Should All Bike Riders Be Required To Wear Helmets?
More people than ever before are riding bicycles around San Diego, and master-planned bike routes and sharing programs are aimed at increasing the number. But, with more bike riders, or bicycle accidents . a new bill in Sacramento would require adult bike riders to wear helmets, just like children and teenage bike riders are not required to do. The proponents of the bill, SB-192, save only makes sense to protect bicyclists from severe injury if they have an accident. But many bike riders don't like the idea of being forced to do something for their own good. Joining me are Andy Hanshaw, executive director of the San Diego County Bike Coalition, welcome to the program. ________________________________________ Thank you, nice to be here. ________________________________________ Michael Sise is trauma medical director at Scripps Mercy Hospital, welcome. ________________________________________ Thank you. ________________________________________ And Randy Swart is here, well, on the phone with us, he's with the Bike Helmet Safety Institute. Randy, thank you for joining. ________________________________________ Thank you. ________________________________________ Randy I want to start with you, why is this legislation being introduced now? Are the rates of bike accidents increasing in California? ________________________________________ It's hard to say whether the rate is increasing not because the data always lags, I think it's being introduced because it would parallel with what California does for motorcycle helmets. It would extend the law to all ages, it would probably increase home and use by some extent, we don't know how much. And lower head injuries, it would probably not reduce cycling, and as I say, you know, we cover the cycle is the same way that we do motorcycle riders. ________________________________________ I believe the statistics show an overwhelming number of fatal bike accidents happen when the rider was not wearing a helmet, is that right, Randy? ________________________________________ That has been correct all along, Maureen. In New York City, they found 97% of people who died did not have a helmet on. ________________________________________ So besides wearing a helmet, this legislation would also have some requirements of riding bikes at night, right? ________________________________________ It would require reflective clothing, such as a vest, shirt or jacket. Yes. ________________________________________ And what would be the penalty for not doing these things? Not wearing a helmet? ________________________________________ The penalty is a $25 fine with the first charge dismissed. ________________________________________ So, that's not much of an incentive for people to actually do this. Why is the penalty so low? ________________________________________ I think the real incentive is, you don't want to go to court. ________________________________________ Ah-ha. Okay, all right. The current state law in California and several other states require kids and teenagers to wear helmets when they are riding bikes, and Randy, have these laws been successful? ________________________________________ Wow. That's hard to quantify. A lot of things happen at the same time that you introduced the bike helmet law. For example right now, in KPBS territory, they are working very hard on increasing the safety of bicycle riders and pedestrians, and that is a trend that has been all over the country in the, let's say, more forward-looking cities. That sort of thing can swamp what happens when you pass a helmet law. What we do know is that helmet use goes up at least moderately, and that helmet or head injuries do go down. ________________________________________ Okay then, well I've been speaking with Randy Swart of the Bike Helmet Safety Institute. Thank you for joining us, Randy. ________________________________________ You're welcome. ________________________________________ Now back to Andy Hanshaw, again, he is executive director of the San Diego County Bike Coalition. Andy, what is the San Diego Bike associations view of the adult helmet bill? ________________________________________ The San Diego County Bike Coalition is obviously our region's bicycle advocacy organization and our highest priority is on the safety of cyclists . We do encourage home and use, and we teach it in our education and outreach programs, we keep teaching helmet fitting and the use of helmets . we do not support mandatory helmet laws because it's been shown to be a deterrent to getting people to actually write bicycles and we very much place a high priority at increasing the number of bicyclists that are choosing to ride, for all of the healthy benefits the bicycling brings . you know, it's great for their health, it's active, good for our environment, reduces congestion on roadways, and if we can get more people riding every day for transportation which is what we're really focused on, our Street actually become safer. So what we are really focused on, instead of mandating a law of helmets, is to really make our streets safer and provide the protection and safety measure for people who want to write the currently aren't, and for those that currently are not. So let's look at things I protected bikeways and our three-foot passing laws, those are just two laws that happened