California helmet law: Drastic amendment!

California 25th District Senator Carol Liu amended her extremely controversial mandatory helmet law, SB-192, to only study the effectiveness of helmets, and removed the mandatory helmet use for adults language in its entirety. The requirement for high visibility apparel has also been removed.

12 cyclists: 7 helmets, 5 no helmet

Last February, Senator Liu introduced her mandatory helmet and high viz clothing bill for adults to much fanfare, followed by significant opposition from a number of cycling organizations throughout California. This morning, Ms. Liu amended her bill and re-introduced it to the Senate Transportation Committee, along with this statement from her office.

The bill was amended to create a comprehensive study of bicycle helmet use in California and evaluate the potential safety benefits of a mandatory helmet law. Carol believes in consensus-driven policy, and there were too many conflicting opinions about helmet use. A study will provide the data needed to guide us to the next step.

The amended bill would require the California Office of Traffic “Study” (sic) to “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. A report of the study‚Äôs findings shall be submitted to the Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing and the Assembly Committee on Transportation by January 1, 2017.”

2014 Santa Cruz bike fatalities and helmet use

The text of the bill still presumes helmets will provide a public health benefit. I’m told the word “study” like this is the kiss of death for bills — it allows legislators to save face and say they’re doing important things while they wait for the bill to quietly die in committee, but let’s look at 2014 Santa Cruz bike fatalities as a fer instance and guess how the OTS might decide on this.

The photo at the top of the page shows the dozen cyclists captured by my on-bike camera while riding around the city of Santa Cruz yesterday afternoon. Seven of these cyclists are helmeted, five ride without helmets. This more or less matches the statistics collected by the County Health Department during their annual bike count. Interestingly, of the three apparent minors on bikes, only one of them wore a helmet.

Santa Cruz cyclist hit and run fatality Soquel & Hagemann

The single bike fatality in the city of Santa Cruz for 2014, Mr Jose Adan Lainez, was reportedly not wearing a helmet. Given that the driver who killed Mr Lainez also knocked a traffic signal post 30 yards down the road, I have no idea how the Office of Traffic Safety will determine if a helmet could have saved Lainez’s life.

We had two more cyclist fatalities in Santa Cruz County outside of the city of Santa Cruz. Last February 2014, a 50 year old man on a Highway 9 road ride perished after an unspecified “medical emergency” — apparently a heart attack or a stroke. In April 2014, a wrong-way cyclist riding near midnight lost control of his bike and fell into the path of an oncoming motor vehicle. In that case, the driver fled. Helmet use was not reported by the media, but I’m not sure it would have made a difference in either case.

More commentary at Streetsblog California. H/T Lady Fleur. For a complete rundown of California legislation affecting cyclists, visit California bicycle legislation 2015.


  1. Certainly, none of the fatalities were caused by anything remotely close to what the helmets were designed to protect against.

  2. Great. Can we now focus on killing AB-28, the other automotive industry sponsored bill designed also to suppress and criminalize cycling.

    When are we getting a safety bill actually advised and backed by California’s bike advocacy organizations? I know we don’t have the billions that the automotive lobbyists do.

  3. Its so obvious that these ideas did not come from the sponsoring representatives, as they appear to have completely no understanding of the real issues. Its like somebody handed it to their staff and said ‘here introduce this’.

    The intention of these bills I believe is to divert attention away from the real legislation that is needed. Keep everyone discussing something that is controversial, so they don’t have the time, energy and resources to push for legislation that will actually help. Its a stall tactic of diversion and misdirection. I smell corruption of the worst kind…that which costs lives.

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