For most of the last century, America’s driving laws and road infrastructure have been largely been built around physical ways to control traffic. But in recent years, traffic studies have helped researchers realize that there are many psychological components to safe driving as well. Especially in urban areas like Sacramento, the ways that drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians interact is often influenced by factors we don’t consciously recognize.
Recently, state senator Carol Liu proposed a universal helmet law for bicyclists in California. Riders under age 18 are already required to wear helmets, but helmets are optional for adults. It’s unclear if the bill will pass, but the proposal alone has generated some interesting public discussion about the physical and psychological components of bicyclist safety.
As a practical safety measure (without regard to politics or laws), wearing a bicycle helmet is one of the best precautions a rider can take. Helmets literally save lives. Senator Liu cited a statistic showing that in 2009, some 91 percent of individuals killed in bicycle accidents were not wearing a helmet.
There should be no debate about whether wearing a helmet is a good idea. Indeed, nearly all riders agree that it is. But should there be a universal helmet law for adult bicyclists, with a fine for non-compliance?
This leads to some interesting arguments about psychological safety factors. On one hand, a helmet law raises public awareness about bicycle safety, and that’s a good thing. On the other hand, some bicyclists have expressed concern that this proposed law seemingly puts the burden of safety entirely on the bicyclists themselves. They also argue that a helmet law could discourage more people from riding bikes, and mass ridership is a good way to improve bicyclist safety because it gives riders a greater presence on Sacramento roads.
Moreover, some Sacramento bicycling advocates have cited studies showing that drivers behave differently around cyclists wearing helmets. They may be less likely to observe a wide buffer zone when passing a bicyclist with a helmet on.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a bicycle accident caused by a negligent driver, it’s important to remember that you have rights and legal options. You may wish to share your story with an experienced personal injury attorney.
Source: The Sacramento Bee, “Bill would require helmets for adults cycling in California,” Tony Bizjak, Feb. 12, 2015