Voice of a hothead

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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.

END

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