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Poll: Should Police Enforce Helmet Law for Minors?

Albany and El Cerrito police departments rarely cite youth who fail to wear a helmet while riding skateboards. Tell us what you think in our reader poll.

The web page for the Berkeley Skate Park tells you a lot about the skateboard helmet situation in the East Bay. Action photos of helmet-less skateboarders—hair flying as they catch air on the rim of the park’s concrete bowl—sit just above a sentence stating that helmets and knee pads are a condition of using the free park. 

The two young men who died in the East Bay this week following skateboard accidents were over 18, and not required by law to wear a helmet. But the mother of Tyler De Martini told Albany Patch that her son had not worn a helmet even as a minor. Tyler, who turned 18 in October, was not unusual. The state law that requires all minors on bikes, scooters and skateboards to wear a helmet is difficult for police and parents to enforce.

See our poll below on whether police should enforce the helmet law.

In the past two years, the El Cerrito Police Department has not issued any citations to a minor for not wearing a helmet while riding a bike, scooter or skateboard. The Albany Police Department issued one citation during the same period. However, Sgt. Shawn Maples with the El Cerrito Police Department said officers spend considerable time educating kids about the importance of helmets. He noted that issuing citations to children can “set the stage for negative future relationships.”

Both departments sometimes give warnings to juveniles breaking the helmet law, though no record is kept of how many warnings are issued.

El Cerrito suspended enforcement of a city ordinance requiring cyclists of all ages to wear a helmet because it might violate state law, according to Maples. 

One commenter that parents must rely on the police to enforce safety laws: “Once your kid is out of your sight, you have little control, and as we all know, peer pressure trumps everything. I'm not prepared to ban my son from the activity he loves most in the world, but I sure would like authoritative help in getting his entire group to wear helmets.” 

For their part, teenage skateboarders don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the law. They fret more over what their peers might be thinking. On Thursday at the Berkeley skate park, only a handful of the dozen or so skaters enjoying a balmy late afternoon sported helmets.

Spencer McCarthy, 14, an eighth grader at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, said his parents tell him he has to wear a helmet, but he doesn’t always heed their rules. “If I’m about to try something new, I wear a helmet,” he said. “But if I’m just riding around, I don’t.”

Cast your vote in the reader poll below and share your thoughts in the comments.

Click the "Keep me posted" button below for updates about Tyler De Martini. 

Read more about Tyler here on Albany Patch.

