California legislation: Mandatory helmets and high viz apparel

California Senator Carol Liu of Glendale yesterday introduced SB 192 AKA the “Remove Cyclists From California Roads Law of 2015” or, alternatively, the “Harass Minorities On Bikes Law of 2015.” Her legislation, if passed, will require helmets for all bicycle riders of all ages, and high visibility safety apparel after dark.

San Jose Bike Party Safety Ride May 2013

Current California law stipulates helmets only for minors. Liu’s anti-cyclist legislation expands this requirement for all ages of cyclists.

SB 192 would also mandate retroreflective high visibility safety apparel that “meets the requirements of the American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear” for those caught out after dark. Yay, fun.

Bill sponsor Carol Liu is a 73 year old Bay Area native who now represents State Senate District 25 in southern California. She has generally been supportive of alternative transportation in her legislation, so now is a good time to explain how her legislation will decrease safety for cyclists and increase the number of cars on the road. Her constituents can contact Senator Liu through this web page. Those who live outside of California State District 25 are invited to call her office at (818) 409-0400 to register your thoughts on this bill.

Gary Kavanagh of Santa Monica tweeted this response to Liu’s bill.

SB 192 has to be the most misguided & counter productive CA bike law proposal since I began following the issue. Just no @SenatorCarolLiu.

Via various sources, including Biking In LA and CABO.

See California Bicycle Legislation 2015 for all issues I’m tracking this year in the California Assembly.


  1. Can we stop calling cycling “alternative transportation” while we’re at it? It’s my main mode of transport – it’s no “alternative.” I feel like the label infantilizes the use of the bicycle.

  2. “Alternative” implies that there is the correct way (cars) and other ways (bikes, transit). I’ve seen “transportation options” in some places; I feel like that is a better term with no us-vs-them attitude.

  3. Perhaps more lives would be saved if we mandated helmets for everyone riding in a car. We could add a mandate for head restraints similar to those used by NASCAR. That would help a LOT!

  4. Instead of “alternative” or “active” transportation, try calling it “healthy transportation”. It sounds positive and highlights just one of the great things about biking and walking.

  5. I believe that safety is important, and I believe that many lives could be saved if we had a mandatory helmet law for Motorists. Far more lives could be saved by having motorists wear helmets than we could ever manage to save with bicycle centric laws – put the effort where there will be a greater impact! I would be willing to relax the law and only require mandatory helmets for those motorists who have been convicted of driving at speeds above the speed limit.

  6. I think a great way to increase cyclist safety is by swapping where the bike lane is and where cars park, so cyclists have a barrier of car between them and the death machines. Not a fix for everywhere but where I experienced it in SF it seemed to help a lot.

    The best way to improve cyclist safety is to prosecute drivers who hit and kill cyclists.

  7. I agree with WELLSUITEDFORLIFE that prosecution for motorists (that make ANY CONTACT with cyclists) become the rule and not the exception… much like the rearend hit with vehicles. Very few mishaps are not avoidable!

    Regardless of the amount of damage, scope of injury, or assumption of fault… it is a life threatening, heavyweight projectile that should be diligently monitored and controlled at all times.

    If a driver can’t manage that…well, fine them, update their driving skills,
    and require them to use a bike on the road for a term… all MANDATORY.

    Perhaps then they will re-acquire a better perspective of the vulnerability of a human body and the corresponding value of a person’s life.

    Unfortunately, the terms “cyclist” and “bicyclist” superficially connotes the machine and dehumanizes the user… for most, it may be easier to justify being careless around a mechanical object than a living organism.

  8. Perhaps then bicycle rider should be the terminology used, putting the focus back onto the rider of the machine instead of the machine itself.

    Do we know anything about the enforce-ability of the new 3ft distance rule? I just for 4 miles across Oakland and had more cars than I could count violate that to varying degrees. Great idea for a law but impossible to execute.

  9. The best way to make sure motorists give you at least 3ft is by riding in the middle of the lane, even a tiny bit on the left so motorists give you plenty of room by passing you taking the other lane. Simple, just as if you were a car.
    As for helmets and vests, seatbelts are mandatory in cars, we have gotten used to it over the years but it wasn’t always that way (I believe Preston Tucker invented them) and would most of us not click it when we (occasionally) get into a car?
    Truth is, it doesn’t bother me since I already use a helmet and a vest when dark or foggy etc and I truly can understand many don’t want to wear helmets but there is not doubt in my mind it could really help save your brains in case something happens…

  10. Here’s a suggestion: add language to the proposed bill that automatically assumes that drivers are negligent if they strike a cyclist in compliant hi-vis gear, and has a minimum, mandatory license suspension of eight weeks.

  11. Sandrine, the issue with mandatory helmet laws, as was mentioned in an earlier comment by another poster, is that they do not decrease fatality crashes. All mandatory helmet laws decrease is the number of bikes out there because it forces many would-be cyclists onto the bus or into cars. By having less bikes on the road the numbers improve, but if you adjust them (from what I recall) they stay relatively consistent as before the law was passed.

