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This legislative session has already seen bills that would mandate helmets and orange safety vests. A ban on headphones can also be added to the list: SB 491 would prohibit the use of ear buds while riding a bicycle.

The Legislative Analyst summary describes this change as “non-controversial” because existing law already prohibits the use of full ear-covering headsets. Well, one wonders whether the analyst gets out much. Whereas there are hardly any cyclists out there riding around with studio headphones, iPhone-style ear buds are extremely popular. This bill would criminalize a very common behavior among cyclists.

Like the helmet legislation, an ear bud ban sounds sounds great in theory (no pun intended), but lacks any studies or data to back it up. It is unlikely to improve safety, or even change cyclist behavior. But it will almost certainly serve as a pretext for police to harass minorities.

And given the way “distracted walking” has become a thing, then it is not inconceivable that pedestrians will one day get the same treatment.

Cyclist wearing headphones in Copenhagen (www.copenhagenize.com)

Cyclist wearing headphones in Copenhagen (Copenhagenize)

Kontroll (Hungary, 2003). Director: Nimród Antal

Filmed entirely in the Budapest Metro, this fictional(?) story follows the surreal exploits of a group of fare inspectors. Their leader is Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi), for whom the underground Metro is a kind of purgatory. He lives, sleeps, and works in the underground 24 hours a day. He is starting to go crazy, perhaps because everyone else around him is nuts too.

We take jaywalking pretty seriously here in California. A $200 fine, plus some police brutality:

A videotaped confrontation between a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy and a 51-year-old woman suspected of jaywalking casts doubt on the deputy’s sworn statement about what happened and underscores the need for police cameras, the woman’s lawyer said Friday.

The 30-second video of the Jan. 23 incident near downtown Santa Rosa was taken shortly after Celeste Moon allegedly bolted across College Avenue at Humboldt Street and ran from the deputy. It picks up after Moon is stopped a short distance away by Deputy Charles Blount, who is seen standing behind her. They talk for a moment before Blount puts an arm around her neck and throws her to the ground.

Here is a safety tip for cyclists in Florida. When stopped by the police, do not perform a side-dismount, by putting both feet down on one side of the bike. The officer may interpret that as an intent to flee, making you eligible for summary execution:

The dashcam video shows that Stephens looks back, then continues about 20 more feet to his friend’s house, where he gets off the bike. Lin is now even more convinced that Stephens is about to take off on foot, not because he got off the bike, but because he put both feet over the same side to do so.

“The manner he stopped and got off his bicycle was consistent with someone who had run from me in the past,” Lin said in a deposition: a “rolling run” where someone jumped off with both feet on one side and just kept going.

Four seconds later, Officer Lin shot the cyclist four times, leaving him paralyzed. An internal investigation cleared the officer of any wrongdoing.

Tampa police have written 2,504 bike tickets — more than Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined.

Police say they are gung ho about bike safety and focused on stopping a plague of bike thefts.

But here’s something they don’t mention about the people they ticket: Eight out of 10 are black.

Just go read the entire article. It is beyond belief. The part that struck me the most, however, was that the “Bicycle Blitzkrieg” squad actually made the streets more dangerous for cyclists:

Despite the thousands of hours spent by police, court clerks, public defenders, prosecutors and judges on enforcement of bicycle laws, it’s hard to tell what Tampa gets out of them.

Even though 2013 was one of the department’s highest ticketing years, bike crashes still rose the following year by 20 percent. Bike thefts, too, climbed 15 percent.

Now here is a sensible bill for consideration by the California legislature:

Over the last year, Off the Chain Bike Bus Tours has ferried party goers between local bars and breweries. One thing that’s been missing from these vehicles is the ability to serve alcohol on the multi-person bikes.

Dr. Richard Pan, a state senator from Sacramento, wants to fix that. He has introduced SB 530, which would: “Regulate the operation of quadricycles. The bill would define a quadricycle, in part, as being pedal-powered and seating no more than 15 passengers. The bill would provide that a person operating a quadricycle on the highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle, including a prohibition against operating a quadricycle while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug. The bill would authorize consumption of alcoholic beverages by passengers on a quadricycle, as specified, if the local jurisdiction has authorized that consumption by ordinance or resolution.

California law already allows 21-and-older riders on “party” buses to drink alcohol. If bikes have all the “rights and responsibilities” as motor vehicles, then it only makes sense to permit alcohol on pedal-powered buses too.

Beer Bike in Berlin

Beer Bike in Berlin

Senator Liu amended her misguided SB-192 bill. Instead of the requirement for helmets and “safety” vests, the bill now proposes a study of bike helmet use. While that is an improvement, there are still lots of problems with the bill. Now is not the time to be complacent.

The first problem is the study methodology:

The Office of Traffic Study [sic] shall conduct a comprehensive study of bicycle helmet use, including, but not limited to, determining the percentage of California bicyclists who do not wear helmets, and the fatalities or serious injuries that could have been avoided if helmets had been worn.

So the study would extrapolate the number of bicyclist lives that could be “saved” through increased helmet use? That methodology erroneously assumes increased helmet use leads to lower injuries and fatalities. Since there is no evidence to support such an assumption, the number of lives “saved” would be a bogus calculation. Such a number could, however, serve as useful propaganda for any future bike helmet legislation.

The second problem is that the study would be conducted by the Office of Traffic Safety (OTS). That is like asking the Koch brothers to do a climate change report. The OTS has a windshield perspective when it comes to bike safety, especially bike helmets.

For example, the new OTS 2015 Highway Safety Plan (p. 93) repeats that zombie statistic about bike helmets. You know the one…about how bike helmets can prevent more than 80% of fatalities:

Bicycle or safety helmets have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of head and brain injury. In fact, it is estimated that as many as seven out of every eight bicycle-related fatalities among children could have been prevented with a bicycle helmet.

As most readers know, this statistic was widely discredited long ago. And yet the OTS still devotes resources to helmet programs, and has set a goal of increasing bike helmet usage this year by 25%.

Instead of having the OTS do a helmet study, let’s turn this around and do a performance audit on the OTS bike/ped program. For the past decade, California has suffered an increasing rate of bike and ped injuries and fatalities. And yet OTS methods have not changed, still focusing on bike helmets and jaywalking stings. Clearly that isn’t working, and it is discouraging that the OTS doesn’t realize it. A fresh approach at the OTS — one incorporating Vision-Zero policies — is what really needs to be studied.

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