Voice of a hothead

A few days ago I took Patrick Brady to task for his blog’s terrible stance arguing that cyclists should just accept a mandatory helmet law for California bicyclists. Patrick responded here, and walked a fine line between repudiating the article, “If the goal is really to save lives, mandating helmet use isn’t going to help,” and agreeing with it — “Honestly, in my life, if that law passed, it wouldn’t mean a thing.”

It was a calculated attempt not to take a position and not to get anyone angry so I figured I’d let it go.

Who am I kidding?

A couple of days ago I got a copy of a letter published by the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, CABO. It calmly states its opposition to the proposed law. Here’s the letter. It’s a beaut.

Dear Senator Liu:

I regret that I must write on behalf of the California Association of Bicycling Organizations (CABObike.org) in opposition to your bill, SB 192, that “Anyone riding without a helmet could be cited for an infraction and fined up to $25, the same as current law for youth cyclists.”

Bicycle helmets certainly may contribute to safety in a crash or fall, but represent only the final area of protection when all other safety measures fail. We refer to the four levels of safety, focusing on the area’s most likely to prevent injury:

  1. Prevention through following the rules of the road, as defined in the California Vehicle Code and other safety literature. This establishes predictability of actions by motorists and bicyclists.
  2. Deterrence through bicycling best practices for attention, communication, anticipation, road positioning, visibility (e.g., lights and reflectors), and maintenance (primarily effective braking).
  3. Escape through development of skills in bicycling defensively – emergency stops, counter-steering (taught in motorcycle training and required for license).
  4. Survival – Use of safety equipment such as helmets, gloves, etc.

We do applaud and appreciate your concern and do support effective efforts to reduce bicycling collision injuries and fatalities that also promote Active Transportation – healthier, enjoyable, cleaner, and more sustainable travel choices for Californians.

You, as Chair of the Senate Education Committee, may find some of the ideas below worthy of consideration. We offer our support toward implementing ways that would productively provide for better bicycling and traffic safety in general.

  1. Provide Active Transportation instruction and experience curriculum choices – bicycling and walking – as part of K-12 physical education programs.

People bicycling can avoid crashing and collisions with motor vehicles and resulting injuries by learning about and applying appropriate bicycling behaviors. Too many bicycling crashes are the direct result of poor choices by the person bicycling; wrong-way riding against traffic, failure to yield when entering traffic, non-compliance with traffic control signals and signs, etc. A program to provide information about traffic laws and bicycling safe and best practices would be very likely to significantly reduce bicycling collisions, injuries, and fatalities. And, smarter bicycling not only avoids crashes, it provides for personal and community health through reducing trips by motor vehicle.

  1. Provide for the development of a California Highway Patrol approved Bicycling Handbook distributed by and through the same outlets as the DMV Driver, Motorcycle, Senior and other DMV handbook traffic guides.

We have assisted the Department of Motor Vehicles to improve and increase the amount of information about bicycling provided in their publications, including their Driver Handbook. We have recommended that the DMV develop and provide a Bicycling Handbook similar in format to the Motorcycle handbook. They have not yet followed through.

  1. Remove impediments to bicycling related traffic citation diversion programs.

This would allow for cities and counties to implement bicycle citation diversion programs that emphasize an educational curriculum complementing the goals established in #1, above.

  1. Support the California Strategic Highway Safety Plan programs to reduce roadway fatalities; education, enforcement, engineering Complete Streets, emergency response, equity in travel mode choice, and encouraging appropriate behavior in traffic.

Traffic related bicycling collisions involving motor vehicles also result from mistakes and unlawful behavior by motorists. Recently passed legislation encouraging 3’ minimum passing has brought new attention to the responsibilities people have for sharing roadway space. The relatively new roadway markings – Shared Lane Markings, Bikes May Use Full Lane signs, Green-highlighted and “buffered” Bike Lanes; and traffic control devices – bicycle-specific traffic signals, bicycle actuated traffic signals, etc. – are helping us all adapt to the value of increasing the travel mode share for Active Transportation, bicycling and walking.

