Letting Cooler Heads Prevail

Letting Cooler Heads Prevail

I’ve been a cyclist for almost 30 years. For 18 of those years I’ve lived and ridden in the greater LA metropolis. In all that time only one change has made me feel safer as a cyclist—the passage of AB 1371, the three-foot buffer law. Since it went into effect last September I can say that I’ve experienced a significantly reduced number of cars passing within two feet of me. I’m willing to credit the law with fewer white-knuckled experiences. I believe this is one occasion where legislation has made the world a safer, better place.

But what of SB 192, the law that would mandate that anyone astride a bicycle be required to wear a helmet? In editor Michael Hotten’s recent piece he considered the possibility that maybe we just don’t fight it, that we pick another battle. The outrage this sparked was hot enough to melt plastic; the accusations included nothing short of us trying to ruin cycling itself. It did accomplish what it set out to do—spark discussion—even if some of it was unmoored from civility.

Honestly, in my life, if that law passed, it wouldn’t mean a thing. I wear a helmet when I ride, whether I’m pedaling up the coast, to the store, or to the park with my son, who also wears his helmet every time he rides. I don’t think I need to wear a helmet when I ride to the store or the post office, but because I’m working to set an example for my impressionable five-year-old boy, I want him to see me behaving consistently.

There are a great many of us who are reasonable people who don’t need the government to tell us a helmet is the best primary defense against head injury should you fall. The majority of readers we’ve heard from see this as classic Nanny State intervention, and herein lies part of our defense against the law. How far is the government willing to go?

The Centers for Disease Control reports that from 2002 to 2006 some 1524 bicyclists were admitted to emergency rooms with traumatic brain injuries. It’s also true that 38,048 motor vehicle occupants were admitted to hospitals with TBIs. Clearly, we’re not going to require everyone in a car to wear a helmet but if you want to save lives, boom.

The law seems to have a laudable goal—reduce the number of cyclist deaths, something in which California leads the nation. Indeed, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, in 2012 two-thirds of all fatally injured cyclists (722 of us) were not wearing helmets.

A quick search of stories on Google about cycling deaths in the last year turns up dozens of articles of cyclists being run over by all sorts of vehicles—from cars to buses—and by people from all walks of life—everyone from drug addicts to the clergy.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 741 cyclists died in 2013. Again, of those, 464—almost two-thirds—weren’t wearing helmets. What’s telling here is that there were another 123 riders wearing helmets who died. Here’s what we need to convey to the world: That’s less a statement of the ineffectiveness of helmets than the lethality of a car.

A study conducted in New York City showed that 92 percent of all fatal cycling accidents involved motor vehicles. So while the CDC also reports that helmets are 85 to 88 percent effective in mitigating head and brain injuries in cyclists, the New York study bears out the truth that foam is no match for an SUV going 35 mph.

According to a report by the League of American Bicyclists 40 percent of all cycling fatalities were caused when riders were struck from behind. It’s the single greatest cause of cyclist deaths and contains within it several important truths. The fact is, if a cyclist has been struck from behind, whether they are killed or not, it means they were riding on the correct side of the road, weren’t running a light and weren’t failing to yield.

That’s how helmet-wearing, law-abiding Milt Olin died in 2013 when an inattentive Sheriff’s Deputy plowed into him.

I have a wife and two kids and a duty to be there for them. For me, that means doing more than just obeying the law; it means riding predictably, on the right side of the road and, yes, wearing a helmet. Based on my experience, a helmet is really useful if I make an error and crash, but I have little faith it will make a difference if I’m hit by two tons of steel moving 50 mph.

If the goal is really to save lives, mandating helmet use isn’t going to help. What will make a difference is educating all road users—riders, drivers and the authorities—about the responsibilities everyone has when on the road. It’s true that some of us could use a reminder that riding with traffic, rather than against it, waiting for the light to change, and not riding drunk will help our survival. However, in terms of government action the real effort should be to make the operators of motor vehicles more aware that riders are out there in increasing numbers, and we’re vulnerable.


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  1. Pat O'Brien

    Well said Sir! The three foot law has made a difference. I think another law that would decrease accidents for cyclists country wide is banning the use of cell phones while driving. Any kind of cell phone.

