California Pushes for Peddling with Helmets

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Staff Editorial 

Two cities in California, San Francisco and Long Beach, make the list of the top 50 bike-friendly cities in the United States according to an online bicycle-oriented newspaper, Bicycling. California unfortunately tops another bike-oriented list. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, California has the highest number of cyclists killed in comparison to every other state, with 338 cyclists killed in collisions with motor vehicles between 2010 and 2012. These numbers led State Senator Carol Liu to introduce SB192, a bill that would require all cyclists, adults and minors, to wear a helmet or pay a $25 fine. If passed, California would become the first state to implement a law requiring those 18 years and older to wear a helmet.

Currently, The Foghorn stands in favor of implementing this bill into a law. The reason a cyclist puts on a helmet in the first place seems to be similar to the reason people put their seatbelts on: to ensure a higher level of safety, especially in the chance there is a collision. More so, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) has estimated that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of serious head injury by an astonishing 85 percent. In 2013, the IIHS reported that nationally 741 cyclists were killed, and among them, 63 percent were not wearing helmets. There is a proven link between the wearing of helmets and the chance of coming out of a collision with a less severe injury. Parents and adults strongly feel that children should wear helmets because they understand the risks of not wearing one. The problem seems to be that these same parents and adults don’t sense the same kind of risk for themselves.

This could also be looked at through an economic angle, and a non-market angle. If a cyclist were to get into a crash, they would have to deal with property damage, medical treatment, and insurance deductibles — assuming the cyclist has insurance. According to the Center For Head Injury Services, the cost of traumatic brain injuries in the United States alone is $48 billion each year. The grief following an accident of this caliber, as well as the potential victim’s lessened quality of life, cannot be given a monetary value, however. Lamercie Saint Hilaire, a doctor at the San Francisco General Hospital, has been a proponent of the bill as she treats patients with head injuries on a daily basis. A sturdy helmet can range between $10-$200, and that is an investment worth making considering the long-term advantages it can bring.

There has been some pushback to the bill from the California Bicycle Coalition, which believes implementing a helmet law will decrease the number of cyclists on the road, and with the amount of vehicle traffic and the strain from carbon emissions, we should only push for incentives to get people peddling. Other opponents to the bill say that people should be able to do as they please as they are adults. However, we think active cyclists will not let a helmet law stop them in their decision to bike to their destination. The helmet law is not being implemented to discourage people from riding bicycles, but to ensure an extra form of precaution is being taken for cyclists’ safety and the safety of the people around them. The argument can be summed up in the old saying, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks for covering this proposed legislation. I encourage you to continue to follow the issue, including a more detailed story on the bill’s opposition. In addition to virtually every bicycle coalition and bike advocacy organization in the state, opposition comes from advocates for equity and social justice. In the aftermath of Ferguson, do we need another law that would allow police officers to use a helmet law to target people of color? This is already happening in Ft. Lauderdale where a bicycle licensing law has been enforced disproportionately among African Americans (see “Biking while black,” by Heather Smith on grist.org).

    My second gripe has to do with your specious claim that in 2013 “741 cyclists were killed and among them, 63 percent were not wearing helmets. There is a proven link between the wearing of helmets and the chance of coming out of a collision with a less severe injury.” The data tell us nothing about how many among the 63% would have been killed wether or not they were wearing a helmet. Helmet safety standards are based on tests of impacts that happen when a head moving at roughly 20mph collides with a stationary object. Data on the context in which bicyclist-car collisions resulting in death occur show that 40% of the time the cyclist is killed when rear-ended by a car. Additionally, the League of American Bicyclists report on bicyclist fatalities finds that “high-speed urban and suburban arterial streets with no provisions for bicyclists are an over-represented location–representing 56% of all bicyclist fatalities.”

    If you are genuinely interested in the potential for bicycling to address unmet transportation needs of low-income communities and to reduce our society’s contributions to global warming, then you need to be creative in thinking about who currently bicycles and what the barriers are to inspiring more people to ride. You may be right that a helmet law will not deter avid cyclists. But the biggest barrier to getting more people on bikes is perceived safety. A mandatory helmet law sends two messages to the public: (1) Bicycling is an unsafe activity; and, more implicitly, (2) the automobile is our transportation priority so don’t count on safety conditions improving for bicyclists. In other words, let’s think about how we can adapt our transportation infrastructure so that fewer collisions between cars and bicyclists occur. One thing is certain: Whether or not bicyclists are wearing helmets, we are safer when one our built environment is designed to ensure that car’s are aware of our presence and infrastructure exists to give us a buffer from fast moving vehicles.

    Lastly, I think you mean “pedaling” and not “peddling.”

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