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.