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California, Forget About the Helmet Law

“Hey, put on your helmet,” my 5-year-old tells me every time we ride together in our quiet neighborhood.

I obey, because my loved ones are among the few people who get to tell me to wear a helmet. The State of California is not in that elite group. I don’t want California to pass a mandatory bicycle helmet law for adults.

It’s not that I’m against bicycle helmets. They may save lives, although the data is so complicated on this that I could not say for sure that they do. But the reason I don’t want California to pass a law requiring adults to wear bicycle helmets is a matter of priorities.

Laws cost money, to pass and to enforce. Safe bicycle paths that are separate from traffic also cost money. I feel that if you are going to direct energy or dollars toward making bicycling safer — something I very much support — it should be directed at creating a safe environment for cycling in, not at increasing the percentage of cyclists wearing protective equipment.

Sure, you could pay for the law by ticketing cyclists who don’t comply, but a combination of restrictions and strict enforcement would lead to fewer people getting on bikes, which has a negative effect on the safety of those of us remaining on the road. There is a very real risk that a helmet law could reduce the number of people who ride bikes.

Focusing legally on helmet wearing bothers me in a philosophical way, too. This may offend people, but when I think about my head getting crushed by a car while I bike, I also think about rape. Both are things I need to teach my kids to avoid to be safe in the world. But recently society has moved to seeing rape avoidance as not just something we have to teach girls, but something we have to teach everyone. Instead of just telling our daughters “don’t walk alone at night,” we need to tell our sons, “don’t rape anyone.”

Do you see where I’m going here? In the Netherlands, no one wears a bike helmet. They don’t need to, because the chance of a car wheel crushing their heads is so low. So forgive me if I can’t get behind legislation that aims to get every cyclist wearing protective head gear, when creating an environment where no one has to wear it would be a much better aim.