Maybe for the enthusiast it’s just obvious. Maybe because we do things that others simply can’t, we see no other option. We dive for corners, sprint for city limits, aggressively descend a local mountain. So it goes without question that some level of head protection is needed. That’s why, before every ride, we check tires, inspect components, and strap on a helmet. The brain bucket is just part of the deal.
Now the greater riding public is faced with the possibility of being told they have to wear head protection anytime they ride. Mandatory helmet laws for all are percolating in the minds of state lawmakers in California. Many states already make those under 18 strap on a helmet. California could be the first state to make every rider wear one. State Senator Carol Liu’s bill calls for a $25 fine for each violation. It also mandates reflective clothing for night rides.
Bike coalitions take an awkward stance on mandatory helmet laws and use reverse logic to explain their position. The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and the California Bicycle Coalition oppose Liu’s bill and offer the following reason: Bike advocates say by making bike riders where helmets, a message is being sent that cycling is dangerous. They believe this message will discourage cycling. Advocacy groups contest that mandatory helmets actually make things more dangerous for the riding public because motorists will be more likely to take chances passing someone wearing a helmet.
Bike coalitions say government should be making cycling safer by spending on bike lanes and paths. They say by preventing accidents you eliminate the need for making people wear helmets. They even have data from the California Highway Patrol that backs up their position. Over the last few years, without a helmet law in place for adults, the percentage of injuries to cyclists involved in traffic accidents has gone down.
I totally get their position. I understand that most people ride for recreation and leisure. I agree that making someone put on a helmet for a trip to the neighborhood store is kind of ridiculous. Here’s my problem with opposing a helmet law: we already have a PR problem with motorists and opposing mandatory helmets only makes it worse.
Bike advocate groups might consider what others see when they see us. They see people who run stop signs, weave in and out of traffic, ride in packs, take up a lane, and so on. It’s not a pretty picture. Sure, most of us are wearing helmets as we bend rules and traffic laws, but that’s not what the pissed off drivers see. So when they hear cyclists are opposed to a helmet law, it only furthers their belief that we are selfish, unpredictable and dangerous.
Maybe we let this one go. Let the lawmakers and drivers have this one without resistance. We got our 3-foot law in California, we can put up with a helmet law on the books. Pick you battles as they say. This is one fight we can easily walk away from.