In Mostly Sharp Editorial, Times Opposes Mandatory Helmet Law
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.
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.