last year to help increase safety and I think in my opinion would be more effective to build this type of infrastructure than a mandated helmet law. I don't think that the data is clear on whether mandatory helmet laws are actually reducing, you know, head injuries. ________________________________________ Well, let me stop you for a minute. Why do you think wearing a helmet, having to wear helmet, would decrease ridership? ________________________________________ I think people have their choice to ride with a helmet or not, as I said, we encourage and and we teach it. But you know, I ride in my neighborhood, I ride on the beaches, and separated facilities for the most part, I ride in places that I know are slower speeds, more separated from traffic and that's just one example in my case. We have an 1800 bike share system that you mentioned in your introduction, that is a whole new transportation system, and you know, helmets are not a part of that system. And you know, what we are really encouraging and after is increasing the number of bicyclists that are out there to make our streets safer and at the same time, building that infrastructure. ________________________________________ I guess what I'm trying to get at is our helmets unwieldy? Do they decrease your ability to see? I mean, why would wearing a helmet make people less likely to write a bicycle? -- ride a bicycle? ________________________________________ It could be an economic factor. Bicycling transcends all economic strata and it could be an economic decision, it could be that people just don't have helmets, it could be that it is just their choice. And, they know their route, and they know where they ride. And so, it could be that they don't have a way to carry their helmet, there's a number of things . but as I said, we encourage helmet use but we just don't think it's a smart thing to mandate a law, and no states currently have a bicycle helmet law in the country. ________________________________________ Now, Dr. Michael Sise, do you support a bill that would mandate adults to wear back helmets? ________________________________________ Oh yes, I do. ________________________________________ Why is that? ________________________________________ First of all, and he is right, it's not about helmets alone, it's about safe riding areas and traffic separation, and in fact, an awful lot of fatalities in San Diego County are older folks, older than age 40, these are not sports cyclists. These are often folks who have chronic drug and alcohol use problems, Havarti lost their license, and are riding frequently after dark, frequent me intoxicated in getting clobbered because they go into traffic where they don't ride safely . that's the kind of ridership you don't want, that's one of the effects of a helmet law, you would discourage some of those folks from riding. There's a couple of hard facts, and I agree with our previous to discussants that it is kind of a completed issue, but for every $10 spent on a bicycle helmet, and you can get them for as cheap as $10, you save $570, on average, in societal costs. For every major head injury, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars of collected money, taxpayer dollars, etc., that we spend on chronic rehabilitation, chronic care. And for me, it's more than statistics, it's patience I saw as recently as last night on trauma call, who, bad shoulder injuries from a crash but absolutely saved by a bike helmet. So there's no question that there is the ability to make bike riding safer, it's at a minimal expense, and I suspect that Andy rides with a helmet. I think it is not too much to ask for and certainly, we're talking about very low finds with significant benefit. ________________________________________ Let me ask you precisely, Dr. Sise, how to helmets work to protect bike riders? Do they make a difference between a minor injury and a serious head injury? Or fatality? ________________________________________ They can. Now they are not totally protective, if you get hit hard enough it does not matter what you are wearing. But there's a zone of speed and impact in which the cushioning that a helmet, basically it is a mini-crumple zone, if you think about it, when you drove your car to work, you are protected by a crumple zone that would absorb impacts, slow deceleration with a combination of air back and restraints, you would walk away from almost any crash you got involved in. The problem with riding a bicycle, particularly if you are clipped or strapped into the pedals, is that you frequently plunge headfirst, Ifor -- either over the handlebars or to the side, if you have a helmet on, you will cushion the impact whatever you had, whether it's a car, sidewalk or pole. It doesn't always save you, but it can do a significant amount in limiting head injury. ________________________________________ There's a device that they were in New York that's called a HaveDing, you wear it around your neck, and is like a bike riders airbag. Have you seen them? They inflate if you jerk your head one way or if you're trucked off your bicycle, they sort of inflate . there really big in Europe, what would you think about that? ________________________________________ It's the choice to use something like that. I mean, I guess that it is more stylish, if this is what you are referring to, that type of thing, then I