A bill introduced in California earlier this year would make helmets mandatory for all adults riding bicycles. Introduced by Senator Carol Liu, the bill was met with opposition by citizens’ bicycling groups, and has since been revised to reflect the groups’ concerns.
Currently, everyone under the age of 18 is required to wear a helmet when cycling, and the fine for noncompliance is $25. In 2006, 95% of cyclists killed in accidents were not wearing helmets. The proposed fine for adults would have been the same, with 75% of the fines being used to fund educational programs and to help low-income families borrow or purchase helmets for their children. The rest of the fines would be given to the city where the ticket was issued.
Yet the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition executive director Tamika Butler made a statement to the Glendale News-Press about how the proposed helmet law would make biking less accessible to the people who most benefit from it. She said that the law would unfairly penalize cyclists who come from low-income families or communities of color, as they may not be able to afford helmets and other accessories.
“We look forward to working with Senator Liu and the rest of the legislature on increasing funding for better infrastructure — like protected bike lanes — and more education for both people who drive and bike. These are measures that will truly help make our communities healthy, safe, and fun places for everyone that rides and everyone that wants to,” she stated, suggesting the alternative that would work its way into the wording of the bill.
Other bicycle groups have expressed concern that a helmet law would reduce the number of cyclists on the roads, due to lack of income to purchase a helmet or a fear that cycling is a more dangerous activity than it is currently perceived to be.
Liu’s legislative director, Robert Oakes, has reworked the bill to request a study on the effectiveness of helmet use by the Office of Traffic Study and California Highway Patrol.
“The hope is that OTS and the CHP can examine current bicycle helmet use and accident reports to determine what percentage of adults do not wear a helmet when they ride a bike, and also determine how many deaths and injuries would have been prevented if those riders had been required to wear helmets,” Oakes stated in an email.