Fighting a Helmet Law

Fighting a Helmet Law

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.


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  1. James Rawstron

    I get it – I always wear a helmet, but I don’t want somebody making me do it. And I will freely admit that riding without a helmet is one of my favorite sensations but I can no longer tolerate the consequences. In fact, when I do it, the pleasure it limited do to awareness of what the results could be for this action. I guess I am willing to give this one up if it does result in more bike access. But it is given grudgingly.
    Good luck, stay safe.

  2. Tim

    I don’t get it. This line of thinking is exactly how freedoms of all sorts are trampled on a daily basis. At what point might we decide to battle back? When some whack-job-legislature-hack writes up a law saying we have to ride carbon bikes because the metal ones are more likely to be hit by lightning? It’s the same thing. It’s someone else saying I have to do something because they think it is better for me.

    I’d be interested in hearing how this legislator came up with this hair-brained idea in the first place. Which helmet manufacturer donated to his campaign?

    Soon we’ll all be wearing helmets when driving too.

  3. Howell

    My main issue with the helmet law is that a fair number of the people in my city (Memphis) without a helmet are people who likely can’t afford the fine or the helmet. There certainly are plenty of folks biking around without helmets who could afford one (and likely have one at home), but there is also a fair percentage of the bikers in town who are biking because it is their only mode of transport. Creating a barrier between them and their ability to commute would be very bad for a city that already has a number of other issues concerning it’s working poor.

  4. Waldo

    Two points:

    1. I went out for a ride on my usual 25-mile hilly loop once and about five minutes into the ride realized that I had forgotten the helmet. Decided to keep going. It was nicely liberating, but I sweated from the head nonetheless. Also, on hot (85+ degrees) climbs during double centuries I routinely remove my very well ventilated helmet, which makes a huge difference in comfort.

    2. Everyone focuses on the helmet, but forgets that the bill also requires use of reflective clothing while riding at night:
    … (2) A person shall not engage in the activities described in paragraph (1) [cycling] in the darkness, as defined in Section 280, unless that person is wearing high-visibility safety apparel, which may include a vest, jacket, or shirt, that is retroreflective and meets the requirements of the American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear, published by the American National Standards Institute/International Safety Equipment Association or standards subsequently established by those entities.
    Patrick, care to comment on this paragraph?

    Thank you.

  5. Andrew Murdoch

    As an Australian living in California, who grew up wearing a helmet, I’m flabbergasted by the opposition to the legislation. The Americans complain about the government not being able to the job they were elected for and then in the same breath complain when a senator has the nerve to propose legislation that might save them in a crash.

    I also understand why they are taking the position they are, because as Tim indicated, Americans hate being told what to do by the government. Even when it could save their life. They want the freedom to die as they choose, never mind the social cost to the doctors, nurses, paramedic and firecrews that fight to save them or have to scrape them off the road.

    My one and thankfully only bad crash on a bicycle was when I hit a pothole and went over the handlebars, breaking my collarbone on landing. The back of my helmet was flattening with the force of my head hitting the road and it saved me from a bad concussion or brain damage. I can still remember my awe when I discovered that it had flattened and the imprint of the road in the foam.

    I cancelled my subscription to the Californian Bicycle Coalition in protest when I read of their opposition.

    In the end the legislation won’t bother me, I’ll still wear a helmet on every ride. I like my brain too much.

    1. Npm

      “… or have to scrape them off the road.”

      If this is happening a helmet isn’t going to help.

    2. Matt Cassle

      Your view point is of no surprise, as you Aussies gave up your firearms not to long ago to your masters. What a shame.

    3. Guy

      Australians should have a valuable opinion on the Californian bill, but if you knew anything about the Australian experience with a mandatory helmet law (MHL) you would be against it.

      In the early 90s the MHL was pushed onto Australian states by the federal government under threat of withholding roads funding. Very little evidence was offered to support it, rather it was just assumed based on the success of mandatory seatbelts and motorcycle helmets that mandatory bicycle helmets would likewise be successful. They weren’t. Cycling number dropped off and now Australia has very low modal share and one of the most toxic road cultures for cycling in the world – with the exception of the Northern Territory which repealed their MHL after a few years.

      The evidence to support MHL is still weak and highly contentious. That’s not a good basis from which to support a law. Its a law that once implemented you will find very hard to repeal. If I was Californian I would be doing everything in my power to prevent this law, just as how as an Australian I am doing everything I can to repeal it in Australia.

    4. Alex

      No, Andrew: Americans, and Danes, and Dutch, and Germans, and, well, pretty much every thinking person is opposed to helmet laws not because of personal freedoms but because of cold hard SCIENCE. As Guy wrote: Helmet laws do NOT reduce accidents involving cars/cyclists, or injuries involving cars/cyclists. They INCREASE the chance of a cyclist becoming involved in an accident with a motor vehicle.
      Science is not a strong point of politicians in the USA or in Australia. Australia DOES have an exemplary and highly effective firearms law, based on facts, for which you should be applauded.
      Re. this article: I’m flabbergasted that someone as intelligent as Michael would take it lying down. Selfish and, again, without scientific or factual merit.
      I’m sure everyone here knows that the helmets they wear are tested by dropping a weight on the top of them, simulating speeds below 20kmh: the former will rarely happen; the latter is rarely deadly, or even seriously harmful. All facts publicly available on www.
      I live in Germany and am happy cycling here: no helmet laws, lights are required for cyclists, and most importantly, stringent driving tests. (hint: it’s not the first two . . .)

