Senator Introduces Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Law in CA

Senator Carol Liu’s S.B. 192 would require all bicycle riders to wear helmets, a move that would likely cut the number of people who ride bikes. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Yesterday, Senator Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) introduced a bill in the California legislature that would require all bicycle riders, including adults, to wear a helmet, and to wear reflective clothing at night.

Senator Liu has been an ally for active transportation and bicycling, including supporting the three-foot law that took so long to get passed, and she has promoted safe walking and bicycling during her long tenure in the legislature. But if, as Liu staffer Robert Oakes told Streetsblog, Liu’s “point of view is that we should do everything to encourage active transportation,” this bill will not achieve that.

Richard Masoner of Cyclelicious calls S.B. 192 the

“Remove Cyclists From California Roads Law of 2015″ or, alternatively, the “Harass Minorities On Bikes Law of 2015.”

Oakes said the Senator and her staff looked at youth bike helmet laws as a model. Seeing that more and more states have adopted them encouraged the staff to think that California could be the first state to impose a mandatory helmet law on adults. They say that the youth helmet laws heard similar arguments—that fewer people would ride bikes—before they were adopted.

“But no one in 21 years has proposed a bill to repeal the youth helmet law,” he said.

Streetsblog would like to suggest the Senator review the research on the effects of bike helmet laws on the number of kids who ride bikes, including this gem of a conclusion from one paper: “Thus, the observed reduction in bicycle-related head injuries may be due to reductions in bicycle riding induced by the laws.”

Another suggested area of research is in how this law might be applied inequitably to different types of bicycle riders; the Senator and her staff could start with this recent Streetsblog story. Or this one.

But the biggest argument against a compulsory bike helmet law is that it doesn’t address the actual dangers people on bikes face on our streets, like distracted driving and speeding.

California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike) Executive Director Dave Snyder said the bill “attracts attention away from the much more important thing, which is to prevent a crash in the first place.”

Senator Liu, he said, seems to have good intentions, but she may not understand the unintended consequences of a helmet law. “It would for, practical purposes, not improve safety—and it would make it so much harder for us to encourage more bicycling,” he said.

Oakes says Senator Liu is looking forward to the discussion her bill will generate, and so are we.

Meanwhile, the other “bike safety” bill introduced in this session, A.B. 28, from freshman Assemblymember Kansen Chu (D-San Jose), was amended, thank goodness. It started out requiring bicyclists to use a blinking white light at the rear at night. Yesterday, the author amended that to a red rear light.

Bicyclists are already required to have reflectors on their pedals, spokes, and at the rear, plus a white headlight when they ride at night. CalBike’s Snyder says that “although it’s a good idea to have a tail light when riding, the evidence is that properly installed reflectors are sufficient for visibility.”

And while CalBike and other advocates don’t want to impose more requirements on people who ride bikes, he says Assemblymember Chu is “onto something. We would be interested in the bill being amended to permit people to use a rear taillight in lieu of the otherwise required reflectors. For example, if you ride a bike with special pedals, you may not have reflectors and are out of compliance.”

“You ought to be able to stick on a light instead.”

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