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.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.