  6. Pat N.

    What I have found fascinating in the helmet debate is the vast gulf between helmet wearing in the U.S. and the use of helmets in major European cities. There’s a great website,, that has video stories about cycling and cycle commuting from around the world. In most European capitols, hardly anyone (commuting) wears a helmet. To your point about infrastructure, the cycling infrastructure is as serious as vehicle infrastructure, with many cities having dedicated bike streets, not simply bike lanes.

    Here’s a great example from the streetfilms site about Stockholm:

    I like to ride fast, even while commuting, and, frankly, I would feel naked without my helmet. But I also envision a time when cycling infrastructure is as rich as it is in many major European cities, and one could go to work, run errands, or simply take a ride with the family without helmets.

    Not sure I like the idea of a mandatory helmet law.

  7. Todd

    Way to take a bold stance on the issue. Such a hot take my computer is smoldering.

    You realize this draconian law would apply to every adult on a bike not just the spandex set, right?

  8. thewannaberacer

    I’ve ridden my whole cycling life in a place where helmets were mandatory. We were taught in school and on tv that helmets save lives. I can not see myself going out for a ride anymore without wearing a helmet.

    I can see the argument for the quick trip to the store but those people are the same ones who then ride on the sidewalks which is further bad PR for cyclists.

    California should put the law in place and take the money from the fines and use it to pay for greater cycling infrastructure.

  9. BikeSnobNYC


    Basically you want anyone who wishes to use a bicycle to be required by law to wear a foam hat at all times while doing so in order to atone for what you see as a “PR problem.”

    So dunce caps, basically.



  10. Michael Hotten

    The bill was born out of one of those ” There ought to be a law” campaigns. Liu’s son was killed in a car vs bike accident but he was wearing a helmet.

    One of the sights that kills me is seeing a family out for a bike ride, the kids have helmets on but mom and dad (the responsible ones?) are helmetless.

    1. jorgensen

      Every time I ride with my son, I wear a helmet, and he obliges to wear his without protest.
      He has gloves too which he likes to wear.
      There are a few times when I run a local errand I do not wear one. ( but always worn when with any family, no matter the ride length)
      Once I did forget on a long ride and realized it quite a bit after departure, I was admonished by a number of motorists for Not wearing one.
      I found that interesting and a bit annoying.

    2. Tom

      Michael Hotten:
      Maybe its because the parents know how to ride a bike and exercise good judgement. If you are not racing, cycling is pretty safe.

  11. Robert Farr

    Folks who hate cyclists aren’t going to stop hating if all cyclists wear helmets. Mandatory helmet laws only serve to discourage cycling while promoting the notion that cycling is a more hazardous than it really is.

    1. Andrew

      Agreed. They’ll just find some other cycling hot-button topic to steam themselves up about. Trying to appease these types of reactions is no-win, and so not a good enough reason for mandatory helmet laws.
      I find it’s also useful to realise us humans are psychologically wired for negative perception bias; we more easily remember negative situations than we recall positive/neutral situations in the same field. “The weather forecasters never get it right.” “All cyclists run red red lights/stop signs.”

  12. Pat O'Brien

    Is their any data to back up the proposed law? Are there lots of cyclists dying in CA from head injuries in bicycle accidents? Or is this another politician trying to appear to be busy when in fact they are ignoring the important business.
    All I have to do is look at a concrete curb or a big Arizona rock and imagine my head hitting it. Helmet on, all the time. But a mandatory law? Sounds like an increased revenue stream, probably from those who can least afford it.

  13. Mike

    The argument is spurious. Some motorists just don’t want to share the road with other road users, full-stop. It has nothing to do with bikes running stop signs.

    Attempting to ingratiate anti-bike people by accepting an illogical law will not win anyone over. What it will do is depress the number of people casually riding bikes, which will make those who remain seem even more fringe, and reinforce the argument that bikes should have the right to the road. And it will demonstrate that the biking community can be pushed around legislatively. Maybe California’s heart is in the right place, but other jurisdictions will jump to follow the example, and use laws like this to essentially criminalize cycling.

  14. Les.B.

    I used to know a guy who survived an auto accident. This was years ago before seat belt laws, back when we had only lap belts, no shoulder belts.

    One this day he shows up on crutches, both knees in casts. Sitting there in a cloud of gloom, said, “If I was wearing a seat belt, I would have walked away.” The question wasn’t posed, but he probably would have been in favor of seat belt laws at that point in history.

    Riders who are against helmet laws because they don’t want to wear helmets should be asked their opinion AFTER the crash.

