Mandatory helmets under discussion in Austin TONIGHT

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Thursday, August 24, 2006
By Yokota Fritz

Update: Austin helmet law rejected by Austin City Council. Read details at Austin Skate Notes.

Kris rides with his helmet in Austin, Texas. Photo by OneChick.
The Austin City Council will hold a hearing tonight in a few moments to once again discuss mandatory helmets for all ages. Austin passed similar legislation in 1996, modifying the law a year and half later so that it now applies only to cyclists ages 17 and younger.

The League of Bicycling Voters in Austin has been campaigning hard to fight this legislation. According to the LOBV, helmet laws discourage cycling, distract attention from real bike safety initiatives, unfairly targets cyclists, give motorists who injure cyclists anonther excuse to escape liability, and give police another way to harass minorities on bicycles.

Former Mayor Bruce Todd, who champions the law, calls bicycling a "privilege" that requires special regulation, even though people have been riding bikes for hundreds of years without regulation. Bikes — with extremely rare exceptions — don’t kill or injure pedestrians or cause property damage.

According to LOBV founder Rob D'Amico, a public debate on this topic early in August went well, with the LOBV's Patrick Goetz doing a good job of presenting statistics. The audience voted against the helmet law proposal by a margin of 59-38. The Austin Cycling Association and its 1500 members voted to oppose this law.

According to the Travis County Health & Human Service Department, there is no statistically meaningful difference in the number of cycling fatalities and head injuries during the time helmets were universally mandatory and not. Contrast this with the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute's Randy Swart's claim of an 85% reduction in deaths when helmets are used.

For more information about this issue in Austin, Texas, see
See related: austin, helmet, safety

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An interesting developement.

A law to require minors to wear helmets is one thing, but forcing Adults to do what they SHOULD seriously consider doing on their own is just asking for trouble.

There is so much in the way of statistics, and stories, to support both sides of the helmet issue that the ordinary person can get overwhelmed by it all.

All my life I have never doubted the benefit of the helmet I wear because without it there would have been a few times where I would have been seriously injured.

Beginning when I was an 8 year old and after a bully used a jump rope to snag the back tire, and toss me off the bike, thus leading to a nasty fall, and a near concussion, leading to a trip to the hospital, I have worn a helmet.

BTW, Did you know that there is a Bike Shop in San Antonio that is 86 years old?

I've added it to my Honor Roll, and continue to look for more. ;-D
I wear a helmet by default but strongly support the right to choose.

It's worth adding to the list of useful links.

Here's a relevant quote but there's loads of other good stuff there-

"The effect of enforced helmet laws: less cycling and no effect on the proportion of head injuries
Helmet laws in Australia provided excellent data sets with which to test the effectiveness of cycle helmets because a principal effect of the laws was to increase substantially over a short period of time the proportion of cyclists wearing helmets. This enabled a comparison of a very large number of individuals not wearing and then wearing helmets, eliminating most of the other variables present when comparing different people or dissimilar riding conditions.

At first, reports suggested that legislation had achieved its aim of reducing head injuries. But the researchers did not take into account the very large decline in cycle use brought about by the laws. Robinson found that although more than 75% of cyclists wore helmets post-law, the reduction in cyclists counted was substantially greater than the increase in numbers wearing helmets. Thus the main effect of the law was apparently to discourage cycling rather than encourage cyclists to wear helmets. Although cycle use fell by about 30%, head injuries fell by only 13%, so the risk of head injury per cyclist would appear to have increased. Furthermore, the proportional reduction in head injuries for cyclists was very similar to that for unhelmeted pedestrians over the same period."
Haha! I love that I get all the news that's important to me not from news outlets, but from the blogosphere.

Excellent. I'm glad that common sense prevailed -- not a common occurrence when it comes to topics of this sort. If the Austin City Council is actually a responsible body, they'll now consider some concessions to bike transportation like more lanes, dedicated bike signals at intersections, and tougher prosecution of hit-n-run drivers. [crosses fingers for continued use of common sense]
thank you for your post on this. i appreciate it. we had a great and very long (we left at 12am and it was still going on) city council meeting last nite. the bike community showed up in force.

we had 43 speakers that spoke against the law to 18 that spoke for. of the 18, most were emotional pleas regarding head trauma, yet the facts remain that there are more head trauma cases due to car accidents (if this is truly about the greater public health aspect and to say nothing of the health care issues & dollars involving diet, lack of exercise, etc.) and the leading cause of cyclist deaths are motorist/car, where a helmet did nothing to save the persons life.

it was a huge bike community building exercise. the diverse sub-culture of bike transportation-alists in austin spoke with intelligence and elegance. we feel hopeful that from this momentum, they will not pass a mandatory helmet law - but be interested and supportive of education and other measures to ensure more cyclists on the roads with safer conditions and less bicycle accidents.

thank you again...megan
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