  1. Modify the Calif. Vehicle Code to define and explain the meaning of the new white pavement markings – Shared Lane Markings, commonly called Sharrows, the new white painted buffers spaces next to Bike Lanes, and the bright green paint meant to highlight Bike Lanes, and the intent of the new and approved regulatory signs that show a bike and the words “May Use Full Lane.” ​    ​

Sharrows mean that that lane is a substandard width lane and cyclists can legally ride anywhere in it. Buffers are to provide space between motorists and bicyclists, and between bicyclists and parked vehicles. Buffers may (and should) be carefully driven into and cross to turn right, to park, or to enter or leave the roadway or Bike Lane.​    ​

Bikes may use full lane signs are to inform motorists that people bicycling may be in the travel lane, and to inform people bicycling that they may ride far enough out into a lane to avoid roadside hazards and discourage close passing by others.

We of the California Association of Bicycling Organizations look forward to hearing about how we might help you to improve safety and ability for everyone. We want everyone to be able to choose to use bicycles for travel and recreation in California.

Jim Baross

​CABO President​

The beauty of this letter is that it correctly prioritizes the steps that the state should take to improve cyclist safety, without denying that helmet use can be a part of such a program. Moreover, it slaps down the idea that, of all the things that need to change to keep cyclists from getting run over, the first one should be a mandatory helmet law.

Moreover, the claim that the law wouldn’t affect him at all is exactly the point. Patrick is not evaluating the law from the perspective of whether other people might be harmed, only whether or not he thinks it would affect him. That’s a cynical way to evaluate legislation if you’re a voice in the cycling community. The proposed law, of course, could profoundly affect Brady, as he ignores the terrible legal ramifications for unhelmeted cyclists who are hit by careless motorists. Who’s to say that one of his family members won’t hop on their bike to run down to the store, unhelmeted, and get clocked by a texting South Bay mother? As I discussed in my earlier post, it’s this shift from 100% liability to comparative fault that can be devastating to a biker, not to mention the fact that it turns the inquiry onto the cyclist who was legally and safely riding down to Von’s for a jug of milk rather than on the careless motorist who mowed the rider down.

Likewise, Brady’s comment that he will be unaffected by the law ignores the point made by criminal defense lawyers that one more law regulating cyclists gives the cops one more reason to pull us over and harass us. If you believe there are problems of unfair targeting by law enforcement now, wait until this law passes.

For the great majority of cyclists, who aren’t “cyclists” at all but rather humans using bicycles to get from place A to place B, and for whom a $250 helmet may exceed the cost of their bike, it’s not as simple as it is for a guy who is in the industry and who never leaves home without his helmet. And even if this law won’t affect high-end users, what about the people who it will? Which means pretty much everyone else.

Without leaning too much harder, responsible voices in the cycling community should oppose this bill and oppose it unequivocally. There’s nothing wrong with changing your position when it involves discarding something bad for something good.



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42 thoughts on “Voice of a hothead”

  1. I had to look a little to find the Brady piece:

    I found the “No difference to me” (“Let them wear helmets”) attitude disturbing, especially when it was followed by some pretty mindless (ahem) and uncritical use of reported numbers involving TBI’s and fatalities. I see we’ve returned, according to Brady’s CDC quotes, to those halcyon days of pro-helmet propaganda where the (long totally discredited) Thompson-Rivera “study” ruled the media. Wow, and now it’s even more than the hallowed “85% reduction!” those pikers claimed, now we have up to 88% effectiveness!

    “But what about ‘rotational injuries’?”, said a small voice from the back of the room. “You know, the real cause of most brain trauma, like all those NFL football players get? I understand that the bike helmets and football helmets in current use don’t address the problem with rotational injuries. Doesn’t that show that bike helmets are basically a fraud, and amply demonstrate that claiming miraculous powers-of-injury-prevention is another one?”.

    I’ve seen the vicious hassling of “unconventional” and obviously economically disadvantaged cyclists with an MHL used as “the broken tail light” excuse to crack down on someone the cop didn’t like.
    It’s real easy for someone who can “dress smooth” to dismiss this activity, which is a shameful public embarrassment for any community.
    Yes, it does “make a difference” for you…

    1. Thanks, Tom. We went through this in Austin in 1985, if I remember correctly, and you totally nail it. Of course none of the make-em-wear-helmet people take into account the very real consequence of helmet laws, i.e. discouraging cycling, and they ignore the unbelievable cost in lives and healthcare that we all pay for through a more sedentary society.