    1. Mike

      Did you know that the design standard involves simply dropping the helmet from 3-6 ft? It’s not designed to protect your head in a high impact collision. For that you need a full motorcycle helmet. Is that what is going to be mandatory? Safety is about behavior and attitudes but mandating safety gear is so much easier than education.

  15. L

    Riding my road bike or mountain bike as part of a fitness or recreational pursuit, either solo or with a group, my helmet is securely attached. BTW I’ve been in three bike vs car accidents, all in California, and one of them saw my helmet totally cracked.

    When I’m riding a beach cruiser on the boardwalk or near the beach. Absolutely not.

  16. JK

    Helmets are not the problem – 99+% of serious cyclists in CA already wear them – infrastructure and driver education is the real issue. Don’t lose sight of the target; capitulating because of “perceptions” gets us nowhere.

  17. Sam

    It’s my opinion that laws mandating high-vis clothing or helmets are only going to provide more fodder to drivers who claim they weren’t at fault when they hit cyclists. Blew through a red light, or made an illegal turn? Well, the victim wasn’t wearing his mandatory foam hat and reflective socks, so you weren’t really responsible for his injuries.

    As ‘Tim’ mentioned above, where do we cyclists draw the line in accepting non-cyclists’ determination of what constitutes safe behavior and apparel on a bike? What if another legislature decides that riding gloveless is a risk? Or that clipless pedals are a traffic hazard? Will I be ticketed if I don’t install a rear-view mirror on my handlebars? It’s important that we continue to emphasize personal responsibility—whether behind the handlebars or the steering wheel—rather than blanket technological solutions/impositions that simultaneously inconvenience dedicated cyclists and increase the requirements of entry for novices. I think this law is a load of crap, and I don’t think it’s a fight we should walk away from.

  18. Andrew

    As an Australian who saw the implementation of the mandatory helmet laws, I can say is:

    Don’t do it. All it will do is kill off the rest of your cycling culture.

    We no longer have an inclusive cycling culture. All we have left is men riding for ‘fitness’ on road racing bikes.

    Bicycle helmets don’t actually absorb much energy and aren’t designed for falling off a bike at speed or for any sort of collision with a vehicle or stationary object other than the ground, like a hard-shell motorcycle helmet. Bicycle helmets are only designed to protect the head from falling from bicycle height, directly onto the ground with no major angular acceleration.

    As such, bicycle helmets mostly crack on impact and don’t only absorb a small proportion of the energy in many types of collisions. Bicycle helmets as such are best suited towards children who fall off at low speed, but aren’t much use for other types of collisions.

    If it was just about safety, you wouldn’t wear a bicycle helmet, you’d wear a motorcycle helmet.

  19. Cody L Custis

    Took one crash at 40 kph, tore up my right hand pretty good, now I wear gloves. Took a crash going down a ramp at 5 kph, flipped over the handlebars and whacked my head on the asphault real good. Fortunately, the helmet took the impact. I’ve worn mine ever said.

    Still, mandatory helmet laws are the wrong approach. Scofflaw bicyclists should be prosecuted, but they are far outnumbered by scofflaw motorists.

  20. becomingblue

    This is your argument on the great helmet law debate? You had chance to voice your position on a high-traffic site and this was the depth of your position? You are going to have to extend yourself a bit more. Merely saying that cyclists got a 3-foot law, therefore, call it a day and accept this proposed helmet/visibility law because accepting it would be a good PR move, isn’t compelling. Did I miss something?

  21. Mr Tom

    “we already have a PR problem with motorists and opposing mandatory helmets only makes it worse.”

    I live in a state with a mandatory helmet law, and I can assure you that the PR problem is still there and, if anything, is worse.

    More than half the traffic tickets issued to cyclists are for helmet law violations. So there’s an immediate effect of making cyclists twice as lawless, before you even take into account drops in the amount of cycling.

    MHL is a really bad idea for so many reasons, and looking for motorists’ approval is an appalling reason to give in to it.

  22. SusanJane

    We just took away my elderly Mom’s car keys. Drama. Painful but necessary. But what we said to her applies here. What if she hit someone? What if they died? Strapping a brain bucket on _could_ be about someone dying. Maybe it will be you. Maybe it’ll happen while you’re driving. This whole subject misses the horror of death happening to individuals, not statistics. A helmet does not protect the whole body but being brain damaged is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone.

