The Post has an article on the cold reception that the mandatory helmet bill in Maryland has received from cyclists.
“It is really an awkward position and one that is difficult to explain because we are fully supportive of the use of helmets and encourage everyone who rides a bike to use one,” said Shane Farthing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “We’re just not convinced that a mandatory helmet law is going to improve safety. In fact, we fear that it will undermine overall ridership by limiting the safety-in-numbers effect, [that it will] actually have the opposite impact.”
Ashley Halsey III wrote the article and I know that he's a much stronger proponent of helmets than most, and a little of his bias is coming through.
This was not a happy decision for cycling groups deeply entrenched in the karma of safety first, because they all agree that strapping your head into a plastic foam cocoon is the single best protection against going kerplunk.
I'm not sure it they agree that it is the single best protection, but then I'd have to know what he means by "going kerplunk." There are certainly more important things to do if safety is your goal and I suspect most bike advocacy groups agree. He also pulls out controversial numbers such as
Of [the cyclists killed in 2010], 70 percent were not wearing helmets, federal data show.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says helmet use reduces head injuries by 80 percent.
without noting the flaws in that data. But then he is quoting government sources, so it's hard to be too critical there.
Anyway, he interviews the bill's sponsor who says.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore), said there once were warnings that requiring motorcycle helmets would deter people from riding, but “you still see plenty of motorcycles on the road.”
Well, I still see plenty of smokers, but it does seem that efforts in the past have deterred smoking. So is motorcycling down in places where helmet laws have been instituted? And is that even an apt comparison when the unique situation of bike sharing is brought into consideration?
An avid cyclist herself, McIntosh said she has been surprised at the opposition to the bill by bike groups.
She shouldn't be. Not anymore than she would be surprised to find opposition to a mandatory condom use for recreational sex bill among sexually active adults. Condoms are a really good idea too - perhaps a better one, but we don't mandate their use.
“I’ve had a whole lot of people walk up to me and say they’re shocked at the reaction of their bike clubs, and I think a lot of delegates are shocked, too,” she said. “If the only reason you’re riding a bicycle is to feel the wind in your hair, you should take up another sport.”
Is that what people are saying to her? I've heard no one say anything like that. Not WABA. Not anyone. Is she even listening to people who oppose it? If you can't explain the opposition's actual position, then how can you say it isn't valid? That line is so arrogant and dismissive. If you follow the link to her name, you can find her email address and let her know that "feeling the wind in your hair" isn't the issue. If she's considered the real concerns (reduction in bike use, freedom to make our own choices, effectiveness of other efforts etc...) and the research behind it and still thinks it's a good idea, I can respect that. I disagree, but I respect that. But it sounds like she thought it was a good idea, without much research and outreach (if she'd talked to bike groups first, she wouldn't be surprised by their reaction would she?), and now is offended than anyone disagrees with her. It's a bit ironic that she's a leader of the abortion rights faction and doesn't get that people want the right to determine what is best for themselves. Not to equate the two, but the issues - and the concept of personal freedom they deal with - are at least within earshot of each other.
Chris Eatough, who bikes from his home in Silver Spring to his job as manager of Arlington’s bike program, said a helmet law would be a “huge obstacle to the bike movement in Maryland.”
[Farthing] worries that officials might become skittish about bikeshare expansion for fear that they would be legally liable if riders violated a helmet law.
“Is there some risk-averse administrator who won’t go forward with bike sharing until they have addressed the need to provide helmets?” he said.
“It’s also going to require a large underclass currently relying on budget [bikes] ridden on the sidewalk, into targets for ticketing and police harassment, unless they also buy helmets,” Meller said.
It used to be that website that collected recently decided cases showed up in my searches when they mentioned a bike or bicycle. 9 out 10 of them dealt with some drug dealer who was searched by police after they committed some minor bicycle infraction. About half of those were riding without a helmet. That's not definitive proof that helmet laws are a tool in a profiling/stop and frisk kind of process, but it certainly doesn't smell right.