L.Black February 03, 2012 at 11:55 PM
Many people don't understand but if you have breathing problems, smoke can be a huge trigger. This is the main reason I don't shop along Sloano AVe. They don't enforce the law. I find going to San Rafael or other areas less on a problem. However can't find the cheap nail stores :) Also the older man that die that patch had a article on was always smoking on Soano ave. Can't say I will miss him. Or that part of him
Ari Soglin (Editor) February 03, 2012 at 11:58 PM
What if the police picked one unannounced day every month to enforce the helmet law? If you get a ticket, pay it or have it waived by attending a presentation from a victim or victim's relative.
Gary Tang February 04, 2012 at 12:06 AM
This is a good one. Actually, the judge has the power to offer the option that is similar to a traffic ticket. The court allowed the UC Davis student to write a term paper in lieu of fine.
Tony Kontzer February 04, 2012 at 12:32 AM
That's one of my son's big arguments (he new Tyler): that Tyler could have been killed had he just been walking. I've tried to stress to him the difference of being on a wheeled device. Maybe I should just say to him, "okay, you're right--you have to wear a helmet now even when you're just walking."
Tony Kontzer February 04, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Fining kids obviously isn't the answer. And it's not even a matter of citing them--unless there's follow-up, they won't care. The only thing that will work is a) having skating privileges taken away, and b) knowing that there are eyes everywhere. As for the first part, that means the police should be empowered to act a bit like parents--take the kids' names and numbers, confiscate their boards, call their parents to let them know, and tell the offenders they can pick up their boards at the station the FOLLOWING DAY (that day without skating is critical) provided they have helmets with them. As for the second part, this gets back to the village/community aspect. Parents can only do so much without tying their children to their homes. Police enforcement is needed. Skate parks need to be an oasis where helmet laws are strictly enforced. Schools need to be involved--through persistent messaging and possibly requiring that boards be checked-in (not carried to class) and then checked out at the end of the day provided the student has a helmet at the time of pick-up. But perhaps the most important player in all of this is the industry. Skateboarding retailers and the companies that make skateboards and clothing and videos--the same companies who sponsor professional "street" skaters--should be mandated to promote helmet compliance as being "cool." (And retailers such as Berkeley's 510 shop should be required to actually sell helmets!)
John Doh! February 04, 2012 at 02:01 AM
Enforcement of laws is one thing, but counting on the police to punish kids is another. And let's also not forget that Tyler was an adult, old enough to serve in the military and vote. Parents can take away skateboards, cell phones, or anything else the kid cherishes. Kids can be grounded. If they receive an allowance, that can be taken away. And, there are even parents who use corporal punishment. Take responsibility for raising your kids. Dangerous skateboarding is only one of the many challenges in keeping kids safe.
Tatter Salad February 04, 2012 at 03:02 AM
Wearing a helmet is a State Law. I'm a skateboarder, I wear a helmet. I've seen SERIOUS accidents occur to really good skateboarders without helmets on... a back-of-the-head injury is devastating if not lethal. If they want to risk their life to appear cool, then they sometimes pay the price. Harley bike riders with 'psudo'-helmets exhibit the same 'brain-dead' attitude IMHO.
ricky (or bear, Dallas, or "HEY YOU!") February 04, 2012 at 05:34 AM
If it is the law, and the police witness the infraction(?) then they have the option of issuing a warning, or a citation, to the rider/skater. Once you are above the legal age, it is then your choice...at least on a skateboard... Harley riders don't have a choice; if it doesn't say 'DOT', you will get cited when you get stopped.
michael randolph February 04, 2012 at 08:45 AM
I try to teach my kid to make good decisions be safe. Does she? Most the time she does. I know me and other skateboarders don't really like to conform. Skateboarding is dangerous that is part of the fun. Should kids , people wear their helmets? Yes. Will they no. So many people have so much to say about something they don't do. It is your choice how do you feel about it? Are you safe? Enforcement has a grey area just like bikes and cars too. It really seems to be a parent child thing more than cops and courts.. A car is not match for any helmet .
Charles Burress (Editor) February 04, 2012 at 09:09 AM
I saw two teens, who looked to be about 15 years old, wearing helmets while skateboarding down the sidewalk on Washington Avenue around 4:40 p.m. yesterday, about a block from Albany High. I wondered if the helmets were in response to the tragedy on Marin Ave.
Emilie Raguso February 04, 2012 at 09:28 AM
As an aside, I recalled something about the local Fire Department having a helmet sales program some time in the past... here's where it stands now, courtesy of Brian J. Crudo, Battalion Chief, Albany Fire Department: "The Albany Fire Department still has the bicycle helmet program. Currently we have 21 helmets of various sizes in stock. The price is still $8 per helmet."
C.Kristopherson February 04, 2012 at 09:30 AM
I am confused, based on the CA vehicle code, because he was on a skateboard he was a pedestrian. If he were on a bicycle would he have been considered something else? Either, or, would the same accident not have occurred? The tragedy here is that we give automobiles the benefit of the doubt. Were it not for a 3000lb steel object moving faster than the fastest person on earth, barreling down the street, this wouldn't have happened. Until people value the lives cars have taken over the utility cars bring to our lives, situations like this will continue to happen. It may sound callous but unfortunate death is part of every day life throughout the world. For those who are calling on police to enforce helmet laws on minors, should we not also enforce helmet laws on seniors who may also take a fatal fall on public sidewalks? To quote William Ross Wallace, “Every man dies - Not every man really lives.” For Tyler, he died doing something he loved to do. Can you say the same?
