Requiring everyone to wear a helmet sounds like a good idea, but in reality it just doesn’t make sense.
Helmets only prepare you for the worst; it doesn’t make the user any safer on the streets. In fact, because you feel there is less risk, more risk-taking is bound to happen on the road.
The recent bill announced to the public by California Sen. Carol Liu will require all cyclists to wear a helmet, and wear reflective material that I can’t even buy in a bicycle shop, just doesn’t make sense.
Fewer cyclists will be on the road because not everyone will hassle with buying or wearing a helmet, which means drivers, will become more unfamiliar with sharing the road.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for helmets. I use my helmet for my two-mile ride each morning to school and two-mile ride back home at night. I feel like the most safety conscious cyclist at Sonoma State with my helmet, reflective bags, reflective inseams in my pants and jackets; the quintessence of bicycle safety in a world where I rarely see anyone wear helmets, reflective clothing or safely ride a bicycle.
Helmet laws change the dynamic of bicycle safety; fewer ride, and more take risk because of the stigma of wearing a helmet guarantees safety, because as stated it doesn’t.
“We support helmet use,” said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, “yet, we have not seen any evidence that a mandatory helmet law reduces crashes.”
Research shows when helmets are required, one of three possibilities happen. One, cyclists will buy helmets. Two, cyclists will go out and still ride without a helmet, thus breaking the law and getting cited. Lastly, people will just stop riding because it’s costly and a hassle to buy a helmet or because of this new stigma that cycling is somehow dangerous.
A study released in 2011 from the University of Alberta, conducted by Mohammad Karkhaneh found some surprising results on mandatory helmet laws. In May of 2002, Alberta, Canada put into effect a mandatory bicycle law for people under the age of 18. The study found that by 2006, there was a 56 percent reduction in children cycling, and a 27 percent reduction in teenagers.
Looking further into the research, both head and non-head injuries increased, with only one possibility; mandatory helmet laws causes cyclists to take more risks when cycling, or the absurd idea that a helmet makes cyclists a target.
The only thing in the bill that makes sense is the second part. Cyclists are required to wear reflective clothing at night. Just one thing, the clothing has to be rated to a standard that one will have to go to a construction store and buy construction vests rather than reflective clothing designed for cycling.
Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows there were 726 pedacyclists deaths in 2012, out of 33, 561 fatalities. Those statistics show pedacyclists represent 2 percent of the fatalities of the whole nation. By those numbers, we shouldn’t require cyclists to wear helmets; we should require motor vehicles, which have a higher fatality rate.
In the same data, most pedacyclist related fatalities occur between 4 p.m. to midnight. I can see that wearing reflective material and having lights will make the cyclist more visible on the road and safer.
For the data above, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration categorizes pedacyclist as any vehicle powered by feet, with wheels and no motor. Unicycles, tricycles and bicycles fit this category.
Before introducing a bill to require everyone in California to wear a helmet on a bicycle, a smarter approach is to tackle the problem and prevent avoidable accidents rather than preparing for the worst.