California will become the first state in the US to require adult cyclists to wear cycle helmets if a bill introduced by a state senator, which would also require all riders to wear reflective clothing at night, becomes law.
Currently, 21 states as well as the District of Columbia have laws requiring children to wear helmets while riding a bike.
The upper age limit varies by jurisdiction, but in California, currently bike riders aged under 18 have been required to wear one.
State senator Carol Liu, a Democrat who represents District 25, which includes Burbank, Pasadena and – one for the Bill and Ted fans out there – San Dimas, wants the law extended to adults too.
Liu, chair of the senate education committee, said in a statement: “Any responsible bicycle rider should wear a helmet,” said Liu, Chair of the Senate Education Committee.
“This law will help protect more people and make sure all riders benefit from the head protection that a helmet provides.”
Cyclists failing to wear a helmet, or reflective at night, would face a fine of $25 under the proposed legislation.
Liu’s statement claimed: “Bicyclists who don’t wear helmets are far more likely to be hurt or killed in accidents.
“Ninety-one percent of bicyclists killed in 2009 reportedly were not wearing helmets, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported.”
She did not say what proportion of those fatalities were due to head injuries.
Opponents of compulsory helmet laws point out that in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, where helmets are mandatory for riders of all ages, cycling levels dropped when the legislation was introduced.
They maintain that the wider health benefits of cycling for the population as a whole outweigh any claimed reduction in casualties among bike riders as a result of helmet compulsion.
Cycling campaigners also say that focusing on helmets or high visibility clothing also detracts from focusing on other measures that would reduce casualties, such as 20 mile an hour speed limits or segregated infrastructure.
According to the Sacramento Bee, Liu’s nephew was killed while riding a bike in 2004 by a drunk driver. He had been wearing a helmet.
Dave Snyder of the California Bike Coalition said: “We think she has good intentions.”
But he added: “We know that the most important thing to protect people who ride bikes is to get more people out there riding bikes.
“Forcing people to wear crash helmets when they ride is counter-productive to that goal.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.