By Cady Kuzmich
Clifton Park — Local kids will have 5,000 chances to win free ice cream this summer. All they have to do is get caught wearing a helmet while riding their bike.
Dozens of children joined Assemblyman James Tedisco Thursday morning, June 30, at the Southern Saratoga YMCA Summer Camp in Clifton Park to highlight the importance of bike safety this summer with the 19th annual Safe Summer Bike Helmet Safety Program. Silver tassels hanging off handlebars glimmered in the sun and training wheels wobbled as beginner cyclists tried to hop onto their bikes.
Tedisco has teamed up with 12 local police departments, the YMCA, Stewart’s and Hayner’s Ice Cream to make the Safe Summer Bike Helmet Program a reality. The Assemblyman emphasized the importance of positive reinforcement when it comes to bike safety. Through this program, local police departments will hand out 5,000 “good tickets” to children caught wearing a helmet while riding their bikes. The tickets are redeemable for ice cream thanks to donations from Stewart’s and Hayner’s Ice Cream in Halfmoon. “When you’re good, good things happen,” he told the kids.
Unicorn helmets and helmets with neon green mohawk spikes rested atop the kids’ heads in the audience as Tedisco spoke. Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo pulled up in his police car “whoop whooping” and handed “good tickets” to the children wearing helmets. Zurlo applauded the program for passing on simple, “yet effective ways to teach kids how to safely handle their bicycles.”
While it’s the law in New York State that children up to age 14 must wear a bicycle helmet, there is no such requirement for adults. Still, Tedisco urged older members of the community to set an example for the young members of the community. “This program is for everybody,” said Tedisco. “Helmets are for adults as well as kids. The program permeates beyond kids.”
“I’m not so interested in kids abiding the law,” said Tedisco. The goal of the program is not necessarily about keeping kids from breaking the law, but to keep them safe. He expressed his hope that the children in attendance would act as “ambassadors for their neighborhood,” encouraging other kids to wear helmets.
5 year old Kevin Sun of Clifton Park wore a helmet with bright red spikes sticking out of it as he stood in line to get ice cream. Sun said he first learned how to ride his bike when he was three years old and confirmed he always remembers to put on his helmet first.
Each year, an average of 54 New Yorkers are killed and 19,000 New Yorkers are hospitalized due to bike accidents, according to the New York state Department of Health. Tedisco and other community members are hoping to bring those numbers down. Tedisco pointed out that “head injuries are the leading cause of death and permanent disability in bicycle crashes, accounting for more than 60 percent of bike-related deaths.”
According to Tedisco, “the average charge for a hospital stay due to a bicycle related brain injury is $23,000 with an average length of stay of four days. In New York, annual hospitalization charges related to care for persons with a bicycle related brain injury is $20 million.”
In comparison, he said helmets cost about $20. Still he noted, “Some families can’t afford that.” Thanks to the law firm, Martin, Harding and Mazotti LLP, hundreds of new bike helmets have been donated to police departments throughout the Capital Region to be distributed to families facing financial hardship.
“Stewart’s Shops is happy to partner with this program year after year because what sweeter reward is there, than ice cream? We wish all the kids out there a fun and safe summer,” said Maria D’Amelia, Stewart’s Shops spokesperson. Speaking of the company’s goals for the summer, she said, “We want to keep the ice cream cold, keep people smiling and keep kids safe.”
Craig Hayner, of Hayner’s Ice Cream, said “it’s nice to be wearing another hat.” Hayner is also the Saratoga County Clerk. He urged drivers to “remember these kids are out there,” especially during the warm summer months when kids are home from school.
Tedisco thanked the YMCA in the traditional Village People fashion before showing the kids in attendance how to put a helmet on correctly and joining them for a short bike ride around the YMCA.
Prompted by Sarah Heslin, the Executive Director of the Southern Saratoga County YMCA, the group of children sitting beside Tedisco shouted “Thank you!” for his work. “That was almost as loud as the New York State Assembly when we’re in session but it makes a whole lot more sense,” laughed Tedisco.