Matt F February 05, 2012 at 02:59 AM
510 does sell helmets. Look around. 99% of young kids riding skateboards wear them. And really, do we want to give the police another reason to stop / detain teenagers? And force Albany schools to enforce helmet regulations by confiscating personal property? Let's not get hysterical. Tyler was hit by a car on a busy street, at night. It's a horrible tragedy. But calls for mandatory helmet laws for skateboarders (why not bikes?) are a knee-jerk reaction to a terrible event. It's a way to make ourselves feel safer, without addressing the real issue: Cars speeding on Marin Ave. More traffic enforcement on Marin ave is needed. Better pedestrian crossings are needed. Don't blame skateboarding.
Margaret Tong February 05, 2012 at 04:58 AM
Today I saw three young lads (age maybe 11 or 12) on skateboards on Kains. None wore helmets, although one did have a helmet clipped to his backpack. They went south towards Marin and then came back towards Solano and were in the middle of the road all the time. Are we like Estragon, in "Waiting for Godot, muttering, "Nothing to be done?" As we wait for the next accident?
Ken February 05, 2012 at 05:35 AM
@ Matt unless you read something , somewhere different Tyler death was cause by him. Not a car speeding on Marin. He was in the street on a dark night and without a helmet. I don't know if a helmet would have save him but it damn would have gave him a better chance. He was being young and dumb. If you think about the area and the time it is close to impossible for the driver to have seen him shoot out and be able to stop in time. Remember he had no lights on. This accident could have been avoided if he had follow the rules. Maybe had the police issue ticket when he was young (by his mother own words he never wore a helmet) He would have been use to it by now. 18 is not a little kid anymore. He had to have enough smarts to know better. He made a choice a choice that cost him his life. A choice that cause the ones that love him so much unnecessary pain. I feel bad for his parents. I am skeptical that much will come from this. Give it a week and things will die down,
Ken February 05, 2012 at 05:48 AM
I took my middle child to the skate park today and it was about the same time they had the event for Tyler. I saw the group of about 20 there off to the side and inside the park there was a lot of skaters mostly young, definitely a lot under 18 and the only one wearing helmets at that time was real young kids. I say about 8. I had to think what is the city telling the kids. The rules are posted, We have a hired employee to enforce the rules but he really not going to do anything. Oh, and you will see it on KTVU they were there. I am sure they got footage of all the non helmet wearing young kids. Nothing is going to change. It's a shame that skater won't but today was all I need to see to know that they will keep skating the way they have been; without a helmet. I guess Tyler did not mean as much to them as they say other wise they would make that change. They would see what kind of pain this has brought to that family and to his friends.
Vox Humana February 05, 2012 at 06:40 PM
I like that idea too. I think they should do a traffic stop, like they do for drinkers on New Year's Eve. Place it on Hopkins at 3:15pm on a weekday. No tickets, but a warning citation that the parents have to come to the station with their kid AND a helmet in hand, to clear. Next incident, a fine/ticket. Like smoking, not wearing a helmet affects others, such as the driver of the Prius, his family, and all of us. The health costs, all of it, affects everyone. It's selfish not to wear a helmet.
Vox Humana February 05, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Matt, the speeding cars are being addressed by police. Yes, there are too many cars. But saying skaters don't have any responsibility is blind. The same laws govern bikers. But skaters are in a strange category. Classified as pedestrians, but they can "fly" by at great speeds. They take their lives in their own hands, but others are hurt too. I was hurt by a flying skateboard on a handicap ramp at a school. Kids are oblivious. They need education and consequences. That's the only thing they understand. Helmets should be mandatory for everyone, every age. Yeah, I don't like them either, but the alternative can be described by every ER doc, every EMT, every policeman in every town. Tragic.
Vox Humana February 05, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Good point Emilie! There is no excuse why everyone can't have a helmet. Money is no excuse. Berkeley PD had a free helmet program not to long ago.
Vox Humana February 05, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Your analogy is strained. If seniors fall and hit their heads on the sidewalk, they are not affecting others. If a skater rides down the sidewalk knocking people down, they do. If a skater uses the handicap ramps for sport, even when someone is trying to use the ramp for its intended purpose, they should get a ticket. No one gave this driver the "benefit of the doubt." I'm sure that first 48 hours after the accident were pure hell for him and his family. Cars are intended to be in/on the roadway. Skaters aren't. It's pretty simple. And I'm not sure someone who has a death wish is really living, and at whose expense.
Matt F February 06, 2012 at 12:18 AM
The issue, Vox, is cars. The driver admitted he "didn't see" Tyler, turned left and killed him. Tyler was found to be "at fault". The victim, bizarrely, is being blamed for for the accident: for being hard to see and for not wearing a helmet. You also, rather condescendingly, seem to think all teenagers are irresponsible know nothings: "Kids are oblivious. They need education and consequences. That's the only thing they understand." So you are punishing them with calls for a mandatory helmet law. But no such punitive measure for adults that can't seem to maintain control of their cars.