  23. Andrew

    Can of worms topic! Anywhere you get involved expect fervourous debate and all the “rationality” that brings. (So enter at your own risk.)
    Here in Australia we’ve had mandatory helmet laws (MHL) for all for close to 25 years. The cycling participation studies here show numbers will significantly drop after MHL. Reasons include not wanting the expense of an extra item of kit (especially families with multiple purchases required), simple refusal, helmet hair/look ugly, perceptions(!) of activity riskiness, etc.
    There is no doubt helmets are beneficial and save head injuries but part of the argument against MHL is that the drop in cycling participation contributes to community obesity rates and this is a greater societal health cost than that saved by MHL helmet use. As a society we benefit from no MHL, as an individual a helmet can save you from head injuries. A rational person will get both benefits by cycling (or other regular exercise) and wearing a helmet, without requiring MHL for motivation.
    The other problem MHL raises is with bike sharing schemes, e.g., Citi Bike, as casual use of such schemes then legally requires ready access to and wearing of a helmet. Brisbane and Melbourne (Australia) share bike schemes have had limited success and uptake in part due to MHL hurdles for riders. (Road access/safety/infrastructure is the other major drawback.) Brisbane partially solved this by making a small proportion of helmets available at the bike racks which although reusable essentially become a consumable item requiring replenishment. Melbourne has basic helmets available through convenience stores (7-11, etc). This has helped but both schemes still operate significantly below their potential and require ongoing governmental subsidy sufficient that there is political pressure and election promises to have the bike share scheme removed.
    As I see it the real challenge is motivating society to be more accepting and inclusive of cycling/riders and also to encourage riders to act in their own interests in terms of visibility and head protection without killing off the societal health/congestion benefits of a casual rider going down to the shops/work without a helmet. MHL is too big and blunt a stick to do that.

  24. Stephen Barner

    The idea that we should wear helmets because we think it may appease drivers is ludicrous. There’s really nothing you can do that will change the minds of haters, other than to stop riding. Ignore and forget them. Sure, there are those who will describe a broken helmet and say it saved their lives, and this may or may not be true. I’ve cracked a couple of helmets myself, though my worse cycling accident saw me wearing only a knit cap. Perhaps I would have been better off had I been wearing a helmet, as it involved a wicked header at high speed, but I also might have snapped my neck; I’ll never know.

    Fact is, helmets provide some protection in some types of accidents, but no where near the level that many people attribute to them, and nothing like the helmet manufacturers claim. It’s all about risk, and cycling is a potentially dangerous sport. The amount that a helmet reduces that level is almost insignificant, as far as I have been able to determine, thinking about it objectively. Were it not for the wishes of my wife, I would leave the helmet home a lot more often. I rode over 35 years without a helmet and never missed it. I get why some people, and most folks outside the US, don’t wear them. I think the data is a whole lot more compelling about the benefits of using seat belts in cars than it is for bicycle helmet use. It’s more ill-conceived legislation from people who don’t ride. Heck, next door, in New Hampshire, even motorcyclists don’t have to wear helmets.

  25. Michael Hotten

    Excellent points. Our local bike advocacy group gives out lights to the working poor who rely on bikes for transportation but not helmets.

    I wish motorists here understood us the way drivers in Europe do. But my 150 miles of bike commuting per week have taught me otherwise. It’s a dumb law but telling the american driving public we ought to be like the Netherlands seems like a tough sell.

    I do not support helmet laws. I wish this one had never been introduced. But now that it has, we must consider what opposing a helmet law does for our image. A helmet bill is policy but it’s politics too.

    I think publicly opposing the bill is a bad PR move for cyclists. Even a bike advocate has said to me that public opposition of helmet laws is a no win. Bike coalitions should be working behind the scenes to defeat these bills. They have too many other things on their wish list that need public support: bike share, paths, lanes, sharrows, access to public transportation, safe routes to schools.

    1. MaxUtility

      “Working behind the scenes” is what all bike advocacy groups are doing all the time. Do you really think that anyone outside of the bike scene has any idea what the LA County Bicycle Coalition is advocating? Bike advocates should be out advocating loudly for what is best for cyclists and cycling. Driving organizations routinely advocate for policies that result in 100’s+ deaths of cyclists and pedestrians and they don’t worry about whether or not it is bad PR. Trying to mollify bad actors and bad planning by holding our hats in hand and trying to act like we’re the “good cyclists” who want helmet laws doesn’t help cycling’s PR or anyone at all. It just makes it easier for them to push through more bad laws.

  26. Skip

    Cycling is not just one sport. We don’t make drivers wear five-point safety harnesses and other fairly sophisticated restraints, but every race car driver does. Why should every cyclist in every situation be required to wear a helmet? Cycling isn’t just one activity. If I get run over by a 3000lb car doing 35mph, I really doubt a helmet will affect the outcome much. If I’m riding at 20 and suffer a blowout, or some guy in the group I’m riding in goes down taking me with him, then sure, a helmet makes a lot of sense. The odds of that happening while riding to the grocery store on my old three-speed are quite slim. At even lower speeds, a young kid wobbling along the sidewalk? Sure, a helmet makes sense. Commuting? Someone with a two-mile commute on side streets probably doesn’t need a helmet. Someone like me with a ten-mile commute through sometimes very congested city streets? Sure. Got my old brain bucket on. Whatever happened to, “we’re all adults here?” Aren’t we allowed to make our own decisions anymore? (I’m beginning to have sympathy for the anti-helmet motorcycle lobby…)

    I advise everyone to read today’s BSNYC blog. (I guess he read RKP and got more than typically pissed off.) BS makes some good points about viewing pending helmet laws as shifting responsibility to the victim. “Didn’t have a helmet on? Sorry, the driver isn’t responsible.” He also links to another article which shows that it wasn’t always that way. In the early days of motoring, it was the automobile drivers who were the interlopers.