think, you know, it could be an effective thing for someone to use. But, I just wanted to, you know, as I said, I don't dispute that if I, can reduce the risk of serious injury. That I understand. But, I think we should be looking at preventing collisions before they occur, and that is creating a safer place to write, -- ride, safety education, slow down speeds, he was talking about the impact of speed in collisions, if we can get speeds to slow down, particularly where people are riding and create that separation more through physical barriers which is becoming part of our regional bike plan and of things we are doing across the county, all of that is going to help make our riding safer, and get more people riding, and get our streets safer . ________________________________________ I remember a similar argument in California in the early 90s about motorcycle helmets. Do you remember that, Dr. Sise? ________________________________________ Yes, and I actually went to Sacramento to testify for the law. ________________________________________ One of the arguments against is that people should be able to make the decision for themselves, and then exactly is what Andy is saying. ________________________________________ I disagree. You don't have a choice while buckling up, you don't have a choice about how you drive safely. And, the roads are a public space, shared space. And I think it's entirely reasonable for us to ask each other to behave in a safe manner, and there's no question that we can reduce the risk of significant lifelong disability, by crash by wearing a helmet, reduce the overall societal cost, and it does the pain and suffering. And again, I'm thinking of some very profoundly tragic cases where folks are killed because they were not wearing a bicycle helmet. And for me, it's walking down the hall in the middle of the night to tell their loved ones that they are not going to make it, that they have a fatal head injury. Those are compelling antidotes that are really tied to some very compelling statistics. I think we have that right to ask of each other, responsibly use, I don't think in the long run it will turn down in the type of ridership that Andy is worried about, and I think that coupled with other important initiatives he talked about can make cycling safer. Remember in Europe, cycling is infinitely safer than it is in the United States. And there are many more riders, many, many fewer fatalities but it's a culture of safety, not just on the part of the riders but on the drivers who get bicyclists a broad birth. ________________________________________ You can have the last word. ________________________________________ I think that's a good point, and in places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen for you see masses of riding, its primary mode of transportation and people understand that, that's the direction we want to go and that's because they had those separated facilities. They have places for bikes to ride that are separate from traffic, and it's also a safety in numbers thing. That is what is making our streets safer. So, if there mode share is in the teens or hours currently is around 1%, we've got goals to reach that to double digits and get more people out there riding and make it safer for everyone. ________________________________________ Okay, I've been speaking with Andy Hanshaw, executive director of San Diego County Bike Coalition and Dr. Michael Sise, director at Scripps Mercy Hospital. Thank you both very much. ________________________________________ Thank you.
A new bill in the California legislature would require adults to wear helmets. Anyone riding without a helmet could be cited and fined up to $25. Bike riders under the age of 18 have been required to wear helmets in California since 1994.
Proponents of the bill say it only makes sense to protect all bicyclists from severe head injuries if they have an accident.
"Any responsible bicycle rider should wear a helmet," said Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) who authored the Senate Bill 192. "This law will help protect more people and make sure all riders benefit from the head protection that a helmet provides. "
Under the bill, all riders would also be required to wear reflective clothing when cycling at night.
But many bicycle advocates, including the San Diego County Bike Coalition, said it's the wrong approach and requiring helmets would actually make biking less safe.
Andy Hanshaw, executive director of the coalition, said helmets shouldn't be mandatory because it could decrease the number of riders.
"We do encourage helmet use," Hanshaw told KPBS Midday Edition on Monday. "However, we do not support mandatory helmet laws because it has shown to be a deterrent. If we can get more people riding for transportation, our streets can become safer."
Hanshaw said people may choose to not use a helmet for various reasons.
"It could be an economic factor. It could be that be people just don't have helmets. It's their choice and they know their route," he said.
Dr. Michael Sise, trauma medical director for Scripps Mercy Hospital, said the bill is worth implementing for health and economic reasons.
"For every $10 spent on a bicycle helmet, you save $570 on societal costs," said Sise who said millions of dollars are spent each year on chronic rehabilitation. "It's not too much to ask for."