State Senator Drops Mandatory Helmet Proposal for Bicyclists

Bicyclists ride in a green bike lane on San Francisco's Market Street. (San Francisco Bicycle Coalition)

In a victory for bicycle advocates, a state senator has dropped a proposal that would have made California the first state in the country to require every adult who rides a bicycle to wear a helmet.

Instead, state Sen. Carole Liu’s legislation now calls for a “comprehensive study of bicycle helmet use in California” that would “evaluate the potential safety benefits of a mandatory helmet law.”

“Carole believes in consensus-driven policy, and there were too many conflicting opinions about helmet use,” said a spokesman, Robert Oakes. “A study will provide the data needed to guide us to the next step.”

The amended bill also removes a requirement that would have required bicyclists to wear “retroreflective high-visibility safety apparel” at night.

Liu has previously said that “any responsible bike rider should wear a helmet.” The Sacramento Bee reported that Liu’s nephew was killed by a drunken driver in 2004 while riding a bicycle, with helmet on, in Sonoma County.

But bicycle advocates argued that the law would actually discourage bicycling and said the focus should be on making the streets safer.

A petition from the California Bicycle Coalition laid out the case against a mandatory helmet law:

We’re not against helmets. They are mandated in many competitive races, and amateur racers should follow that example. But there are proven ways to make our streets safer while encouraging bicycling — reducing speed limits on key streets, building protected bike lanes and bike paths, and educating motorists and bicyclists on how to drive or ride safely, to name a few. A mandatory helmet law is not one of them.

California, along with 21 other states and the District of Columbia, already requires bike helmets for anyone under 18.

State Senator Drops Mandatory Helmet Proposal for Bicyclists 10 April,2015Bryan Goebel

  • Bike advocates don’t like to even talk about helmets, since that accurately implies that riding a bike can be dangerous. Instead, it’s hyped as a green, win-win deal for everyone, and the dangers are soft-pedaled, so to speak.

    The American Association of Neurological Surgeons says that cycling accidents cause the most head injuries in the country, with football a distant second.

    • AlexWithAK

      Cycling is not inherently dangerous. It’s cycling alongside cars driven by careless or unaware drivers that’s dangerous and a helmet is not going to do anything to prevent a 4000 lb car from crushing your rib cage. (Yes, there are also careless cyclists, but their role in crashes is vastly overblown.) What makes cycling safer is 1. better bike infrastructure and 2. increased presence of cyclists on the road to better acclimate drivers. Helmet laws are not shown to improve injury rates where they’ve been instituted but they are shown to reduce overall cycling numbers, which in turn reduces overall cycling safety.

      • Whenever anyone talks about the risks involved in riding a bike, many cyclists reach for “infrastructure,” as if bike lanes can protect them from “solo falls,” the most common type of cycling accident.

        The Centers for Disease Control on cycling:
        “While only 1% of all trips taken in the U.S. are by bicycle, bicyclists face a higher risk of crash-related injury and deaths than occupants of motor vehicles do. In 2010 in the U.S., almost 800 bicyclists were killed and there were an estimated 515,000 emergency department visits due to bicycle-related injuries. Data from 2005 show fatal and non-fatal crash-related injuries to bicyclists resulted in lifetime medical costs and productivity losses of $5 billion.”

        From a ten-year New York City study: “Nearly all bicyclists who died (97%) were not wearing a helmet,” and “Most fatal crashes (74%) involved a head injury.”

        • Alicia

          Whenever anyone talks about the risks involved in riding a bike, many cyclists reach for “infrastructure,” as if bike lanes can protect them from “solo falls,” the most common type of cycling accident.

          The report also states that ” Nearly all bicyclist fatalities (92%) occurred as a result of crashes with motor vehicles,” and that “Only one fatal crash [me: out of 225 total fatalities] with a motor vehicle occurred when a bicyclist was in a marked bicycle lane.”

          So yeah, I think that study you link to is good evidence on the safety benefits of bike lanes.

    • intergalacticSpartacus

      1st: No, we don’t. We advocate education, not laws. You, like many, have missed the point of why a helmet law is a bad idea. Instead of those without helmets being a risk, everyone gets put at a higher risk due to massive drops in ridership. We advocated see cycling as a great balance in overall health, resource usage, fun, and cost.

      2nd: If you want to force helmet laws on those who get the most head injuries, then you should go after car drivers and pedestrians. Both drivers and pedestrians far outnumber cyclists when it comes to head injuries.


Bryan Goebel

Bryan Goebel is a reporter focused on transportation and housing issues. He was previously the editor of Streetsblog San Francisco, and an anchor/editor at KCBS Radio. He's a lifelong Californian and has also worked at radio stations in Barstow, Redding and Sacramento.

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