In Mostly Sharp Editorial, Times Opposes Mandatory Helmet Law

Image: ## Hugger##
Image: ## Hugger##

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times wrote a mostly thoughtful editorial against Senate Bill 192, Carol Liu’s proposed mandatory helmet law for bicyclists. In the Times’ opinion, there isn’t enough evidence to show that helmets make bicycle riders safer to justify changing the law.

Hear, hear.

One thing the editorial board didn’t get right: saying that “many of the objections raised by bicycling enthusiasts are laughable — such as the idea that mandatory helmets would make bicycling appear more dangerous and thus discourage people from trying it.”

All chuckling aside, there is actual data showing that mandatory bicycle helmet laws have reduced the number of people bicycling—compared to the uncertain evidence of such laws’ safety impacts, which the Times focuses on. In “Do enforced bicycle helmet laws improve public health?” Australian researcher Dorothy Robertson showed dramatic reductions in both youth (29%) and adult (42%) cycling after a mandatory helmet law was passed. In Irvine, a study found that the number of children riding bicycles decreased between four and five percent after a child’s helmet law was passed there.

Thus, the biggest argument against S.B.192 is that it would have a negative impact on the number of people bicycling in California—in direct conflict with state climate and air quality goals.

The California Transportation Plan 2040, currently being presented in workshops around the state, shows that California cannot meet its climate goals without serious reductions in vehicle miles traveled. The California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) has set a goal of increasing the number of trips made by walking and bicycling to reduce vehicle miles traveled, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution from vehicles.

We won’t get there if a mandatory helmet law stops or reverses the growth in bicycle mode share.

  • Dave Snyder, CalBike

    Read these facts on SB 192:

  • My open invitation to Senator Liu to visit The Netherlands still very much stands, including a list of contacts with whom she can meet and see the measures that actually keep cyclists safe. It would certainly be nice for people on bikes to have a cup to bounce their head in after they get hit. It’d be even nicer for them to just not get hit in the first place. Thus far, the progress on the latter front is one step above abysmal.

    Picture related: Dutch schoolchildren are safe because their chance of getting hit by a vehicle weighing 30 (or up to 700!) times more than they moving five times as fast and are is rather low because they cannot access this area at all.

  • Chris Gillham

    I emailed the LA Times editorial team yesterday when I read their sentence about cycling discouragement being laughable. No response and I’ve learned over the past few months that the American media are as deaf as the Australian media when they’re prompted to look at research instead of press releases.

    As per my feedback to the LA Times, just look at charted recreational cycling participation data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics at the top of Data throughout the site proves that helmet laws significantly discourage cycling but perhaps more relevant is the page about trends in the USA ( which links at the top to a peer reviewed World Transport Policy and Practice paper published in January.

    California is proposing an all-age public health and safety disaster but it seems that no American media is interested in researching or telling the public about the helmet law results in other countries or in their own backyard.

  • Mehmet Berekr

    It was good to see the LA Times oppose SB 192. However, it was disappointing to see no part of that opposition based on the problems that enforcing the law would create. I understand that the piece was about the debate on what actually makes people on bikes safer, but that debate has overshadowed, I feel, the more important concerns of how the law would affect people on the street were it to go into effect.

    With minorities and people of lower incomes biking at higher rates than white people and people with higher incomes, SB 192 would introduce another chance for police to interact disproportionately with minorities. I guess I just don’t feel like I’ve heard this enforcement issue talked about as much as these safety arguments, by the media and by CalBike and others in opposition to the bill, and it should be. Because enforcement would be the way that SB 192 would actually affect people, and not for the better.

  • gneiss

    This is exactly right. One needs to look no further than the way jaywalking and bicycling on the sidewalk laws are disproportionately enforced against minorities to see the discriminatory fashion that this law could be applied.

  • murphstahoe

    I doubt Carole Liu understands it but to me this bill is basically a giant pretext to hassle low income people who happen to own a bike.

  • calwatch

    When I found out about this bill I was one of the first to point this out on Twitter. I think there’s not much serious attention paid to this bill as it is a trial balloon, but I could see the “Black Lives Matter” crowd come in if this bill was more serious.


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