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Santa Monica’s Bicycle Activist Group Opposes Bill Mandating Helmet Use

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

February 23, 2015 -- Riding a bicycle in Santa Monica and anywhere else in California while not wearing a helmet could soon be a criminal offense. 

State Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) has proposed a bill that would outlaw the practice, and the city’s leading bicycle activist group is not happy.

Cynthia Rose, chair and director of Santa Monica SPOKE, wrote in an email to The Lookout that although the group recommends helmet use, it does not believe wearing one should be a requirement.

“We advocate for helmet use -- education on the safety and benefits combined with smart cycling and following the rules of the road,” Rose wrote. 

She continued, “We believe this is what can help encourage more people to ride bikes, which improves safety with numbers and promotes the long-term health benefits of physical activity.”

Rose elaborated on this viewpoint in a post on SPOKE’s Facebook page.

“Evidence also shows that state law mandating adults to wear helmets is a bad idea as it deters people from riding, therefore we oppose mandating helmet use for adults,” she wrote.

Helmets are already required for bicycle riders under the age of 18. Liu’s bill, SB 192, calls for an extension of that requirement to all people. It also says nighttime riders must wear “high-visibility safety apparel, which may include a vest, jacket or shirt that is retroreflective.”

Violators would face a criminal infraction and a fine of up to $25.

If the bill were turned into law, it would make California the first state in the nation mandating helmet use for people of all ages. Several states and Washington D.C. require people under 18 to wear helmets.

“Any responsible bicycle rider should wear a helmet,” said Liu in a press release issued just after the bill was introduced last week. “This law will help protect more people and make sure all riders benefit from the head protection that a helmet provides.”

The release also cites a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures saying 91 percent of bicyclist killed in 2009 were not wearing helmets.   

SPOKE is not the only bicycle advocacy group opposed to the bill. The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (of which SPOKE is a chapter) is also against it. The California Bicycle Coalition started a petition.

“A mandatory helmet law would make California’s streets less safe by discouraging bicycling,” the petition states. “We urge you to withdraw the mandatory helmet law and focus on measures that will protect people who ride bicycles.”

A post on SPOKE’s Facebook page encouraged people to email State Sen. Ben Allen, whose district includes Santa Monica, to ask him to oppose the bill. 

Allen did not immediately respond to an email from The Lookout asking for his position on the bill.

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