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By NATHAN GREGORY
The Starkville Board of Aldermen held its first public hearing on amending the current bicycle safety helmet ordinance to allow riders over the age of 15 to ride without a helmet at its meeting Tuesday. A vote to hold a second public hearing after gathering input from the cityâs transportation committee passed 5-2, with Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn opposed. Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey introduced the proposed amendment and called for the hearing at the boardâs April 17 meeting.
The hearing drew a slew of citizen comments, both for and against making the change. Each member of the board also offered input.
Vaughn, who is a member of the cityâs Healthy Hometown Committee, cited the city recently being awarded a Healthy Hometown grant by Blue Cross & Blue Shield for practicing safe habits such as the enforcement of helmets for bicyclists and said common sense alone was enough to merit this amendment not being passed.
âWe were awarded $50,000 âŠ now weâre taking the money and weâre going to run with it âŠ What does this make us look like? Now we want to change the whole ball game after taking this money for being a healthy hometown in Mississippi,â Vaughn said. âIf these kids have sense enough to put a helmet on, whatâs wrong with the rest of us?â
Brent Crocker, who works at Mississippi State University as assistant director of the Sanderson Center and as an emergency medical technician, was one of several who spoke in favor of making the change.
âI donât think a contest is the right reason to create an ordinance. Some kind of contest to win us notoriety or money is not the right way,â Crocker said. âTo say âWe won the award and we now need to keep it that way,â is that despite the will of the people of Starkville? I understand the safety side of it, but if we say weâre going to do this in the name of safety, where do we stop? I think we have to expect personal responsibility from people âŠ My daughter will wear a helmet when she rides because I told her to. I donât need a law that says she has to. I generally wear a helmet when I ride, but thatâs my decision. It shouldnât be your decision.â
Starkville citizen Chris Taylor also spoke in favor of the proposed change.
âI hate that helmet, and I hate it when you make an ordinance telling me what I can and what I canât wear on the road. Iâm a grown man,â Taylor said.
Citizen Alvin Turner was opposed to any change.
âDo we really respect our police officers? We give them one thing to do and then we turn around and change it âŠ Theyâre out there to make it safe for pedestrians like me, the people who ride bikes and the people who drive cars. We have laws and we need to stick to laws because if you donât, people will wind up hating the government body that makes laws and (doesnât) stick to them.â
Austin Check, who said he has worked in public safety for 10 years and has never worked a bicycle accident, was another citizen in favor of the change.
âThe problem I do see is admittedly the (Starkville) police department is understaffed right now âŠ and itâs all about allocation of resources. My house has had stuff stolen three times in the last six months, and the reason I hear weâre not able to get in (my) neighborhood is because of understanding.,â Check said. âIt does nothing but absolutely burn my rear end to come off campus and see two patrol cars picking folks off for not wearing a helmet.â
Healthy Hometown Community member Ron Cossman proposed sending the issue to the cityâs transportation committee to compile non-motorized vehicle accident as well as citation data for the city.
â(We should) pull together exactly what has happened over the past year when we began to enforce this (to find out) who are the affected populations, what has been the impact (and if) we have perhaps prevented some traumatic brain injuries as a result of having this ordinance in effect,â Cossman said. âLetâs get some facts.â
Ward 3 citizen Dave Garraway said he was against making the change on the principle that the freedom of making personal decisions should not take precedence over public health and safety.
âI donât want (the board) to be dissuaded by logical fallacy arguments. The argument tonight that because weâve historically not shown very many head injuries sustained by people not wearing bicycle helmets that we wonât have them in the future is a logical fallacy,â Garraway said. âHistory does not show the future because it does not take in account that 40 years ago there were fewer cars on the road. This was a smaller town. As we continue to grow and congest our roadways, we have more potential incidents that could occur.â
Ward 1 Ben Carver said he would be in favor the amendment when it comes to a vote.
âIf this is something (Corey) would be willing to change and the transportation committee is OK with it, I think Iâd be OK with it also,â he said.
Perkins said safety always needs to be the first element considered.
âThere are some people who may not want to wear their seat belt, but it is a safety measure. Safety is always a good tool, a good mechanism that promotes the health and safety of all individuals traveling the roadways. It is my opinion that it would be a step backwards for this governing body to amend the helmet ordinance âŠ because of strict enforcement.â Perkins said. âI donât think it would be a prudent or safe move. Iâm not even in favor of sending this to the transportation committee. We need to kill it on its face.â