Los Angeles

Proposed Helmet Law Draws Protest From Biking Advocates

If passed, California would be the first state to require all bicyclists to wear helmets

All bicyclists in California may soon be required to wear helmets and not everyone is happy about it.

"We find that when the helmet is the lead, people think 'dangerous sport' I don't want to do this," said Melissa Balmer, spokeswoman for the California Biking Coalition.

Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada Flintridge, proposed in February Senate Bill 192 that mandates all riders wear headgear and reflective clothing at night. SB192 extends another law that has been in effect for more than 20 years and orders anyone under age 18 to wear helmets. 

The bill has yet to be assigned a hearing date but will probably be reach the state Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing in April.

"Any responsible bicycle rider should wear a helmet," said Liu in a statement. "This law will help protect more people and make sure all riders benefit from the head protection that a helmet provides."

Riders found breaking the law face a $25 fine, the current rate for minors.

Ninety-one percent of bicyclists killed in 2009 reportedly were not wearing helmets, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Nearly 14,000 bicyclists were hurt in crashes in 2012, up from 11,760 in 2008, according to a report Liu cited from the California Highway Patrol.

Opponents of the bill argue it will discourage more people from picking up a bike because of a misplaced sense of danger.

Balmer believes the bill goes against the headway the state has made in improving the biking experience, referring to California's 10-spot rise in the League of American Bicyclists' ranking of bike-friendly states, to No. 9 in 2014.

Balmer argued the law could deter casual riders from hopping on because of the production it becomes.

"Somebody who is going to jump on a bike for a slow casual ride, they won't want to do that if they think they're going to get a ticket," Balmer said.

"Even though we encourage folks to wear helmets and require it on our rides, evidence clearly shows all it accomplishes is it reduces bicycling but doesn't make the community as a whole safer," said Eric Bruins, planning and policy director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

Bruins says while he understands the appeal of mandating helmet use, it's not the solution for improving rider safety.

"There are many different cities that have gotten bicycling right - Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Portland and now New York City," Bruins said. "When cities invest in infrastructure and education, a lot more people cycle and cycling becomes safe. Los Angeles hasn't really done that."

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia mandate minors to wear helmets, according to Liu's proposal.

If this bill is passed, California will be the first state to require helmet use for all ages.

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