Last week, 22-year-old Derek Allen was struck and killed by a Muni bus in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond neighborhood. Allen is the second cyclist to be killed on San Francisco streets this year, after German tourist Nils Yannick Linke was hit by a drunk driver in August. While both deaths are tragic, the yearly total marks an improvement in bike safety over past years; each year, more than 130 people are killed on their bikes in California alone. If there were more widespread knowledge about state bike laws, such deaths could be prevented altogether.
State to state, bicycle laws vary a great deal. While most states require motorcyclists of all ages to wear a helmet, bike helmet regulations are much more lax. California, for example, requires that children under 17 years of age must wear helmets, but more than half of the states have no law regulating helmet use. Following his own bike accident earlier this month, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for a statewide law mandating the use of helmets for all cyclists. Safety concerns aside, the state’s bike industry has largely opposed the measure out of fear that it would dissuade new cyclists.
Even less common are laws regulating cycling under the influence. A few states, like California and Oregon, have separate laws against intoxication while riding a bicycle. Others, like Florida and Pennsylvania, have no such law, but consider bicycles vehicles, meaning that drunk cyclists can be arrested on regular DUI charges. Since cycling under the influence has only recently received significant attention, laws against the dangerous practice are likely to continue evolving.
Check out our interactive map showing bicycling safety laws across the nation for more details about your state’s laws and how they compare to others.
What’s known is that as bike ridership continues to increase, state governments need to impose more laws promoting bike safety. The more drivers are aware of cyclists, and the more cyclists wear helmets and refuse to ride drunk, the more likely it is that we can prevent accidents like Derek Allen’s.