    1. Frederick

      Absolutely agree with Pat on banning cell phones, texting while driving! I see it several times a day, every day…and they usually have their right wheels in the right shoulder…where cyclists ride!

    2. ken price

      It is also true that it the crash rate for texting is four times that of cell phone use.

  2. Frederick

    The numbers are clear: helmets can and do save lives, whether riding 100 miles or “to the store or post office.” In how many bike accidents not reported did a helmet prevent a death or serious head injury…thousands I would bet (two of which were mine). A helmet may or may not save you if hit by a car, but it improves the odds a little and I’ll take every advantage I can get. Should helmets be mandated by law? I don’t know. Insurance companies might have something to say about it since they (and eventually all of us) end up paying for the head trauma medical bills and/or death benefits. I think if I were an insurance company I would tell customers that if you foolishly don’t wear a helmet while riding a bicycle (or motorcycle) or don’t wear your seatbelt in a car, you’re on your own if you get hurt or killed. FWIW…

    1. Jim Kirke

      Since the vast majority of the traumatic injuries to cyclists, regardless of whether they’re wearing a helmet, are caused by car drivers, what you’ve really said is it’s okey-dokey to kill any cyclist not wearing a brain-bucket.

      And just so you’re aware, the pervasive nature of airbags in North American cars, and later worldwide, was a response to the fact that a huge number of drivers don’t wear their seatbelts. If you were to suggest that it’d be cool to deny their insurance as a result, I think you’d find your effigy on fire somewhere. That said, I’m still a touch piqued that you consider it cool to waste cyclists without helmets.


    2. Frederick

      Jim Kirke — I hope you weren’t suggesting that I think it is “okey-dokey to kill any cyclist not wearing a brain-bucket.” I certainly do not think that is cool… As far as insurance, I would agree with you and would not want to see that happen, i.e. no helmet, no insurance…although as a private pilot many insurance companies will not cover me if I am acting as pilot in command of an aircraft…which is probably more safe than driving a car or riding a bike. Anyway…on the bike I’ll wear my helmet… and we don’t need more laws…

    3. SP

      Numbers are not clear. See Hoffman MR, Lambert WE, Peck EG, Mayberry JC. Bicycle commuter injury prevention: it is time to focus on the environment. J Trauma. 2010;69(5):1112-7; a survey of almost 1000 cycle accidents and no evidence that helmet wearing achieved less trauma.

  3. Pablo

    Patrick, its for the very reasons you outline that I am against the helmet law. It’s misdirected. That energy should go towards drivers, either with harsher penalties or education or both.

    1. ken price

      The real way to solve the problem is to have separate bike lanes, which is happening slowly in this country.

  4. Champs

    You are not so naïve as to be unaware of what happens when you touch the third rail of cycling. It was definitely “sparking,” but what you call “discussion” I describe as a dumpster fire.

    If the definition of “success” is written in the lingering marks of that incendiary, then my readings of RKP are likewise forever colored.

    1. Author

      Champs: Incendiary is a fair word for the reaction the piece got. Given that discussion here tends on the less emotional side, we figured that would hold true for this. It certainly wasn’t an effort to bait the audience. It’s not the way we prefer things to go.

  5. Peter Dedes

    Driver behaviour towards cyclists changes based on the appearance of the person on the bike. If you’re a helmet-less woman, you’ll receive the most amount of courtesy in the form of space while being passed. A helmeted male gets the least.
    When I’m in spandex with my helmet and glasses, I look like a bug on a machine; there’s psychological distancing between myself and a driver. When I’m in civies with no helmet on my commuter bike, I look more like the people driving. They’re more likely to treat me as a person than as an annoyance.

    1. Jim Kirke

      Absolutely agree. This phenomenon has been the subject of a couple of “social science” research projects in the US.

      One other phenomenon that needs to be thought about in the helmet debate is what’s referred to as risk compensatory behaviour. In small words I means that the protective gear makes you do things you wouldn’t if you weren’t wearing it. I’m in Canada, and here that gets studied quite a bit in terms of encouraging dangerous head shots in ice hockey – the gear makes you feel impregnable and you hit other players in much more irresponsible ways as a result. I’m extremely aware of this effect and I’ve still noticed it pop up in my own riding, particularly commuting in heavy traffic (not a good thing).

