well aware of the helmet requirement for those under 18, we witness these laws being broken all too frequently.

Admittedly, no one is above the law regardless of excuses or how difficult it may be to abide by the rules. Why then are some parents irate about their children's infraction and subsequent police response for their disregard of the law?

Parents Talk discusses this issue, and would like to know what you think about helmet safety.

Is it parents' responsibility to teach their children and force them to buckle and wear a helmet, or should it be up to police to educate and ensure that children follow the law by citing them when they are not in compliance?

Tonia Accetta – We must acknowledge and follow local ordinances that prohibit us from riding our bikes along the sidewalk in the business districts, such as Orange Avenue, the need for lights on our bikes at night, the fact that headsets are prohibited while riding a bike, and also the need for a helmet if under 18. These are all great restrictions in place for the safety of us all.

What is difficult is upholding them. When a kid is given a ticket, they make a court date to appear in front of a judge, at that point they are given a warning by the judge and sent on their way. If my kid gets a ticket, then he will go through this process just like everyone else.

Are there exceptions? Well yes! people get away with traffic violations every day. Who's responsible? We all are. Do not point your fingers, but try to find solutions. Here is what is done in the UK to tackle the issue of bike safety. According to the California Department of Public Health, they do not currently have a bike safety program, but do encourage schools to adopt and enforce a policy of requiring all students who ride to school to wear a helmet. The California Department of Transportation does not hold classes either, but they do have a list of helpful information on their site about bicycle commuting and safety.

Kelly Dunbar – At my daughter’s pre-kindergarten check up, our doctor went over the basics of what to be mindful of over the next year of life to include looking both ways before crossing the street, stranger danger & bicycle safety.   A good rule of thumb he recommended was the first time she didn’t wear her helmet, or wore one incorrectly (no chinstrap), was to take away her bike for a week. 

She looked up to our doctor and nonchalantly said okay, agreeing to those terms.  So there we had it, the new adopted rule in our house. 

As I taught her how to ride her bike that year, wearing her helmet was just part of the process; wearing one became part of my riding routine as well. I equated wearing a helmet while riding a bike to wearing a seatbelt when riding in a car.   In both situations, there are no benefits to cutting corners, only potentially disastrous outcomes during unforeseen accidents. We’ve all heard the stories of how a helmet or seatbelt saved someone’s life, or how serious injuries could have been prevented if only one was worn.

Sure, avoiding the effects of hat head by not wearing a helmet may seem important. But in life, it’s not always about the looks; it’s about doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. It’s having faith in the leadership, that someone studied head injuries and determined that we’re all better off wearing a helmet. My hope is that maybe my daughter will continue to wear a helmet out of habit and we’ll receive the benefits of all the above. Time will tell, but for now I will enjoy that my kids are still young enough where I can positively affect their bicycle safety habits.

Tam Dorow – Too often, I've seen older kids riding their bike, skateboard, etc. around town with no helmet or the helmet is perched on top of their head but straps are not buckled. If I'm with my kids I will point that out and tell them I do not want to see them doing that. If it's a kid I know riding without a helmet, I usually say something to them. If they don't have a helmet with them, I tell them to walk the bike. 

The first week of school I emailed a mom to let her know that maybe one of her kids was riding his bike recklessly and his helmet was not strapped on – she responded appreciatively. 

My kids know about this and they know that I ask my friends and neighbors to let me know if one of them is riding without a helmet or engaging in any other potentially dangerous activities. We stress personal safety at home and I appreciate the police enforcing those basic safety laws. We all need to help to keep our children safe: parents, friends, neighbors and the police. I would rather junior comes home with a ticket for not wearing a helmet than have the police show up at my door to deliver bad news.

Suzette Valle – The law regarding helmets is in place to protect my children and these regulations have been well publicized for many years. I recall my kids sitting in class in grade school and listening to the officers who visited the classrooms and talked to them about many safety issues: drugs, alcohol and bike safety. However, after this initial instruction, it has been up to me to instill proper civil conduct in my children from a young age so that they abide by the rules and won't cause others, or themselves, any harm. I am here to protect my children; they are my responsibility.

Informing minors about the laws that pertain to them at each stage of their lives is a parent's responsibility – if the community joins in this effort to educate them and help them be safe, I am grateful. My children's safety is my primary concern, not if they look like dorks with their helmets properly on and buckled. I'd hate to think that a moment of vanity, or wanting to be considered cool, could result in them getting irreversibly hurt. As parents, we hope nothing tragic happens to our children, especially not under our watch.


Tonia Accetta is a stay-at-home mom of a teenage boy and a preteen girl. She moved to Coronado in 2002 with her husband of 15 years.

Kelly Dunbar is a military veteran and spouse who has lived in Coronado for seven years. She has three children who attend elementary school, junior kindergarten and preschool. 

 Tam Dorow emigrated from Vietnam when she was 10. She worked at all of the Big 3 U.S. car companies and has been a stay-at-home mom of two for the last 10 years.

Suzette Valle is a 20-year Coronado resident who was recognized by Time Warner as one of the local “50 Best Moms” in 2006. She has appeared on the Dr. Phil Show and blogs at MamarazziKnowsBest.com.

About this column: Parents talking about issues important to parents.

John Hutchinson September 21, 2012 at 07:56 PM
The safety & care of my children is not the responsibility of any governmental agency including bicycle equipment.Helmets are indeed utilized by my kids not because of dictates but our personal assessment of potential possible injuries incurred sans protective headgear.
Barbara Trenchi March 08, 2013 at 09:18 PM
I live on alley between D & E Ave. Almost daily, I see kids, especially older ones, riding down the alley with helmet unstrapped or on the handlebars instead of the head. Having been a cyclist for almost 32 years, I know that wearing a helmet is a life-saving practice. I have crashed twice, and my head has hit the road in the back. If I had not worn a helmet, I might not be here.


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