HELMETS CUT BIKE INJURIES, GROUP SAYS.
The increased use of helmets has led to a 51 percent decline in bicycle-related injuries among Los Angeles children ages 14 and under in the past five years, traffic safety advocates announced Monday.
The decline reflects a nationwide safety trend of a sharply lower death rate among children due to accidents, although sports-related injuries are sharply up.
In Los Angeles, bicycle-related incidents involving children dropped from 524 in 1992 to 255 in 1997, according to city Department of Transportation engineer Pauline Chan, who said the drop might be related to better safety education and increased helmet use.
``What it does is it saves the person from life-threatening injuries to the head,'' Chan said.
A survey by the Van Nuys-based traffic safety organization Safe Moves indicated that helmet use by children 14 and under rose significantly during that time period, from 13 percent in 1993 to 68 percent in 1997. California's helmet law went into effect in 1994, requiring all bicycle riders under 18 to wear helmets.
``So, basically, what we're saying is the passage of the helmet law has had an impact on preventing injuries,'' said Nanette Terrenal, program director of Safe Moves.
Although there were no bicycle-related deaths from 1994 through 1996 in Los Angeles, there was one death in 1997 and one so far in 1998, Safe Moves executive director Pat Hines said, citing additional Department of Transportation statistics.
In both cases, the victims were boys who were riding bikes without head protection.
Twelve-year-old Emmanuel Jimenez of Van Nuys, who triumphed over cerebral palsy to ride a bicycle, was killed by a pizza-delivery car last month on the very day his mother planned to buy him a helmet. Nine-year-old Michael Fitzpatrick died last year when he and his brother, sharing one bicycle, rode into the path of a bus in their South Central Los Angeles neighborhood.
Despite increases in helmet use, Terrenal said, ``traffic injuries are the No. 1 cause of death of children under the age of 14 in the country.''
To combat that danger, Safe Moves aims to provide free bike helmets to 10,000 children. Councilman Hal Bernson, who serves the northwest San Fernando Valley, has offered $1,000 to buy roughly 150 helmets, Terrenal said. Other private businesses also have pledged support for the program.
A ``bicycle rodeo'' to be held at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles between 2 and 5 p.m. today will offer safety training and kick off the free helmet campaign.
The number of pedestrian injuries among Los Angeles children ages 14 and under also has dropped, from 861 in 1994 to 538 in 1997, according to Department of Transportation statistics. And deaths of children from pedestrian accidents has declined from 22 in 1994 to 14 in 1997.
The declining numbers in Los Angeles mirror nationwide improvements in child safety.
In 1987, the overall death rate from accidental injuries was 15.56 per 100,000 children 14 and under. By 1995, that figure had fallen to 11.45 per 100,000, a decrease of 26.4 percent, the National Safe Kids Campaign reported.
Deaths from bicycle accidents showed the greatest decline in the study, falling from 0.75 per 100,000 to 0.44 per 100,000 - a drop of 41 percent.
The study also found a sharp increase in sports-related injuries.