      However, my biggest issue with this sort of legislation is that it does nothing to make it less likely that you’ll get hit in the first place (even if you don’t believe that you engage in risk compensatory behaviour, which you almost certainly do :)), it just gives the average ID10T driver another excuse as to why them hitting you is your fault. I can’t tolerate that, and I can’t imagine why every resident of California who rides a bike or knows someone who does would rise up and call BS on whoever is advancing it.

    2. Aaron M.

      I have noted this as true for years now. The modern cycling wardrobe has us looking like a bunch of stormtroopers, and drivers often see us as readied for battle. While I do wear a helmet, I rarely wear glasses, hoping that when I look over my shoulder at you, the eye contact made helps you see me more as a person and less as a visitor from outer space. I also shy away from overly complicated jersey and short designs. In the mirror you might look cool with all those chevrons and multi-panel contrasts, but regular folks behind the wheel tend to see a person dressed like that as arrogant or combative. I’ll take my Ibex wool jersey over Assos any day.

  6. MattC

    There already is a law against non-hands free use of cell phones here in California. And it does almost zero good as evidenced by the fact that I see someone w/ their phone up to their ear or looking down as they text in pretty much ANY trip of 5 minutes or more in my car. Also consider that the penalty is a misdemeanor, akin to not wearing your seat belt (only cell use has been PROVEN over and over again to be more dangerous than DUI).

    But until the State government gets SERIOUS on cell use while driving (like they did w/ drinking and driving about 20 years or so ago) nothing will change. You make the FIRST offense exactly the same as a DUI (including loss of license for minimum 6 months) and things will change. Personally I think cell phones are the single greatest danger to pedestrians/cyclists (and even other cars) since the car itself was created. Drunk drivers were typically only out at specific times of the day (night). Cell phones are out 24/7, and by seemingly EVERYBODY. I’ve had THREE extremely close calls on my road bike in the last 6 months…enough that I’ve nearly stopped road riding for a while and re-acquainting myself with my Mt bike. I like cycling, but it’s not worth my life (or worse: severely maimed/dismembered/paralyzed). Sorry for the rant Padraig…you got me going with this one!

    1. Pat O'Brien

      I’ll take the hit for starting the cell phone issue. The common thread is that distracted or impaired drivers kill cyclists, pedestrians, and other drivers. I think cell records, meta data as the NSA calls it, that show if someone was talking, texting, or surfing the internet on their phone at the time of the accident or violation should be treated the same as DUI.

  7. Linda

    “40 percent of all cycling fatalities were caused when riders were struck from behind. It’s the single greatest cause of cyclist deaths and contains within it several important truths. The fact is, if a cyclist has been struck from behind, whether they are killed or not, it means they were riding on the correct side of the road, weren’t running a light and weren’t failing to yield.”

    The best thing you can do that you aren’t doing right now to reduce risk from this situation is use a mirror. Instead of hoping and praying (and counting on the 3-foot law) the car about to pass you is really giving you enough room, you can anticipate and get the hell off the road if it’s heading toward you. Every year, I bail out at least once. Would I have gotten hit had I not done that? No way to know, but it sure makes me feel like I have more control over my life. I’d rather ride without a helmet than without a mirror.

    Yeah, I know it’s not cool, but what’s more important – looking like a Fred or arriving home to your wife & children in one piece. And yes I know, you can’t always bail out because of a big drop off, but that’s pretty rare.

    1. mike

      Mirrors do not provide protection at all. by the time you notice the oncoming car you are hit. the only difference is you might see the car for a moment before it hits. Pay too much attention to the mirror and miss something to the front. A mirror can help with a lane change or to check before going around an obstacle in your lane but as protection? it all happens too fast that seeing the car will not result in an avoidance maneuver.
      Now what about those 38,000 head injuries in cars? that is a lot of lives lost to car crashes. wouldn’t helmets protect some of those riders? Helmet laws make us feel like we are doing something even though we are likely ignoring the real problems.

