Monday, 14 July 2014

Some Enforcement Difficulties: The Proposed Helmet law

I see that the scrutiny panel are recommending the bicycle helmets are used by young children, as a compulsory law, with a structure of fines against miscreants.
I covered this in my blog last month:
"One offence is committed by the child himself or herself (if aged 10 or over, and below the prescribed upper age limit), one by either or both of the child's parents if they cause or permit the breach without reasonable excuse, and one by any other person who is driving the cycle without reasonable excuse at the time of the breach (for example where the child is in a child seat, in a trailer or on a tandem)."
As I pointed out, apart from parents ensuring their children had helmets, and left home wearing them (if for school), there was very little they could do to be held responsible, and that would almost certainly come under the heading reasonable excuse. It is almost impossible for parents to enforce the law in the same way as wearing seat belts, despite an analogy often being made, because the analogy just breaks down: parents are present in cars with kids, but are not (usually) following kids on bikes all the way to school (or elsewhere).
Determining age limit, and for that matter identity, of children will be almost impossible because there is no requirement in the law for them to carry identification; indeed, apart from passports, which you are not required to have unless you travel, there are no forms of ID for under 16 year olds readily available. And if some were, who would supply them, and at what cost?
I suggested confiscation of some kind might be more effective, and I did not realise when suggesting this that in fact it has been implemented (so obviously legal technicalities are not insurmountable) and has proven to be highly effective in a small town. Substitute Parish for Town, and this might be a good model for Jersey to adopt.
The study, which appeared in a Paediatrics journal, was reported as follows under the headline "Georgia Town Seizes Bicycles":
"The medical journal 'Pediatrics' reports that the town of Wadley, Georgia, has set up a police program to seize the bicycles of riders under 16 who are not wearing helmets. Parents and kids then come to the station house to retrieve the bicycle, and are treated to a lecture on helmet safety. For a second offence the bicycle would be permanently confiscated, but there have been no second offences to date."
"Wadley's ordinance has been enforced since 1997, and was combined with distribution of free helmets and a short bike safety education talk in grades K through 7. Following that, Police impounded 167 bicycles in the first five months in this town of 2,400 residents. The campaign has reportedly raised helmet usage from essentially zero to over 54 per cent. The article concludes that simply passing a law is less effective than a campaign featuring active enforcement, free helmets and an education program."
Another version of the story adds more details:
"Wadley police officers then began confiscating bicycles anytime a child was caught without a helmet. The child and a parent had to go to the police station, where they were lectured on helmet use before getting the bike back."
"Without enforcement, state and local laws are not as effective in encouraging helmet use, said Stephen Davidson, one of the study's co-authors: '''We do recommend that small towns interested in increasing bike helmet usage consider developing some sort of enforceable bike helmet regulation,'' said Davidson, who is director of the injury control section of the Division of Public Health."
It is I think something which would be much more effective and enforceable than a system of fines, which may well turn generally law abiding citizens into criminals, and will in any event be extremely difficult to enforce. Removal of bike, with the element of shame involved in having to go and reclaim it, is a more immediate mechanism for enforcement.
Boston, in 2008, decided through frustration of unenforceable laws, to do something very similar to this:
"If you're young and ride a bicycle through town without a helmet, you may end up walking back home. Police here are looking for scofflaws and will snatch the pedals from your feet if you've been warned numerous times but still forgo headgear. Holliston police, frustrated in trying to drive home the point that riding without a helmet is dangerous and illegal, are hoping the tactic will finally get the attention of young riders."
"We're not looking to take bikes away from the kids who forget their helmets," School Resource Officer David Gatchell said yesterday. "This isn't something where we're looking to collect a hundred bikes. We don't want to seize bikes, but for the kids who repeatedly ignore the warnings, it will happen."
"Riding a bike - or scooter or in-line skates - without a helmet is illegal for anyone younger than 17 in Massachusetts. But Gatchell said he's noticed crowds of youngsters riding in his town without head protection. Bradford Jackson, Holliston school superintendent, said that outside the schools, he's seen an increase in bike riders, given the warm weather"
"The law allows police to hold the bicycles for as long as 15 days, but Gatchell said parents can reclaim them early if they show that their child has a helmet. Nancy King-Bolger, president of the Holliston Parent Teacher Student Association for the past two years, said she also has noticed that most Holliston kids, especially older teens, ride through the town centre without headgear."
"Parents of younger kids have more control because their children aren't riding that far from home. The earlier you get your child to put it on, the more likely the child will continue to wear the helmet when he or she gets older."
"King-Bolger said it wasn't easy getting her two boys to wear helmets. "I was the helmet witch. When my kids were younger and riding bikes and skateboarding downtown, I felt strongly that they wore helmets. This is a small village and I had my spies out there, asking other parents if they had seen my boys without helmets."
San Diego has also introduced a policy with regard to city schools and campus which includes confiscation:
"All students riding bicycles, skateboards, and/or scooters must wear helmets. Vehicle Code 21212 states that all minors under 18 must wear a helmet when operating a bicycle, skateboard, or scooter. Students caught in violation of the code are subject to fine. Correia is in support of student transit other than motorized vehicle, but must enforce a strict helmet policy. Students found on campus with bicycles, skateboards, or scooters without helmets will have their vehicle confiscated"
The States are due to debate the matter next week. The States of Jersey Police submission said that:
"The absence of registration markings and registered keeper requirements, aligned to motor vehicles, will present some enforcement difficulties."
As I said in my original blog, which also formed part of a submission to Scrutiny, I am not suggesting that a compulsory law on cycle helmets for children is a bad thing; far from it - I think the use of helmets is needed to prevent head injuries.
My concern is that by passing a law without adequate means of enforcement, the States are being foolish. This law, as it stands, is almost an encouragement for any young people to lie about their identity and their age, and their home if stopped by the police and given more than a caution. Do we want to encourage that kind of culture, in which law evasion albeit minor, might become habitual?
The police themselves realise that it is very difficult to enforce, and the police comment on policing priorities in this matter is a masterpiece of obscuration:
Do we envisage any problems policing this Law?

"Policing priorities are set on a monthly, weekly and daily basis, dependent on the nature of any given incident, through an intelligence led process that aligns threat  and risk with operational deployment. This legislation and any methods of enforcement would be considered amongst other policing priorities, which include responding to concerns raised by the public. Operational priorities feed off of that process."
"The SOJP also recognise the value of public support and cooperation and so would look to use the law as an educational tool and make sure that any enforcement methods remain proportionate to the incident or offence. The absence of registration markings and registered keeper requirements, aligned to motor vehicles, will present some enforcement difficulties"
What kind of priority can we give to Policing this proposed Law?
"I think we follow the answer given for question on problems policing this law. Priorities are set accordingly."
That tells us very little, but I suspect that reading between the lines, the degree of enforcement might just exceed that given to enforcement of litter laws.
There are alternatives to fines, and it is a shame that the focus primarily on Australia overlooked the situation in America, where greater imagination (in the face of the deficiency of a fine-based regime) has led to better ways of enforcement by means of confiscation.

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