Police officers will provide bicycle helmets to 100 riders thanks to a donation this month from the Healthy Tupelo Task Force and the John Paul Frerer Memorial Endowment.
"Instead of giving them a ticket, we're trying to do something positive," said Healthy Tupelo Task Force spokesman Hank Boerner. "We're trying to make it more of an awareness and a reward type thing."
According to the city code, it's illegal for cyclists to ride on public roads without a helmet. Doing so could result in up to $1,000 in fines and up to 90 days in jail. But instead of punishing riders for exposing themselves to danger, the helmet initiative gives officers a chance to educate and protect.
Each helmet meets current safety codes and comes with a brochure about why it's important to practice safe cycling.
Officers already have given out several of them since the program launched, said Capt. Rusty Haynes.
"It's such a good cause," Haynes said. "Officers carry three or four of them in the trunk and give them out whenever they see someone riding without it."
Helmets come in both child and adult sizes and are available on a first come, first served basis until they're gone.
"Helmets are really important to our endowment," said Danielle Frerer, sister of John Paul Frerer, for whom the endowment is named. "We're glad to help make our roads and bicyclists safer, on the other hand it touches the place of our loss. We don't want anyone to experience the same loss we've dealt with."
John Paul Frerer was a rising Tupelo High School senior in August 2009 when he was fatally struck by a vehicle while cycling on Highway 6. Since then, his family and friends established an endowment to promote bicycle safety and awareness.
The group has pushed passage of local and state bicycle safety laws, organized an annual Bike Safety Week and created a scholarship fund for college-bound seniors from Tupelo High School and from St. James Catholic Church.