July 23, 2015 | Latest Photo
Ever heard the parenting advice, “Catch 'em being good?” It turns out in my town, Montclair, New Jersey, a suburb of New York City, this concept is being used in a clever way to encourage bicycle safety. Policemen are handing out "tickets" to kids who are wearing bike helmets.To pay their “fine,” young cyclists turn in their tickets for a treat at one of four local bakeries. Imagine: a doughnut or cupcake just for being safe!
The ticketing idea was the brainchild of Tracey Diamond, a Montclair graphic designer and mom of two who read about a similar program in another New Jersey town, where bike helmet citations were good for ice cream cones. With the help of a member of the Montclair Police Force, Officer Vincent Russo, Diamond connected with Sergeant Tyrone Williams, who heads up the police department’s Community Service Unit (CSU).
According to Montclair’s website, this special unit is “dedicated to bridging the gap between the Police Department and the community it serves.” I can vouch for that: When my kids were still in car seats, a CSU cop happened to be nearby when I parked at a meter in town. As I hauled my 9-month-old out of the back, he asked if he could make sure the car seat was installed correctly. He did a little tweaking. I felt more confident about chauffeuring my precious cargo after that.
I also feel more confident that my now-older kids are biking around town under the watchful eye of our local men and women in blue. Sgt. Williams told me that Montclair’s bicycle rules and regulations are “pretty antiquated,” so until they’re updated the CSU is doing all it can to keep everyone on two wheels safe — but without punishment.
“Kids fourteen and under are required to wear helmets when they’re on a bicycle,” Williams says, “but to enforce that, if we see a child without a helmet we’ll do a ‘curbside adjustment’ — ask where his helmet is and remind him that it’s not safe to ride without one.”
Williams also said kids are really digging the ticket program. “The ones who get stopped definitely are happy about it,” he says. (If I were getting a free cupcake from the Little Daisy Bake Shop, I’d be happy too.) “One parent whose two boys got tickets while riding together posted on Facebook that her daughter was mad she wasn’t with her brothers at the time.”
It’s too soon to say if the bike helmet ticketing is inspiring more kids to strap on a helmet before they take to the streets, says Williams. But he does plan to do it again next summer.
Is your town doing something special to boost safety? Let us know in the comment section below.
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