    I don’t think you should sit this one out. Do what’s right for you, not what someone else’s opinion is of what’s right for you.

  27. SDF

    Guess what, it’s not obvious. How did we make it through childhood on Stingrays,Motobecanes, Peugeots and Raleigh’s without helmets???Sheldon converted my 10 speed to a fixed gear 20 years ago and I’ve been riding as always ever since sans helmet. It’s my choice and I’m so tired of hearing how can you ride without one. Why would I, it doesn’t make me go faster and it messes up my hair. Live free or die……………..

  28. MaxUtility

    Helmet laws make cycling more dangerous because they discourage cycling. The safety in numbers effect is real and the best thing we can do to make cycling safer (after better infrastructure) is just to get more people riding. Believe it or not, most cyclists are not on 16 lb. carbon machines going 35 mph. They are regular people, often working class, trying to get somewhere. What they don’t need is another expensive item that rarely does anything to protect them and give police one more way to selectively hassle people. Helmet laws are also hugely destructive of bike share programs which are just getting up and running in California.

    Helmets save lives, helmet laws kill.

  29. Pingback: BSNYC Friday No Quiz Just Tedious Editorializing! | BikeXMB

  30. Mike C

    Making biyclists wesr mandatory helmets and reflective clothing. Reflective clothing? Are they really serious? We’re not talking about construction as workers along the highway at night, it’s bike riding. Does grandma need both for her three wheeler to go play bingo in the trailer park? Nope! Not on your life. Does little Susie need it to ride in the cul De sac at dusk? Hell no!
    For me I wear one on the road and use lights at night. Reflective clothing is visible but a damn site overkill. I don’t wear a helmet to pick up the boys from school. Too bad if you don’t agree, they see me wear it on the road.
    If they want a real fight, tell them to push to add motorcyclists into the mandatory helmet and reflective clothing law. I would bet if they looked at the real data, motorcycles have more injuries in CA than cyclists do. Making sure to use police data, not data from medical records.

  31. Kyle V.

    I believe that the latest studies of helmets have shown that they do not prevent or reduce the likelihood of serious head trauma’s. Helmets only really help reduce minor/superficial injuries to the head.

    Do I wear a helmet? Yes all the time. Do I feel weird when that one guy on the Saturday Shootout rolls by me without one? Yes every freaking time. Should he be required to wear one because it weirds me out? No.

  32. Colin

    You got snobbed.

    And your position is ridiculous. We should not tolerate further government infringements on our freedom because “it’d help out image.” You do realize that this law would apply to people riding a few blocks to the grocery store in their street clothes, right? And you realize nearly 100% of roadies and mountainbikers wear helmets anyway, of their own volition? Ridiculous. Land of the free.

  33. Everett

    Wow you guys really poked the hornets nest. Gotta agree with the Snob (usually always do). His rant is incredible.
    Sorry, we can’t just let this one go.

    1. Andrew

      A few words of advice if I may. There’s so much reaction and emotion associated with discussions of helmet laws they almost always quickly descend in to what is commonly known as “helmet wars”. If you’re someone that chooses to never read the comments on news articles about cycling (for your own mental well-being or simply avoid exposure to so much negativity) you might well wish to add helmet laws discussions to that list. You don’t have to opt-out though, add your support/membership to a group that does represent your views. Influencing what happens in the real world is what will make a difference on this issue.

  34. Dave

    Pro helmet laws=anti bicycle, or ignorant, or both.

    I always wear a helmet, but mandating helmet use cuts bicycle use, and shift blame to victims.

    The safest places to ride a bike have two things in common: lots of bike riders, and almost no helmet use.

  35. mechaNICK

    This is a tough one, but I gotta say that it’s bad policy. Questions of freedom and vanity don’t do it for me, but the questions of access and poverty are much more compelling. I’ve worked in the bicycle industry for a while, and I’ve seen plenty of enthusiast and competitive cyclists, I’ve also had plenty that are barely scraping by. Mandating that they wear a helmet isn’t going to dissuade these people from riding, it will only make it more likely that they receive fines while doing so. Perhaps this is a jaded view, but when it comes to this type of citation (which I am going to assume will be enforced about the same as current cycling road rules, loitering, and jaywalking infringements), law enforcement seems to use these laws as grounds to stop people who are already deemed suspicious (usually minorities). Perhaps this comment is beyond the scope of this post, but I only see this law as a opportunity for abuse, misuse, and discrimination.

  36. Dave

    “A helmet bill is policy but it’s politics too.”

    Screamers and trolls are going to attack bicycling regardless of what riders do or don’t do. We get nowhere trying to appease the haters.

  37. Dave

    “Soon we’ll all be wearing helmets when driving too.”

    If you want to reduce serious brain injury and death, mandatory helmet laws for motorists would make a much bigger difference than bike helmet laws.