      But hey, what do I care? I wear a helmet, so fuck everyone else.

  2. 96% of legislation benefits a bottom line somewhere and I’m having a hard time seeing this one. I’m thinking that most cyclists involved in an accident are underinsured and most causes of those accidents are the responsibility of fully insured parties. The insurance companies must be pushing this. Who else would gain?

    1. Insurance companies absolutely love it because it puts millions onto their bottom line, not only by allowing them to avoid liability for their insured, the negligent driver, but also allowing them to contest liability when the cyclist, who is hit by an uninsured-underinsured motorist, files a UM-UIM claim with his own insurer.

      Everyone wins except the cyclist. Even Patrick Brady loses, he just doesn’t see it yet because as we all know, “Nothing ever happens until it happens to you.”

    2. Benefit to all drivers and their insurers.

      “You weren’t wearing a helmet when I mowed you down. Go pound sand.”

  3. Sef, I wanted to ask you something… over the last 3 decades… I’ve been through 3 or 4 windshields … some to great effect and some were just get back up and ride away. The ones that involved bills, insurance, and lawyers (and injuries)… every time I had to answer the question of whether or not I had a helmet on. 3 of the times I did, 1 time I didn’t (an elderly driver on pch having a heart attack ran me over, I was young, I had gorgeous hair, it was the mid 80’s). Regardless, each time I thought… wtf does this have to do with liability in the accident? There is no helmet law, I was riding within the law, and I had to defend whether or not I had a helmet as if that had bearing on outcome of the accident (no head injuries thank you). Why do they do that? Ultimately, the vibe I get about the helmet thing is that it appears to be about cyclist safety but in the end is about removing liability of injury from the driver. It feels like it’s about money and not about people. Shoot, one of the times it was an elderly woman on PCH flossing her teeth in the mirror and driving right up into my paceline (Jordan H was the only one that didn’t get hit). She said it wasn’t the flossing, it was that she didn’t see well…. and still… there were questions about me wearing a helmet (I was).


    1. “It feels like it’s about money and not people,” you say. That’s because you are right.

      1. While I also oppose the bill, nothing I could find in my research of its origins suggests anything other than it being the result of misguided do-gooderness. I don’t think we need to unnecessarily vilify Liu as a stooge to the insurance industry or those evil, evil bicycle helmet manufacturers. Just change her mind.

        1. Perhaps, but when a piece of legislation becomes a windfall for the insurance industry and completely shifts the liability scheme to favor motorists, it’s probably more than simple do-gooder instincts gone bad.

    2. I think in sexual assault cases there is even a phrase for it. It’s called “blaming the victim.”

      1. The phrase works all across the spectrum.
        You say your bicycle was stolen from the rack? Huh. I guess you didn’t use a good enough lock. Or enough locks. Or… what were you thinking leaving an expensive bike locked up?

  4. Not to mention the sneaky way the Austin MHL was pushed through– if memory serves, in a late-night “emergency” session; meaning, effectively, no community oversight in an open council meeting during regular hours when The People expect the council to be doing business.

    Another thing that’s kinda funny about that whole deal: I remember one cause of this rush-to-enactment being threats by COA insurance underwriters to lower the COA’s “rating” — i.e., raise their rates– for buying needed insurance. I believe this was widely reported, along with the subsequent public disclosure of what “the real deal was” being sufficient embarrassment to cause the council to rescind the MHL, although there was a For the Children, under-18 MHL enacted, that is still on the books.

    Funny, in that I don’t see any reference to that sad affair when I search the inter-wwweb, although I seem to remember seeing this story featured in at least the Chronicle (Austin’s weekly alt. newspaper).
    So, is this a manufactured memory on my part, or a manufactured something-else on the part of parties unknown?