    2. ken price

      I agree with Linda. Is there anyone that would not have mirrors on a car? Being 72 and ridden 120,000 miles or more the last 10 years I would never think of riding without a mirror. It is just another tool that helps and turning my head is not as easy as it used to be. As the safety director for the San Luis Obispo bicycle club I try and be a model and talk about what to do to be as safe as possible out there. As a retired ATC controller you never ever assume as it applies on a bike as well.

    3. Tomas

      I use the Messenger Mirror, and it is cool because it is small and made of well-chosen materials.

      Like others I use a mirror when on solo road rides. It allows me to maintain a forward-directing gaze when having to make departures from my lane due to parked cars ahead and so forth. Unfortunately the MM product was manufactured by a gentleman who no longer is producing it, but the design and parts were genius. You can still check it out at http://www.messengermirror.com Perhaps someone else can pick up the concept.

  8. Emil

    Padraig, thanks for writing this. I struggled with the first piece, seeing valid points on both side. I too always wear my helmet, even though I ride in the least populated state in the nation and frequently ride gravel roads where I don’t see a motor vehicle.
    I would like to see a greater emphasis placed on education of motor vehicle operators.

  9. Les.B.

    Thanks for keeping a civil tone on this issue. “Tell the drama to your momma.”

    I had been leaning toward “in favor” of this proposed law, until learning during all the ruckus evolved from this issue, that in Australia, passage of a helmet law caused a 30% decline in cycling participation. Being afraid that it would have a similar effect here.

  10. DaSy

    As others above have written, I too struggled with the first article. I don’t see the merit in letting small attritions of our liberties go by unchallenged in the hope that the state will throw us a bone at some unknown later date.

    With reference to the article above, I would be interested in the percentage of helmeted to un-helmeted cyclists in the population, to get an idea if that is in line with the higher percentage of death attributed to un-helmeted cyclists. The likelihood is that there is a much higher percentage of cyclists riding without helmets, when you take the amount of casual riders who just use it as a method of transport to the pub, shops, work etc, and don’t class themselves as cyclists as we all do. In which case you would expect a proportionately higher representation of un-helmeted in the statistics of fatalities, without necessarily proving the effectiveness of helmets.

    That is always the problem with statistics, they can prove whatever you want them to.

    The article mentions that we could never expect car drivers to be mandated to wear helmets, despite them being vastly more likely to suffer fatal head injuries, which raises the question of why then would the state want to make it law for cyclists; what are they aiming to achieve? If it is to reduce the burden on society and the health care system, then why choose a section of society that accounts for such a small percentage of that burden, or is it just an easy target for ill informed politicians to show the voting car driving masses that they are on their side, and it is all the fault of the annoying cyclists?

  11. Tom in Albany

    If the law’s a bad idea, it is a bad idea. You don’t roll over and let it slide. I think it is a bad idea.

    That said, when I got my driver’s license, seat belts were optional and I always declined use. When the law was passed, I began to wear it and now would never consider not wearing it. I was in an accident as a passenger once and, even with airbags and wearing a seatbelt, I still broke the windshield with my face. So, no safety device is going to prevent all injuries and deaths but, it does reduce.

    On the other side, I skipped the bike helmet until Casartelli died in the TdF. I realized that he was far more skilled at the art than I and he still died. So I started donning my brain bucket for all my road rides. Now, I rarely get on the bike without one. and, if without, I’m rarely off the cul de sac on which I live.

  12. Author

    Everyone: Thanks for your comments. Keep ’em coming.

    I’m going to suggest that we leave cell phones and helmet mirrors out of this conversation. While related, they aren’t actually germane.

    Regarding DaSy’s question on statistics, I can’t speak to helmet use for the entire state, but the LA County Bike Coalition did a count of ridership recently and while they were at it did a helmet count as well. What they found was that helmet use here in LA is at 50%, noticeably above the national average, but it’s no salve against a proposed law that would mandate everyone should wear helmets.

    Another angle on this issue that I haven’t seen addressed in the LA Times or other media outlets is how this law would disproportionately affect low-income riders. While I applaud companies like Schwinn for bringing inexpensive helmets to big box stores, bicycles are a common form of transportation for Angelenos at the bottom of the earning pile. This would create yet another expense for a swath of society that has trouble making ends meet.

