For Brian Meshkin, the first day of Howard County's new bicycle helmet law yesterday held a certain poignancy.
It was nearly a year ago, on a similarly clear, cool fall day, that Meshkin saw a teenage neighbor die when a car struck the boy's bicycle on a winding Glenelg area road.
The accident persuaded Meshkin and many of his Glenwood Middle School classmates to campaign last year for what is considered to be the nation's first helmet law for bicyclists under age 16. And it is one reason that Meshkin, now a 14-year-old ninth-grader at Glenelg High School, won't let the issue alone.
"I was shooting baskets the other day and I saw a bunch of 7- and 8-year-olds riding by without helmets on . . . so I yelled to them 'Get a helmet,' " Meshkin said.
Judging by random observations at county schoolyards and ballfields yesterday, some children are taking the law to heart and wearing their helmets, but many are not.
The law requires children to wear helmets when they are riding on county roads or paths but is not enforceable on state or private roads. Helmets must meet voluntary standards established by the American National Standards Institute or the Snell Foundation.
The parents or guardians of children who violate the law can be subject to $25 fines for a first offense, but the police said officers will issue only warnings for the first three months.
"We want to give people time to understand the requirements of the law," said Sgt. Gary Gardner, a police spokesman.
To help the process along, police officers have been going from school to school for three weeks explaining the new law to students, said Sgt. Bo Haslup Jr., administrator of the police Youth Services Division.
He thinks the publicity about the law and the efforts in the schools are having an effect.
"In my trips around Columbia, where our office is located, I've noticed a lot more kids in the age group we are interested in wearing helmets," he said.
Meshkin's friend, Matt Walker, another Glenelg student, said he's been wearing a helmet since his family moved into a house off a sometimes busy Route 97 in western Howard County. "I've crashed with my helmet on and I think I would have been badly injured if I didn't have it on," Walker said.
Meshkin said the helmet law should help him persuade other people to wear the safety gear.
"At least now when I ask people to wear helmets I can say they should do it because it is the law," Meshkin said.