    I still wear my helmet, always. After your first major life-threatening crash it only seems logical. Also, after spending 30k on my education my brain is worth a whole lot more than a helmet. Fact is, I don’t think it should be mandatory because it will lead directly to less bikes on the road; less bikes means the remaining bikes have less safety. More bikes on the road the safer we all are, from my experience at least…if the cyclists obey the laws…

  12. I’m confused. If your going to ride among cars, wouldn’t you want them to see you? If you crash, a helmet might protect you from injury. Are there insurance implications as well?

    I guess mandating it is maybe too far, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to just to do it anyway? I understand the “less bike riders” argument, but a helmet can be purchased for $35-ish dollars and a reflective vest is cheep too.

    I live in Georgia. My view might be skewed because of the unfriendly nature of motorists to cyclists here.

  13. It’s a difference in perception. In the Netherlands, almost no adults wear a helmet, yet so many of them bike places. Cycling is just normal there. But in the US, cycling is seen as dangerous, since you mostly see fast riders, and idiots that are biking because they lost their privileged to drive. So instead of “normal”, cycling is too often seen as an odd and dangerous sport, not just simply easy transportation.

  14. For there to be insurance implications for cyclists there would need to be bicycle insurance, or it would require cars that hit and maim cyclists to actually stick around long enough for cops to show up and cite them…but even then if they say they are “really sorry” they get off in about half of cases.

    Truly, the best way to protect vulnerable populations like cyclists is with strong legislation. If we are a vehicle, then let the same laws that apply to cars apply to us, and if someone hits us then THEY are at fault; stop victim blaming the cyclist who may never be able to ride again.

    We also have cases like the recent one Cyclicious covered from Salinas, where a driver swerved over four lanes of traffic, going across the median, to door a cyclist at high speeds….how does a helmet help that? I realize that if she wasn’t wearing a helmet she may well have died instead of being barely injured – fact is some murderous moron risked his life to swerve all the way over a highway to smash a cyclist. This is an isolated incident but part of a trend, which includes the teenaged girl in San Jose who intentionally ran over a bicyclist.

  15. I sometimes wonder if these types of bills are proposed intentionally just to distract from the real issues in a tactic to keep everyone talking about meaningless legislation instead of the legislation that is needed. I could see the automotive industry lobbying behind the scenes for bills like that, knowing it would distract from actual meaningful legislation.

    Where are the bills for…..

    (1) To finally roll out the breathalyzer auto ignition switches for all DUI drivers in California, not just the ones in Alameda. Highly reliable breathalyzer interlocks have been around since about 1992. They have been extensively tested and used over two decades. This will probably be one of the least high tech devices compared to what new cars have. Where is the two decades of extensive testing for the new infotainment systems and their impact on distracted driving? They are already in use with technology only a few years old so obviously it does not take that long. No more testing should be needed. Roll the breathalyzer interlocks out NOW and stop the biggest chunk of ongoing carnage on the road (mostly carnage to other drivers by the way).

    (2) Collision avoidance systems. Even though car companies have already developed the technology to detect pedestrians and cyclists and some cars already have this, the feds are doing a sneak attach to make collision avoidance only for other cars and ignore everyone else. California should lead the nation in saying any collision avoidance systems used in California must detect pedestrians and cyclists, not just other cars.

    (3) Driver license suspension minimums. Driving is a privilege, not a right. If you are irresponsible you should loose your privilege. Not that complicated. If responsible for a VRU minor injury collision, suspension should be say one year, ten years for a major injury collision. lifetime revocation for a hit and run, and lifetime revocation for a 2nd DUI conviction or 1st DUI involving fatality.

  16. Hi @PW, nobody is arguing against helmets or visibility. We’re fighting against a state-mandated requirement for these things. As others note better than I can, helmet and bright-clothing mandates discourage utility cycling, which in turn increases the danger for those who remain for a number of reasons.

    People who read this blog most likely would not be directly affected much — many of us wear helmets and even reflective gear already. The people who will be most effected, at least in my area, are those who likely ride “bicycle shaped objects” in a manner that many of us consider unsafe. They don’t think of themselves as “cyclists,” they just want to get from point A to B and the bike is a reasonable way to do this. If they’re hassled enough while on bike because of this law, these (probably unlicensed) people very well might be nudged into driving their uninsured car. The result is more danger for cyclists.

  17. Thank you, Richard Masoner. An added question might be, is law enforcement really excited about stopping bicyclist on the road and enforcing this? Seriously? The good senator might not be living in the real world.

  18. Forget the bikers, make the pedestrians wear reflective clothing. I have almost hit a few of them while visiting out there because they were dressed all in black and ignoring crosswalks.

  19. For safety I want GPS linked to speed limits for cars. They can then only do the max posted. Could also work for construction zone reductions. Also vehicles will be required to have 6 square feet of reflective material on the rear and 3 square feet on each side. (white to red, front to rear.

  20. -Ralph! Totally agree. Also school zones!
    -PW, that’s the whole point, when you ride among cars/traffic you are seen, you become relevant, you are there, you are traffic.

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