    1. Pat O'Brien

      I agree that the use of cell phones by drivers was not germane and a distraction to the main topic of a mandatory helmet. I wish I hadn’t brought it up. The impact of a mandatory helmet law on those riders who depend on bikes as their only means of basic transportation is a point worth researching.

  13. onelegmatt

    I live in Pennsylvania, in the rural parts outside of Philly. I also commute and ride in Delaware and Maryland. PA passed a law of FOUR feet to pass a cyclist. DE/MD is three.

    I’d say of the drivers that pass me, maybe 15-20% abide by the FOUR foot law, and most don’t even abide by the old 3 foot law.

    If asked what the law is, I’d wager 99% of drivers don’t know 1.) There is a law for passing a cyclist. 2.) If they know there is a law, what that law says.

    Driver Education is the key.

  14. phil white

    Gerard and I had a policy at Cervelo that as industry representatives everyone at the company had to be Ambassadors of Good Behaviour and wear helmets all the time. I think that’s a legal and moral obligation we have in the industry. Helmets save lives.

    However, there is good evidence that legislating helmet use reduces the number of individuals riding bikes. We know that the more people that ride bikes the healthier that society is. So, a law designed to protect individuals and keep them healthy, may actually make society overall less healthy.

    It’s an awkward catch-22. I would propose that we focus in the bigger society need to get more butts on bikes, and educate those people about the benefits of a helmet after they have made the first step. Just my personal opinion.

  15. Hoshie99

    On a balanced view, laws are supposed to represent a minimal standard of performance or behavior to keep a society functioning well. So, it’s a triumvirate of an attempt to pass a protection / safety law balanced against personal freedoms compunded against data that suggests it inhibits broader participation in cycling.

    I value my brain because that is how I provide for my family and it is also a smart precaution, therefore I wear a helmet. I do not believe not wearing a helmet is a good choice.

    As for the legislation – I don’t have a dog in this fight, so it’s not my highest point of conviction. I would however support infrastructure spending and community building to get more people on bikes.

    I’d prefer to see most wear helmets especially little ones because a simple fall can really hurt those fragile craniums.


  16. PedalRon

    Yep, driving and using a cell phone should be banned on a national/Federal level in the U.S. Institute the phone feature where the phone won’t work when in a car, I don’t care if even non-drivers can’t use their phones. This was how the world worked for years and years. (I’m 35.)

    Secondly, what other piece of dangerous machinery requires only one test at the age of 16 or 17 and then you can renew your license from the comfort of your own home? I’d like to see all motorists be required to retake their classroom and road courses every few years. All other licenses require reupping, why not driving a car?

  17. Shawn

    Everyone should read the Bike Snob NYC blog’s posts on this topic. Wait … Everyone should just read the Bike Snob NYC anyway because it is awesome.

    The numbers cited in Padraig’s piece (>90% of fatal bike accidents involve a car) suggest that bike riders need helmets because automobile drivers suck. I doubt a helmet would help much in those collisions. So it’s kind of pointless, like setting an example for your kid of doing something you don’t think needs to be done. (“… but because I’m working to set an example for my impressionable five-year-old boy, I want him to see me behaving consistently.”)

  18. Mr Tom

    Thanks for the update. Nice writing.

    “If the goal is really to save lives, mandating helmet use isn’t going to help.”

    Is completely true. Mandatory helmet laws don’t just do nothing, they actively make things worse by reducing levels of physical activity and causing a knock-on effect to public health. Those people who stop riding a bike to work or to the shops don’t start going to the gym instead.

    “Honestly, in my life, if that law passed, it wouldn’t mean a thing.”

    But that’s not true. The resultant drop in the numbers of cyclists – and the reduction in diversity of the cycling population mean that there is even more of an “us & them” culture, especially in the media. It’s really easy to demonise cyclists when all you ever see is aggressive young men in lycra. Much harder when the population also includes visibly significant numbers of grandmothers, businessmen, children, and the rest of society rather than a subculture.

    Which is better: 10% of a million cyclists wearing helmets, or 90% of 100,000?

