KPBS Reports: Bike Helmet Bill Could Dampen San Diego Bike Sharing Enthusiasm

Bike weddings in Balboa Park
Should the bride and the groom have worn a helmet while riding around Balboa Park?

Everyone has an opinion about helmets. But what would a helmet mandatory law mean for San Diego’s new bike share program? What problems are helmets expected to address and do they do so?

KPBS didn’t address all those questions, but they did run a segment during the morning rush hour yesterday about what it would mean for the city’s new bike share program and posted that segment online.

Senator Liu (D-La Cañada), who is the author of the bill to mandate helmet use for all California adults seems to have doubled down on her proposal stating,

“Any responsible bicycle rider should wear a helmet,” Liu said in a statement. “This law will help protect more people and make sure all riders benefit from the head protection that a helmet provides.”

Last year, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association was successful in getting the federal government to remove the claim that helmets were 85% effective after they also had to fight against a similar mandatory helmet bill in the state of Maryland.

In 2001, a review of all published studies found that helmets reduce the risk of head injuries by 45–71%, and increase the risk of neck injuries by 0–86%. That “meta-analysis” was updated in 2011: Helmets reduce head injuries by 25–55%, but because of the increased risk in neck injuries, the combined reduction in head and neck injuries is only 2–26%.

In a report, Every Bicyclist Counts, that the League of Americans Bicyclists released last year, the report stated that 40% – the most – of fatal bicyclist crashes occurred as a result of being rear-ended by a vehicle.

A helmet on one’s head doesn’t protect a rider from being hit by a vehicle.

In an analysis of bicycle injury related emergency room visits by the Mineta Transportation Institute, the data on what specific body part was injured in a bicycle crash made for a rather morbid read.

Concussions were 2% of total ER visit diagnoses.

On facebook, Paul Jamason made a good point, “Should pedestrians be mandated to wear helmets too? I’m guessing thousands are hit in crosswalks every year.”

Good question. And one that Senator Liu doesn’t seem to have thought much about.

Update: There were some great comments on Facebook and below are just two of them. In summary: separated bicycle facilities are the best investment if one truly cared about bicycle safety. Feel free to read the rest here.