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California legislation fuels bike helmet controversy

Many Los Angeles bike riders voluntarily wear helmets for added safety protection. California children and most teens have been required to wear helmets since 1994. State law makes helmet use mandatory for bicyclists under 18 and optional for older riders, but that could change.

Senate Bill 192 calls for all bicyclists statewide to wear helmets while riding. The same bill would make wearing reflective clothing compulsory for bicycling during nighttime hours. Violators would be issued citations and fined as much as $25 for riding without head protection.

No one is arguing helmetless riding is more beneficial to bicyclists than wearing a helmet. However, there is opposition to obligatory helmet use for adults. The San Diego County Bike Coalition thinks the proposal is shortsighted and will dissuade, instead of encourage, California residents to ride bikes.

The head of the coalition claims forced helmet use could defeat the purpose of getting residents to use bicycles for transportation. In some cases, bicyclists may not own or be able to afford a helmet. The group asserts fewer riders would make state roads less safe for bicyclists.

The director of Scripps Mercy Hospital's trauma medical services disagrees with the advocacy group's assessment of the bill. He feels that for each $10 investment in bicycle helmets, hundreds of dollars would be saved in "societal costs." The director feels biker headgear is needed to protect riders and the public alike from preventable injuries and losses.

The bill's author also touts the safety benefits of the proposed legislation. The bicyclist coalition thinks helmet use for adults should be a personal choice. A 2013 report in the Washington Post stated experts' studies and opinions varied widely over the true rider safeguards provided by bike helmets.

Bicycle accident victims can suffer extremely serious injuries requiring long-term medical care. Physical, psychological and financial damage caused by negligent drivers may be recovered through civil claims.

Source: KPBS, "Should All Bike Riders Be Required To Wear Helmets?" Marissa Cabrera, Maureen Cavanaugh, Peggy Pico, Feb. 23, 201

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