  19. Author

    Again, thanks everyone for your comments.

    While I don’t want to debate the point here, in my research I twice ran across studies that suggest that when mandatory helmet laws are passed ridership numbers drop some, briefly, then they return to normal. Again, I don’t want to debate the point here because I’m really not equipped to argue on its behalf, but I don’t think we should be so quick to accept the idea that mandatory helmet laws automatically kill ridership. And even if those studies are true, that doesn’t mean we should support a mandatory helmet law, just that it might not be as damaging to ridership as has been suggested. That won’t change how it continues to be an affront to personal liberty, though.

    Phil: Thanks for stopping by; we always appreciate when the industry chimes in. It can’t happen too much.

    Shawn: I have to disagree with you, rather strenuously. My point (sorry to have re-state what I’ve said) was that a helmet won’t make a difference if you’re run over by a car, and I don’t think the numbers suggest that either. I think helmets are a good idea because of everything we’re learning about TBIs. And I set an example for my son because I need to set an example for my son. While he’s young and learning his way he needs to wear a helmet, for that previously mentioned reason. Also, the other 8% of riders who died who weren’t hit by cars? How many of those deaths could have been prevented by wearing a helmet? I bet many of them.

    Mr. Tom: I stand by my statement that if the law passes, it won’t change my life. It won’t. I’ll keep riding and my son will keep riding. And I hope to teach my youngest to ride. That absolutely won’t change. If I’m hated more as a “them,” it won’t be the first time. Would it be better to have more people on bikes and have more of them wearing helmets? Yes, absolutely, but the behavior of the masses won’t guide my decisions.

    1. MaxUtility

      While there is some evidence that helmet laws don’t permanently suppress ridership, what I’ve seen doesn’t seem to account for the underlying trends in cycling. So if cycling was growing before the helmet law, it continues to grow afterwards, but at a lower overall level. I’m no expert in this, but it seems pretty clear to me that helmet laws suppress cycling to some significant degree, particularly among those for whom who cycle for economic reasons, and that citations for helmet infractions become another tool for police to selectively punish those whom they target.

      You say ” if the law passes, it won’t change my life”. But if there are fewer cyclists, I would argue that that DOES change your life. I did not notice any big change in driver behavior after the 3 foot passing law passed (how many people are even aware of it?) But I have noticed drivers becoming slowly more attentive and careful around me in Los Angeles as the number of cyclists has grown over the years. I’ve also seen a radical shift among people, politicians, and city agencies about the desirability and need to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians better in road design. Again, I think a large part of that shift is an increase in cycling.

      I would argue that the single best thing we can do to improve the safety and respect for cyclists right now is to get more cyclists on the road. A helmet law won’t do that and it will affect you.

  20. DaSy

    The more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to think that this is a potentially calculating move to reduce cycling rather than some altruistic move to save our lives.

    The increase in cycling (I’m in the UK, and it has increased here over the last few years quite dramatically) starts to put pressure on local councils to provide infrastructure to support it. This is a very costly option, which at this point is only playing to a small, yet increasing, section of society. Much easier to point out the dangers and marginalise cyclists in the hope that they won’t have to massively invest in a Dutch or Danish style infrastructure that doesn’t win votes from the car driving masses.

    I am very cynical towards the intentions of most politicians, and as long as we as a nation have a love affair with the car, cycling will not be a vote winner, so easier to demonise and marginalise us in the hope we’ll go away.

  21. gmknobl

    I wear a helmet because it does save lives. It saved mine. I’m quite sick of libertarians, contrarians and conservatives complaining about the so-called nanny state when that’s not the big thing to worry about and making it a law to wear helmets is far down the list of things to worry about from the government if it’s even on it at all. Those are false arguments that lead to the occurrence of the real things that liberals like me fear happening – and they have.

    Yo, stupid! Wear a helmet if you want to a) have a life and b) be around for others who may value your life more than you!

