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Posted February 1, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Bill puts teeth in helmet law

By Alex Bridges

Warren County could fine users of its skate park who don't wear helmets under a proposed bill moving through the state legislature.

The Senate by voice vote on Friday engrossed the legislation on its second reading.

The bill faced some opposition in the state Senate at the committee level. The Committee on Local Government on Tuesday had voted 10-5 to report the bill to the full Senate. Whether it runs into any roadblocks in the House of Delegates remains unknown.

Warren County officials sought the legislation and received support through sponsor Sen. George L. Barker, D-Alexandria. Sen. Jill H. Vogel, R-Upperville, whose district includes Clarke and Frederick counties as well as Winchester, joined on as a sponsor.

Warren County operates a 15,000-square-foot facility on Kerfoot Avenue, adjacent to the Skyline Soccerplex, for skateboarders, in-line skaters, scooters and BMX bicycle riders. The county currently has rules posted at the park and online, one of which requires all users to wear helmets at all times.

The Department of Parks and Recreation can enforce the helmet rule by taking the names of any offenders and suspending them from the facility, County Attorney Blair Mitchell explained.

According to the attorney, the legislation would allow the county to adopt the rules as an ordinance and make a violation punishable by a fine of up to $25. The bill would allow the suspension of the fine for a first-time offender or if the cited person buys a helmet before his scheduled court date, Mitchell said.

Either the Warren County Sheriff's Office or the Front Royal Police Department would enforce the ordinance by writing summonses to offenders, according to Mitchell. Cases would go either to General District Court or Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court depending on the age of the offender.

Under the legislation, any locality can adopt an ordinance to require that all people wear a "commercially manufactured helmet" whenever riding or being carried on a bicycle, skateboard or roller skates on any publicly owned skate park facility.

The legislation states that not using a helmet does not constitute negligence on the part of the person in a claim for damages or injury, Mitchell explained.

The county wants to prevent injuries from occurring, the attorney said.

The senate Committee on Local Government took up the bill on Tuesday. Members voted 10-5 to report the bill to the full senate.

Vogel, a frequent proponent of legislation aimed at protecting children, noted in an email Wednesday that jurisdictions can require helmets already.

"The impetus for the bill was a desire by localities to have authority to impose more than just a rule when it comes to helmet safety," Vogel stated in the email. "What they wanted was the ability to impose a fine so that people would pay attention to the rule and this bill permits them to impose a penalty of $25.00, effectively giving them an enforcement component.

"The belief is that people will take it more seriously and it will protect children from serious head injuries or even death," Vogel added.

The committee on Tuesday heard testimony about brain injury and prevention that Vogel called compelling. Brain injuries caused when a child falls while riding a bicycle, skateboard or roller skates can prove deadly, Vogel noted in the email.

"So it's hard not to support localities when they ask for this authority," Vogel stated.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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