  38. Hoshie99

    If you don’t value your brain, feel free to disregard the law. Just consider what it says about how you value yourself.


    1. kamoylan

      I value my head and I also value my heart.

      The way you are framing the argument, as an either / or thing, you are excluding side-effects of being forced to wear a helmet. For some people, being forced to wear a helmet is enough to stop them riding a bike. Then, they don’t get the incidental exercise that riding a bike, for reasons other than sport, gives them.

      So, do you value dying from heart failure but with a healthy brain, or do you value the risk of dying from coming off your bicycle and hitting your head but having a healthy heart?

    2. Mark Friis

      You could save more that 50,000 lives a year if we made a MHL for those over the age of 65. Maybe we could shame old people into wearing helmets all the time. They are clogging up the ERs. How about we ban bike racing because all you idiots riding leading with your head, feet locked in and inches from another wheel then crashing and using valuable medical personal and facilities. And then you say crashing is part of the sport. Well, for other users, we don’t have an injury wish and are far safer then knuckleheaded crit Freds. And by the way risk compensation is worse than not wearing a helmet.

  39. Dave

    “If you don’t value your brain, feel free to disregard the law. Just consider what it says about how you value yourself.”

    People should be allowed to assess the risk of their particular riding situation and make a helmet decision accordingly. Many riders would see little, if any, benefit from wearing a helmet.

    The greatest brain injury risk to most cyclists is concussion, and bike helmets offer little, if any, protection from concussion (and actually increase the risk of concussion in some situations) due to antiquated helmet standards.

  40. Shawn

    It’s disappointing how the culture of fear sets in,and so many people buy it, facts be damned.
    The fact is, normal bike riding (slow, 10-12 mph), which most people do, is not dangerous at all. Not even for children. Certain activities, such as riding a bike very fast (in racing or group rides) or mountain biking (riding down hills) are higher risk, and more safety gear is warranted. But riding to the store is not high risk.
    Most of the statistics are crap due to bad record-keeping (cops don’t always mark down helmet use when they write their accident reports, so those are counted as ‘non-helmet wearing’ by the researchers). One group examined every fatal crash that got a write-up by reporters over a two year period, so the facts were known, and 57% of those who died while biking were wearing helmets. The helmet made very little difference.
    The key is prevention. Slow down, and watch where you’re going (Most accidents happen because the rider didn’t pay attention to hazards, or was going too fast to react to danger). I bike 24 miles a day thru city streets on an upright bike to get to work. I take my time, don’t bother with a helmet, have lights for biking at night, and use a mirror so I’m aware of what’s around me. Have I had accidents? Yes. But at slow speeds, the physics of the situation mean the bike falls to the side. I am not ‘thrown over the handlebars’ or land on my head. The one time that happened, my thin road bike tire got stuck in a crack at the gas station convenience store. So I put my hands in front of me to break my fall. Sprained my arm, but no head or face damage. Then I got rid of the road bike, and got a hybrid with a wider tire.

  41. BackOfThePack

    I’m against it, strictly from a personal choice issue. I always wear one when out on the road or on a mountain bike ride. When my girlfriend and I hit the crushed limestone trail for a leisurely 8mph ride I see no need to put one on. I hope this doesn’t catch on, I don’t want to have to outrun the local forest rangers if they catch me on one of those rides.

  42. Paul

    I’m not from the US, but you guys really don’t want this and is so worth fighting against.
    There is no evidence that helmets save lives – the safest places to cycle also have some of the lowest rates of helmet usage.
    Helmet laws were introduced in Oz and cycling participation rates fell by around 30% – ironically rates of head injury in cyclists was unchanged.
    Compulsory helmet laws actually kill people – people stop cycling and the biggest health risk to the general population by quite a margin is inactivity and related diseases.
    Someone who actually knows what they are talking about:

    1. Mark Friis

      So you are going to make all those folks down on the beach beach boardwalks wear helmets? Seriously? THere is no problem down there. But you probably don’t see them as people who ride bikes serious enough for you. Hell, no lycra, no rights. Ridiculous commentary. And as a BIKE ADVOCATE thanks for your non support.

    1. Waldo

      If you don’t live in her district the comment form doesn’t work — she is not interested in hearing from you.

  43. Allan

    [I]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.

    You want to know what pisses riders off? Just about all drivers passing them breaking the posted speed limit! Yeah there’s other things too that pisses riders off. How bout being passed with minimal clearances by 2 tons of steel, glass and plastics going at 40mph and higher? What do you think is more dangerous for the driver? A bike running a stop sign? A bike weaving in and out of traffic? Or a car flying down the road going 10mph or more over the speed limit? I’d say the speeding car. What can a rider without a helmet do to our fictional driver? You want safer roads for ALL? Get everyone, and yes just about everyone is speeding, get them to drive the posted speeds and you have safer streets for pedestrians, the bicyclists, and other drivers.

    You are interested in making it safer for the bicyclist, right? Are interested in making the roads safer for pedestrians? How bout for drivers?