    You see, you can’t control what others do and you can’t predict what may pop out on the road or the conditions of the road. Any one of those things can lay you low no matter how good a rider you are. Then there’s your own stupidity or forgetfulness. And sometimes the best bikes fail spectacularly. Those can do you in too. Just a split seconds lapse in concentration is all it takes. And if you fall on your head, even riding at a lowly 12 mph, you can die. The physics of a catapult make it more that 12 when you flip over and even if it doesn’t, all your body’s weight on a small portion of your skull at that speed can do lethal damage.

    If someone wants, I can tell them my embarrassing mistake that led to my catapult landing on my face and forehead. If it weren’t for my helmet which shattered as it should to absorb the impact, I would not be here now.

    I won’t berate any adult for not wearing a helmet. You can make your own stupid decisions. But a kids should be told and the husband or wife of a friend who doesn’t wear one should be told of the real dangers that can take their loved one away or turn them into a vegetable, in a kindly manner.

    So, if you’re wise, wear a helmet. If a law saves even a few lives, it’s worth it.

    1. Pat O'Brien

      Well I won’t argue against that wearing a helmet may save your life. I wear one every time I ride. But when you say “yo, stupid” in one paragraph, and then say in another “I won’t berate any adult for not wearing a helmet” I begin to wonder about your argument for a mandatory helmet law. But your last line is the telling one. No functioning society passes every law that would save one life. Or a few. That is a false statement often used in emotional debates about an issue. I think that the lady who sponsored this proposed law is reacting from a tragedy and is using that same false statement. It is the lazy way out of the hard work of legislating.

  22. Tom

    Concerning the 3 foot law-whats the penalty if broken? oh yeah, nothing. East coast lawyers have figured out how to use that towards keeping their car driving clients out of jail by claiming the 3 foot law was broken. No reckless driving, etc.

  23. MrTom


    Yes – while your actions needn’t change, those of the people around you will, and that will make your life less pleasant. Having ridden in a variety of countries, I can assure you that motorists and the mass media here in Australia are orders of magnitude more hostile toward cyclists than in the US. While it would be disingenuous to claim that helmet laws are entirely to blame, they are part of a wider anti-cyclist sentiment.

  24. John Kopp

    Just a summary of existing California laws. Seat belt use is required for all motor vehicles. Also child safety seats for all children aged eight or younger. I have heard that you have to have an infant seat in order to take a new born home from the hospital. Helmets are mandatory for all riders and passengers of motorcycles, motor-driven cycles or motorized bicycles. Any one under the age of 18 is required to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle, scooter, skateboard, or inline skates. Helmets are also required if they are a passenger.

    I personally feel that anyone riding a bike should be wearing a helmet. They do help prevent injury. And today’s helmets are a whole lot more comfortable than the Bell Helmets of 40 years ago. California has already mandated just about every thing else, so what’s the big deal!

  25. Rider Rob

    Great Discussion! A couple of anecdotes, and then my opinion.

    I live in Nashville, TN, and was buzzed by a car right in front of a squad car at the county line, where he often sits to nab speeders. Not only did he not go after the the car, which was indeed speeding into his jurisdiction, but he also didn’t even know the 3-foot law existed. I know because I stopped and asked; 1) Sir, did you see that car buzz me off the road? “NO (smiling, because it really is funny to watch a cyclist forced off the road by a car)”, 2) Sir, are you aware of the 3-foot law which is a citable misdemeanor? “NO” (Now with a wry smirk on his face to show that he actually believes that cycling is more of a nuisance that a right). Most people don’t want cyclists on the road, but we still have a right to those roads. I had a “lady” in the same area pull out in front of me from a side street while I was barreling down hill. She saw me, WAITED until I got closer, and then pulled wide slowly to block me on purpose. Needless to say, we had extensive un-pleasantries exchanged, and her exact words were that I should not even be on the road – that bicycles were not legal roadway vehicles, and I should be on the sidewalk! And this is some “sweet suburban soccer mom” in her SUV getting aggressive like that.

    My Opinion … Do you need to be forced to wear a helmet to go get some bread or ride the bike path to the beach? NO. But you absolutely should be wearing it on a road ride. This is where evolution kicks in. Its your choice to take that risk. The govt doesn’t need to save us. It needs to educate drivers and officers on the real laws and rights pertaining to cyclists, AND enforce those laws. Let’s do that first, then we can talk about taking away liberties.

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