But should helmet use be required by law?
If you're thinking, "Why not - I already wear a helmet" then you're not seeing the bigger picture. Helmet laws are just the first step in policies aimed at redirecting all blame and responsibility away from drivers, and onto cyclists by adding more and more restrictions and regulations -- supposedly in the name of safety "for their own good" -- until the time comes when cyclists are no longer permitted to ride on the road at all.
Think I'm being paranoid? The proposed laws are already reaching further than just helmets. Don't kid yourself that it won't continue.
|From StreetsBlog LA|
Another law proposed in Wyoming, HB 0206, would also require cyclists to wear "not less than 200 sq. inches of high visibility fluorescent orange, green, or pink clothing visible from the front and rear of the bicycle," along with flashing lights at the rear of the bike, and would also require cyclists to carry government issued photo identification.
Just wait -- mandatory bike license and registration will be next. You know, because cyclists supposedly don't pay for the roads (which is actually a car-centric myth that gets thrown around as unchallenged fact). As it is right now, bicyclists use the road by right - motorists use the road by license. If someone drives badly, accumulating too many violations, they can lose their license to drive. But they cannot be prevented from riding a bike. Not yet.
|From Outside Online.|
But I'm digressing -- because it all starts with helmet laws.
The way I see it, mandatory helmet laws are anti-cyclist laws -- as in, laws designed to reduce the number of cyclists on the roads. And as European cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam (where nobody wears a helmet) can demonstrate, cyclists are safer on the roads when there are more cyclists.
Many states currently have laws mandating helmet use for children, and those states have seen a reduction in fatalities among children on bikes. However, it is also documented in research that those states have also seen a significant reduction in children riding bikes at all. So it's difficult to know whether those fatality reductions are because of the helmets, or because there are fewer kids riding bikes.
Much of the evidence about helmets saving lives is anecdotal. "I wouldn't be alive if I wasn't wearing my helmet." Maybe. Maybe not -- there's really no way to prove it. There are statistics about helmet use and fatalities, but those statistics are often flawed or incomplete.
People who actually study helmet safety -- the standards and the testing methods -- know that a helmet may protect a cyclist in certain types of accidents, like a basic fall (the kinds of accidents that children and other inexperienced riders are most likely to have). But if that rider's head goes through the windshield of a speeding car, with or without a helmet, he or she is likely going to be DOA. Bicycle helmets simply are not designed to protect in that kind of impact. Cyclists know (or should know) that. Motorists probably don't.
Mandatory helmet laws side-step the real dangers faced by cyclists in favor of the distorted perception of danger by people who do not ride. I mentioned in an earlier post about how for people who don't ride, helmet use is everything. People who drive and never ride ignore the fact that the most dangerous thing they do day after day is get behind the wheel of a car. It is dangerous to themselves, and to the people around them. But in their minds, cars are safe. Bicycles are dangerous. And helmets are the difference. To these car-centric thinkers and legislators, as long as we can get every cyclist to wear a helmet, then we won't have to do anything about the real dangers cyclists face -- from distracted drivers, speeders, and even from bad road design/infrastructure.
Think about it. Where are the distracted driving laws? Texting-and-driving laws? The previous governor of Texas, Rick Perry, was absolutely adamant that he would not sign any anti-texting laws in his state because he didn't want to "micromanage adult behavior." In my state, Ohio, we have what our governor called the toughest texting-and-driving law in the country, yet it is only a secondary offense, which means that it's almost impossible to be pulled over for texting while driving. In other words, it's only illegal if you get caught doing something else. The law has done nothing to curtail the practice.
|Recommended Reading - BSNYC|
In an editorial in the Contra Costa Times, the editors chastise cyclists who oppose California's SB192. "A vocal contingent objects for reasons that are sometimes mind-boggling. Interestingly, even many of them wear helmets . . . They just don't want a law requiring it. We wonder if they felt the same way about the three-foot passing rule, that it's a good idea but motorists shouldn't be required to follow it. Probably not."
See what they did there? It's all equal. You're going to make us pass a law that says we have to use some common-sense caution when we drive our 2-ton weapon of mass destruction, so now you've got to give us something in return. You get your 3-ft. passing law -- but now you've gotta wear your helmets. Like it's all the same thing.
I'm also shocked at some of the cyclists arguing in favor of helmet laws. The cycling blog Red Kite Prayer (which I usually enjoy) had this to say on the subject. "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."
So, what is our PR problem? RKP continues, "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."
The way I see it, this argument is self-contradictory. "Sure, most of us are wearing helmets as we bend rules and traffic laws, but that's not what the pissed off drivers see." Exactly. Drivers see the bad behavior -- and the helmet doesn't make it OK. Want to do something about the PR problem? Stop "bending" the rules. Stop for lights and signs (and that goes for group/club rides, too). Don't weave in and out of traffic. Ride like traffic -- or better.
Keep in mind through all of this that I'm not saying don't wear a helmet. It's a good idea, but don't ever over-estimate what a helmet will do for you. I insist that my children wear them. I wear one most of the time -- though I don't feel the need when I'm riding along in my neighborhood to pick up some take-out, or running to the store. I'm capable of making that choice, and I'd like to keep it that way.
If your state is considering a compulsory helmet law, I'd encourage you to make as much noise in opposition as possible. Don't think for a minute that it's okay to appease them and hope that the legislators will be satisfied with their helmet law and then leave the issue alone. I'm not just talking about "slippery slope" and being paranoid. The other requirements and restrictions -- like clothing, flashing beacons, and licenses and registrations -- are all out there already and being considered. If we allow helmet laws to happen, the rest is only a matter of time.