  44. Jonathan Krall

    It is well-known that helmet laws reduce cycling and kill the effectivness of bikeshare systems. It is also well-known that helmets do not prevent concussions. I agree with others that we should be fighting these laws tooth-and-nail. This type of law was sucessfully opposed by the bicycling community in Maryland.

    Fighting off attacks like these brings bicyclists of all types together and builds the bicycling community. Rolling over and playing dead does exactly the opposite. As someone who gave up his car for a bike and who doesn’t need one more thing to juggle while running errands, I feel like i’m being thrown to the wolves. Why should I stand up for a community that refuses to stand up for me?

    Finally, it strikes me that this law would be just another way to fund government on the backs of poor people. This is a practice that I oppose and I am willing to pay more taxes to see it changed.

  45. Michael Hotten

    Good to see the conversation still going strong. Would like to refocus the discussion. Reading a lot about how we feel about helmet laws. Most are opposed. I am too but my opposition is less so when I consider the many other things we would like seen done to assist our activity. How does saying no to a helmet bill affect our movement? To the RKP readers, what should we do? Staunchly oppose? Negotiate? Support it?

    1. Pat O'Brien

      Ask for more data and clarification. If it is an understable knee jerk reaction from this legislator, then she needs to take a step back and really look at the issue. As you said, the “ought to be a law” reasoning for it just clogs our legislatures while the hard work, like dealing with record draught or a rediculously high cost of living in CA, gets neglected.
      Also, it’s important that we discuss the diffilcult issues without calling each other names or reacting with nothing but emotion. Dodging these conversation resolves nothing.

    2. MaxUtility

      Supporting or opposing this law won’t “affect our movement” and letting this go through isn’t going to get cyclists anything else they want. Accommodating bad ideas doesn’t get you handouts from those who want bikes off the streets. There’s really nothing to negotiate. Look at what happens to cycling anywhere a helmet law gets implemented. At worst, there’s going to be a huge drop in the number of cyclists (and that will further slow down the push for better infrastructure.) At best, it will be generally ignored and only selectively enforced. Which means it will be one more simple tool for police to go after cyclists they don’t like or for a driver/insurance company to avoid taking responsibility in an collision where they were at fault.

  46. John Busteed

    i am extremely disappointed by this column. I get that making cycling safer is all of our goals. So use science/cold hard facts back up your thinking. Accepting a bad law as good PR is just plain shocking. As opposed to anecdotal stories from non-medical personnel about how helmets, how about some good old fashioned statistics.

    1 there is no statistical evidence that helmets save lives in adults worldwide.
    2 mandatory helmet laws statistically drive down participation. Ironically, Austrailia has a horrible bike participation as a country.
    3 lower participation makes cycling more dangerous for Everyone.

    I am sorry that Senator Liu’s family had such a tragedy but I wish it had triggered a larger conversation of how do I make cycling safer. Trying to appease drivers is a losing proposition. They hate cyclists, other drivers, truckers, old drivers, young drivers, reckless drivers, pedestrians, and traffic lights and I probably missed a couple there. Ask Neville Chamberlain what appeasement gets you…

  47. Paul

    I get the feeling some of you don’t realise the importance of this. We already have a good idea of how this will change things, as has already been implemented in Oz. Imagine if, over night, 1/3 of the people using bikes just stopped – that is what we are talking about here.
    The group of riders that will be least affected by this are the enthusiasts, who mostly already wear helmets – anyone how is willing to wear Lycra generally will go the extra mile and wear a helmet too.
    The people who will stop cycling though are the casual users, the biggest gift the cycling community can give to society is cycling; the best way to do this is make cycling accessible
    Think about the affect on the industry, the giant leap backward in “normalising cycling” as a form of transport, “liveability” in the city from extra car usage, the affect on public health from lack of activity etc etc.
    Ignorance is always worth fighting against – they will thank you for it in the end.

    In reply to Mark Friis: I don’t think you have understood the point of my comment, but to be fair, I didn’t really understand what you were saying in your reply either.

    1. Mark Friis

      sorry, it wasn’t a reply to your comment. It was a reply to someone else.
      Don’t know how that happened. But I love video link.

  48. Mark

    This law is a joke. It is horrible policy and anyone who has ever traveled to Amsterdam, Tokyo, Osaka, London or any large European city. California, home of the Nanny state. And amazing irony that this ‘column’ ran after a review of Bell helmets. No conflicts of interest here at RKP.

  49. Peter Leach

    Like a couple of other posters, I live in Australia.
    I support mandatory helmet laws [sorry that you don’t, BikeSnobNYC].
    I don’t think that helmets prevent accidents.
    I don’t think that they prevent concussions.
    I don’t think that they’re that much of an impostition.
    I do think that they reduce injury.
    Thank you, Lazer.

  50. Rich

    We don’t need MHL laws. We do need better helmets. Helmet protection hasn’t improved much in 50 years. With all the technology that has improved car safety can’t we do something to change all the above statements about helmets being basically useless. Bike snob did get this one right.

