Good news out of Sacramento: S.B. 192, Senator Liu’s disastrous law mandating helmets and reflective gear for bicyclists, was gutted thanks to strong backlash from bicycle advocates across the state. In its place, Senator Liu has proposed a study of the effectiveness of helmet use:
“The Bill would require the Office of Traffic Study (OTS), in coordination with the Department of the California Highway Patrol (CHP), to conduct a comprehensive study of bicycle helmet use, including specified information, and to report the study’s findings to the Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing and the Assembly Committee on Transportation by January 1, 2017.”
This study has interesting implications for bicycling in California, depending on how it is approached. On the one hand, the OTS and CHP could take the straightforward approach and examine the effectiveness of helmet use and reach similar conclusions to previous works. The latest research suggests that helmets reduce injury risk between 2 and 26 percent overall, but present a barrier to convenient, care-free cycling. For these reasons and others, a mandatory helmet law is not an effective public policy for encouraging safe cycling.
On the other hand, the OTS and CHP could take a broader approach, examining helmet use in the context of a number of bicycle safety measures. These measures could include innovative street designs, educational campaigns, and enforcement. Such a study is intriguing because it could provide a statewide blueprint for bicycle safety and a clear vision of how California could prioritize safety efforts. While Caltrans has a complete streets policy, no statewide policies exist for Vision Zero or growing bicycling. This study could jumpstart these conversations and put the legislature in a stronger leadership position on these issues.
For any of this to occur, the bill still has to pass. Active transportation advocates came out in force against Senator Liu’s original bill; a more conciliatory approach is likely for this amendment. We’ll see if it moves forward.