Matt F February 06, 2012 at 12:52 AM
Ken, it's disturbing that you're so quick to absolve the driver of any responsibility. It's a driver's job to look out for pedestrians, cyclists, and skateboarders, or whomever, period. If it's dark, you look harder, drive more slowly and be more careful, particularly around here. It's amazing to me that you refer to Tyler as "dumb." that he should have "known better." You're blaming him for getting killed by a driver who, by his own admission, wasn't paying attention. Tyler could have taken more precautions, sure, but is that really grounds to dismiss him as reckless and stupid and, by implication, deserving of his death?
Matt F February 06, 2012 at 12:58 AM
@Vox "And I'm not sure someone who has a death wish is really living, and at whose expense." Wow.
Paul D February 06, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Cite 'em and confiscate their skateboard. Return it when the parents show up with the rider wearing his helmet. Any punishment has to hurt to work. "Warnings" do nothing. People learn when it stings. Raise the fine until it hurts the responsible party, rider or parent. And cops need to get out of their cars and treat traffic citations as a seriously effective way to correct bad social behavior. Being a citizen on public roads in any way is the greatest at-risk group interaction citizens have.. for cops to cruise around in their cars all day and pick which laws they feel like enforcing today and which laws they blow off is not only lazy but it breaks the covenant made with the public to provide protection and service. WE give the cops this authority, not their Sergeant or their Lieutenant or their Chief. If you people can't hack doing your job, cash it in and move on. We need you OUT there pro-actively working, not zipping around your beats with the tinted windows rolled up.
M February 06, 2012 at 04:06 AM
Cops are public servants that enforce laws. Why should helmet laws being any different? " To -Protect- and to Serve" Hundreds of thousands of dollars are wasted on easily preventable incidents with EMS response every year. This is one of them. Something along the line of enforcement should proceed as follows... -Written warning -Parents notified -Small fine -Parents fined -Big fine -Parents fined (again) -Community Service -Parents ________ (insert punishment) It's up to the police to enforce this, but it's up to parents to educate their kids. Too often society says its ok for someone else to take responsibility for a minor or to divert blame to someone else. If you took the time to make a chile, then you can also take the time to help educate him/her too. It's not just about wearing a helmet. It's about prolonging a quality of life. However a state or federal grant should be made for getting mainstream, well designed helmets available to all kids. Being "cool" is a big part of growing up, and this is the number one reason why kids don't wear them. With this helmet they should get a pamphlet of sort that shows in details preventable injuries/death complete with pictures. If HIPPA wasn't in place I would take and submit my own. -M EMT, CPT-1, Fire Cadet
Tatter Salad February 08, 2012 at 07:05 PM
The OP "original post' here is "helmet law" - centric. Tyler, for whom the helmet law DOES NOT apply (he was 18), and the circumstances (struck in a cross-walk, in Berkeley), did suffer from head injuries; ...whether a helmet would have helped is MOOT for this thread, in which the question is: "Should the police enforce helmet laws." The helmet laws are strictly defined by State Law, and are 'DIFFICULT' to enforce as, for each citation, the City of Albany would collect $ 6.25 and spend $200.00+ !! (This is in the MINIMAL cost of time for the City, and fees to Berkeley Courts to deal with the Citation; Albany has no Court). If you wish to see enforcement of the helmet law then suggest/support a City ordinance that would make more sense than the State Law; one that requires, for example (already suggested) the 'fix it' provision of the 'kid/parent/helmet' presenting themselves for sign-off of same. But yes; it does seem absurd that adults do not have the helmet law applied to them... our skulls are VERY fragile too. But then, we see exhibition ice-skaters without helmets... and should snowboarders be aligned with skiers... you see the burgeoning repercussions here.
Kendra Knowles February 09, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Or instead of taking a punishment view and giving them a ticket for not wearing a helmet, why can't they be acknowledged when they are wearing a helmet? It wouldn't take that much effort to stop a kid who is wearing a helmet and give them some sort of reward, or even a family who's parents are also wearing helmets. Maybe a local business or organization could donate coupons/vouchers and the kid could redeem it later. (ice cream, pencil/eraser, a candy, etc.) I am sure once the message spreads that if you get caught wearing you helmet, there is a reward or surprise involved you would see more kids wearing them. It seems to me, a little work from a few volunteers would be all the Police Department needed to get this going. I understand the "cool factor" I have 4 kids of my own. However, they do know from first hand experience that helmets do save lives. It saved their brother.
Susan Miller February 09, 2012 at 06:43 PM
It seems like a city owned skate park where helmet laws are not enforced is a big risk for a city to take on. What if the police enforced the helmet law by writing a citation, confiscating the board and holding it until the parents or owner shows up to claim it. The fine would be having to by a helmet from the police. Once a parent or rider has bought a dozen or so helmets they should be smart enough to wear one of them. Or not.
Ad February 16, 2012 at 11:58 PM
1st offense fine the parents! then they'll buy their kids helmets, 2nd offense fine the kids themselves payable by community service or money 3rd offense revoke their permission to ride, they must walk or get a ride in a car or take a bus
Ad February 16, 2012 at 11:59 PM
also, positive reinforcement! reward those who are "caught being good"!

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