    1. Waldo

      Exactly! Helmet manufacturers focus on the bottom line by making and marketing expensive helmets, touting ventilation, aerodynamics, and low weight. Safety — not so much.

  51. Robert

    The statistics on bathroom accidents are very convincing. We need a law that makes helmets mandatory during bathroom visits.

    Or if we want to keep it to the roads, there are far more road accidents that do not involve a bicycle but only cars. We clearly need mandatory helmet use for car drivers. I also suggest that only cars in high viz colors (with reflective details) can go on the road during the night. All those dark colored cars are a real problem.

    Or maybe not.

  52. Richard Stewart

    Any links or substantive research supporting the claims/beliefs that helmets do/do not protect the cyclist’s noggin and/or save/do not lives? Dealing with crazy ass motorists is my number one concern. Mr. Busteed captured a lot of what is going on inside the typical motorist’s head. They don’t want anybody else on the road: cyclists, runners, other vehicles, et al. Maybe there should be training on evasive action when “sharing the road” with multi-thousand pound vehicles (sarc) because most of the drivers out there don’t care to take care.

  53. nate

    Legislation will not help recreational cycling enthusiast: 999 out of 1000 cyclist I see out on the road wear a helmet. As has been brought up multiple times in this thread, the ones not wearing helmets are the lower class (economically) that have to use a bicycle for their livelihood. A mandatory helmet law will only saddle them with tickets and hassle. It will result in fewer cyclist in our culture and that will lead to the further demise of us being able to ride where we want.

  54. Pingback: Letting Cooler Heads Prevail | RKP

  55. Rupert

    You know who else has a PR problem? Minorities. Try as they might to please racists, they STILL can’t shake that pesky reputation for being genetically inferior, stupid/crooked/greedy/lazy/drunkards or in some other way wrong in every single circumstance ever. It’s weird, it’s almost like the racist crowd is like, projecting everything terrible about themselves, onto these people or something? But still, pick your battles, and don’t fight the Mandatory Beanie Hats For Minorities law.

    Pick your battles? There’s no battle to pick; this IS the battle — to answer the question “Who is responsible for making cycling as unsafe as it is?” And the outcome is either “We will continue to shift blame onto the victim” (also see: helmet law) or “We will properly hold the drivers of cars responsible to the degree they are actually responsible.” Just because they’re a majority doesn’t make them right. And they’ve got a hell of a PR problem with THIS demographic (points to self). Bunch of drunk, texting self-centered clueless spoiled-rotten church-farting bulls in the china shop… OF DEEEATTHH!!

    Also, speak for yourself with all that riding like a jerk stuff. You DO need a helmet.

  56. Curtis

    Beware of laws that are not proposed by the constituents they are intended to serve. Also, it is impossible to take this article and its author’s opinions serious, when there banners ads are from a helmet manufacture.

  57. MAGgoT

    It ‘s pretty easy to do the math.
    I live in a city, where we have 1,5 million bike rides per day (Berlin). That’s about 550 million bike rides per year. The mortality of cyclists was 9-10 per year over the last couple of years. About 50% of these fatalities are caused by cornering trucks and by streetcars (trams). I simply doubt the effectivity of a styrofoam helmet when one gets maimed by a truck or a tram. So, 110 million Helmets have to be donned to prevent 1 death.
    Imagine dying by cycling to be a disease. If wearing a helmet was like taking a pill, the number needed to treat was 110 million. That’s rightout ridiculous.

    1. John Kopp

      No, you have to look at the number of injuries, and determine the number that a helmet prevented or reduced a head injury. Fatalities are not a proper statistic for that purpose.

  58. Hoshie99

    OK, so those opposed above all don’t wear helmets? That they are ineffective for any safety measure and basically useless?
    Just want to know the actual facts….

    Personal freedom is a different argument which I am most certainly affirmative too generally, however I am curious about the idea that helmets are not beneficial.



    1. My Magic Hat

      Umm, Yeah, Genius. Nobody says “helmets do nothing”. They just don’t do much.

      That’s irrelevant.

      Everybody who’s going to wear helmets when they ride is already doing it. Many die of head injuries while wearing them. Like this guy:

      And that was the very type of bike-only crash that everyone thinks helmets will save them from. Wear one if you want. I sure as hell do. Just don’t make someone use something that has never proven to be as effective as we all like to pretend.

  59. Steevo

    I always wear a helmet and I can’t imagine letting my children ride bikes without a helmet so I fully support mandatory helmet laws for children, although drawing that line can be a little tricky. The problem with mandatory helmet laws for adults is they effectively kill bike share programs and having lived in cities with those programs I think all major cities should have one.

    One more thing, I hate to play the Europe card but they have way more people riding bikes without helmets and no evidence to suggest way more cyclists are suffering brain injuries as a result.

  60. marvo larvo

    pros are the role models:
    I used to mtn bike with a helmet and road bike without one
    I switched when pro roadies gave in

    I still skateboard with no helmet, unless it’s a helmet mandatory spot (even then you’re expected to fight it)

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