  5. Excellent points. I am a staunch supporter of wearing helmets, and always wear one myself. I believe if I can keep my brains from being spilled on the pavement, I have a much better chance of surviving a collision or other accident. But just because I find value in wearing a helmet, does not mean a MHL is necessary, or a good idea. I so greatly appreciate you and your readers bringing these issues to the forefront and emphasizing that just because “it doesn’t affect me,” doesn’t mean I should sit by and let a bad law pass. We don’t need another reason for law enforcement to harass those that rides bikes. More importantly, we don’t need another means for cagers, law enforcement, and judges to shirk their responsibilities and duties to those that choose to travel on two wheels. I will write to Liu today.

  6. I agree with the arguments already presented in opposition to this proposal for mandatory helmets (as well as reflective clothing).

    An additional problem that I haven’t seen raised yet is the likely effect on bike sharing programs (like Citi-Bike in NYC and the program getting started in the SF Bay area). Requiring helmets significantly complicates such programs since most potential customers won’t be carrying their own helmet with them and many people might be reluctant to use rental helmets. The bike share program in Melbourne, Australia, where there is a mandatory helmet law, has never achieved the success seen in similar cities without such laws and many have attributed this to the extra complications and expenses of providing helmets. And it should be noted that even though very many of the bike-share customers do not wear helmets the safety record has been very good. Last figures I saw in the US was that after well over 20 million rides there had not been a single fatality and only a few significant injuries. I would hate to see the success of such programs in California be jeopardized by the passage of this bill.

    The reflective clothing requirement is also likely to be a complication for such programs. The bikes in them already come with lights and reflectors so they are very visible at night. Requiring separate items that must be worn by the user makes the check-out/check-in process more complex and will add to the expense of providing the bike-share service

    1. An early poster nailed it: follow the money. Who benefits? Insurance companies by reducing payouts and motordom by keeping the focus front-and-center on all cars, all the time.

      The idea that we should just give this a pass is crazy. We should fight it with fully foaming mouths, bloodshot eyes, and hysterical uncivility if that’s what it takes.

      Of course if they want to talk nicely, we can do that, too. Some of us. Okay, some of you. I think.

  7. Patrick Brady is a Douche Bag

    Patrick Brady has always been a blowhard. It’s too bad people read his drivel, and that he has any influence.

  8. I ride with and respect both Patrick, Hotten and Seth. But in this particular case, I fully agree with Seth (yikes, that is a scary statement). Society needs to effectively balance, liability and liberty. Overgrown hall monitors hiding behind statements like “it is for our safety” or “if it saves just one life” don’t get it. There are two main entities that benefit from this initiative: insurance companies and helmet manufacturers. People have been riding bikes helmetless for centuries. Don’t make me ride down the Strand on a beach cruiser wearing a helmet. Mind your own business.

    1. Yep. The emphasis should be on enforcing existing laws, e.g. giving us three feet of clearance, not harassing us for legally riding in the lane, and requiring cagers to have more than a paltry $15k in coverage.

  9. Will I have to wear a helmet when cruising the beach? And whatever, it’s those helmets that make your head hot. It is so easy for the peacock crowd to forget that for some of us, a bicycle is all we have and this will give the po-po one more excuse to harass the homeless.

    It is the peloton that pisses off the civilians, not us shaggy bums getting from the park to the beer store. But it is also the peloton that writes about cycling and it is the the peacocks who forget that their puffery and prudishness trickles down to even the trailer park.

    A pox, I say! A pox on both your houses! Allow the Man to Man-date helmets and next will come bicycle registration and licensing and then…wait for it…INSURANCE!

    Stoopid Wankers

    1. https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search;_ylt=A0LEVjzU_SZVxnwAljwnnIlQ?p=cycling+in+amsterdam&fr=&fr2=piv-web&hspart=mozilla&hsimp=yhs-004

      Here, let me Tiny that for you: http://tinyurl.com/p2h2qnf

      Millions (probably) of bikes, especially if you include the ones lining the canal bottoms.
      Zillions of bike riders.
      I looked through that whole page of images and didn’t see one helmet.

      Why is it the helmeteers can only see “facilities” when they look at Amsterdam and other Euro cities known for cycling transportation?

      1. You could get me going on what Japan was like in 1987 and how the stations were packed with bikes. But why? I’m already gone.

