Bill Would Make California Only State to Require Bike Helmets For Adults

Bicyclists along the Embarcadero in 2014.  (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

Adults bicyclists in California would all have to wear helmets under a bill from state Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge). If passed, California would become the only state with a mandatory helmet law for riders 18 and older.

The bill  would also require adults to wear reflective clothing at night, and it calls for anyone under 18 to wear a mandatory helmet while skateboarding or rollerskating.

The fine for a violation would be $25.

Since 1994, California has required bike helmets for children and teens under 18. All told, 21 states and the District of Columbia require helmets for youth bicyclists.

"Any responsible bicycle rider should wear a helmet,” Liu said in a  statement last week announcing the adult helmet legislation.

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Liu also cited a  2012 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures that said 91 percent of bicyclists killed in 2009 reportedly were not wearing helmets.

But Dave Snyder, with the California Bicycle Coalition, said that although Liu's intentions are good, her approach is wrongheaded.

"The only real way to really protect cyclists' heads is to make the streets safer, and to get more people out there bicycling," he said.

Snyder said bicycle ridership has doubled while injuries have declined.

"The few places that have mandated helmet wearing have seen a drop in bicycling. If we do that in California, we'll see the same thing."

The San Francisco Chronicle talked to some adult bike riders who had varying opinions on the proposed law, including one who was conflicted.  "My gut says to pass the law, but my mind says people should think for themselves," Kai Lyons, a 20-year-old jazz guitarist, told the paper.

The Sacramento Bee reported last week that Liu’s nephew was killed in 2004 by a drunken driver while riding his bike in Sonoma County. Alan Liu was wearing a helmet, the Bee said.

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