The county's proposed helmet law for young bicyclists is drawing some of its strongest support from an unexpected quarter -- the children themselves.

Howard Koontz, an eighth-grader at Glenwood Middle School, said student support for the bill "is pretty weird. But we're trying to protect kids when they are young so they have time to grow old."

About 50 Glenwood eighth-graders are lobbying hard for the bill. Some have prepared surveys that document the need for a law. Others have called newspapers and television stations to seek editorial support. Nearly a dozen students testified in favor of the bill during a County Council hearing last month.

The bill, which bicycle groups say would be the first of its kind in the nation, would require children under 16 to wear helmets when riding on county roads or paths. Under the proposed ordinance, violators could be subject to a $50 fine for a first offense and a $100 fine for a second offense.

Koontz said that not all his friends like the proposed law. "We have several students who say {a bike accident} is not going to happen to them, that accidents happen to other kids. One of these days, though, it's not going to be the other guy," he said.

Glenwood pupils were spurred into action after when one of their fellow students died last fall after being struck by a car while bicycling in the western part of the county. That death occurred after a similiar accident that claimed the life of a Glenelg High School student who had attended Glenwood.

The accidents "hit so close to home. Students were eager to participate" in the lobbying effort, said Glenwood teacher Dianne Wells.

She organized students to work on a bicycle safety program. Some of them helped produce a video on bicycle safety for county elementary school students. Others decided to work for mandatory helmet legislation after meeting with Council Council member Charles C. Feaga (R-District 5).

"The students' testimony {before the County Council} was instrumental in changing people's minds about the bill," Wells said.

Meagan Lewis, 13, said students focused on council member Paul R. Farragut (D-District 4).

"We knew he was probably our main opposition. And we really tried to change his mind," the eighth-grader said.

Farragut now says he's a proponent of the bill, despite initial reservations about whether the law was enforceable and whether educating children about bicycle safety is best left to parents.

Farragut and council member C. Vernon Gray (D-District 3) have joined Feaga in backing the bill, making its passage by the five-member council appear likely. County Executive Elizabeth Bobo (D) said she will not veto the legislation if it passes.

Student support for the helmet bill follows an aggressive bicycle safety education effort in the schools. Most middle school students this year will particpate in a week-long program stressing the importance of helmets. Programs for elementary and high school students also have been developed.

Students are given their own safety textbook, a pamphlet written by Glenwood teacher Susan Sullivan. It is illustrated with cartoons and sports catchy chapter heads like "All Gain -- No Pain Safety Equipment" and "Pedaling Around or Gnarly Spots for Cycling Fun."

Teachers supplement classroom discussion with optional weekend rides with the students. In addition, Glenwood sponsored a bike rodeo last week that featured bike contests and repair clinics.

Princeton Sports has provided support for the classes and afterschool events. The 53-year-old Baltimore-based company has been cited by a county civic organization for its volunteer efforts in the safety campaign.

"I don't think a lot of parents are aware of the dangers of bicycling today," said Alan Davis, a Princeton vice president. "It doesn't take much to make the sport safer. . . . A helmet can be cheaper than a pair of sneakers."

Princeton is working with a helmet manufacturer to provide discounted helmets to county Parent Teacher Associations and youth groups. It is also helping the schools develop safety courses should the county adopt the helmet legislation.

Before the safety campaign began, eighth-grader Koontz said he usually wore wear his helmet only on long rides.

"I might not wear it if I was just going down the street. But now I've learned 'Whoa, {an accident} could happen anywhere,' " he said.