  10. It’s all about the principle of the thing, until money gets involved. Then it’s all about the money.

    1. Anything that’s good for the insurance industry is bound to be good for us, right? Right?

  11. Much as I enjoy the supportive comments, our State Senator/Legislators will be deciding. Please contact yours and tell them you want them to vote NO on SB 192; mandating bike helmet wearing is a BAD idea.

    1. Do you have any idea of what the timeline is? When will the bill be voted on?

  12. Well, Ona Personal note… 🙂 I have had the Luxury of busting 3 helmets.. (2 Mountain, 1 road) that were on my head at a time of a Major incident… and happy to say that although the rest of my body did not fare so well (road rash, Cuts, Bruises..ecct…) my head has managed to make it out unscathed. I do Not ride without. no matter who, when, where or what I ride..

    1. I’ve had two full-gas headslaps in the last ten years that would have [fill in catastrophic injury here]. No one disagrees that there are plenty of n+1 stories about how helmets saved my life. But n+1 doesn’t make good science or good law.

    2. I was in a tangle at the back of an extended crash. I almost stopped without hitting anyone. My buddy Slimn, following close, ran into me. Wheels tangled; he pushed me into a front-wheel stand, forward motion stopped (he didn’t hit me very hard at all, just a shove), while his front wheel went up. I did a “handstand”, brief, until my arms gave out and I tucked and rolled, first time in 50 years of bike riding I’ve touched my head. At worst, I might have had a little bruise or scrape on my left temple with a helmet on, very light touch and absolutely no sore neck or “other evidence of trauma”, after. Slimn went over backwards, landed on the back of his head (by evidence, I was busy and didn’t see).

      Slimn was KO’d for (trying to calibrate real elapsed time) maybe 30 seconds.
      He came around, with slurred speech but no confusion, had a little quiet time, and we rode back together. He seemed fine, rode well as always, and no headaches etc. after. (excuse me: expressing thanks here)

      I compared our identical Bell Sweep (“mid-range pro”) helmets, some days after. Mine had a little tiny mark where it touched the pavement, total. Slimn’s had the slotted vent section at the rear broken out, not flattened– where the styrofoam is thickest, in depth, and thinnest, side-to-side. I compared foam thicknesses between his and my identical “team kit” Sweep. As far as I could see, there was no actual compression of those foam”tips”, nor any compression of the styrofoam in the inner circumference, where the head and helmet meet.

      This accident was about as close as you can real-life get to what I’ve seen in clips of test scenarios– a stationary drop, with no horizontal motion (or very, very little).

      If you believe in helmets, you might think Slimn would have been dead right there, or certainly at least potentially profoundly head-injured.

      If you notice that the Magic Foam broke instead of working the way it is supposed and advertised to work– i.e., it broke apart, effectively shattering, instead of functioning to reduce felt impact by dissipating moment-of-impact energy via compression; again as it is sold, using “fear” and other rhetorical devices– and that my longtime friend & riding companion Slimn might have died or been profoundly head-injured in a simple, no-speed fall when his helmet broke (“malfunctioned”) on impact, you might stop believing in helmets, if you ever did.

      Emphasizing that Slimn’s head fell about a foot less than the old CPSC standard for flat-anvil impact.

      One of my Sweeps came out of the go-bag awhile back with one of those fins broken off, btw. I don’t remember any violent impacts with my go-bag; I treat it very gently! Whatever, I glued that fin back on. Hey, it might save my life…

      As a footnote, I’ve noticed over the last several years that the “breakage” (or “elephant in the room”) problem has been addressed, in blogs and so forth, by some several helmeteers, where previously no one seemed to be able to see acres of grey wrinkles, or smell the heaping piles of dung, either. “It is good that your helmet shattered, for this *proves* (ahem) that vast amounts of energy were not transferred to your skull when you crashed on it, and, of course, that you probably would have died if you hadn’t been wearing your life-saving helmet!”.
      Well golly-gee! Maybe my go-bag has been sneaking out at night..?

      And now, as recently noted, we’re up past that old weak-sister Thompson-Rivera 85% to the new CDC standard, 88% effectiveness!
      I remember how T-R got their numbers. I don’t know about the CDC…

      “Believe as you will”.

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