My Letter Opposing the Mandatory Helmet Bill

[Note: This is rather long so if you are inspired to pick up a point (from here or on your own) and write, please do so. Also note I'll send this late Monday so any helpful suggestions would be appreciated. Hearing is 2/12 at 1:00 p.m.]
To: members of the House Motor Vehicles &amp; Transportation Subcommittee (<a href=""></a>; )

Subj: HB 339 Required Use of Protective Headgear - Oppose

Let me introduce myself as one of the contributors to the bicycle section of the Maryland Drivers' Handbook. I am very concerned/involved about about traffic safety especially in regard to cycling.

I'm in a very awkward position in that I do wear a helmet and I encourage others to do so as well but now I have to explain why I don't support mandatory helmet use. Perhaps I can make my point clearer by switching to another personal safety apparel item...

In public safety circles the issue that get addressed are the ones the ones that have the most adverse effects on society. In Baltimore we have one cycling death a year versus over a hundred deaths by shootings. Police wear bulletproof vest to make them safer, so just imagine how many more lives we could save in Baltimore alone if we required everyone to wear a bulletproof vest! I have found bulletproof vest on-line for roughly the same price as a good helmet, so the burden to individuals is not that great. We could have police at the Inner Harbor issuing warnings that &quot;It is illegal to be outside in Baltimore without a bulletproof vest.&quot; Wouldn't that be great thing to do? Think of all the lives we could save with a mandatory bulletproof vest legislation.

OK, that's crazy but what is the rational explanation on why that is crazy?

One of the hardest arguments to dispel is &quot;If this would save just one life it will be worth it.&quot; - If that was really true we would have mandatory bulletproof vests and everyone would be wearing helmets all the time (more people die from a fall in the home then cyclist fatalities.) The error here falls under the category of &quot;Blaming the victim.&quot; People in Baltimore have the expectation that the it is the police responsibility to reduce the number of homicides and shifting the responsibility to the victims by making something like a mandatory bulletproof vest law so now it's the victims fault if they are dead because they did not wear a bulletproof vest. Similarly, a victim of a motorist error should not lose all compensation for their injuries based solely on the fact that they were not wearing a helmet. The motorcycle helmet law address this issue but not this bill for bicyclists??? That's just wrong. Not wearing a helmet does not cause a crash, nor does it prevent a crash so why are we now going to be legally barred from recovering damages based solely on not wearing a helmet?

Things to consider to improve cyclists safety that work better then just wearing a helmet

Learn defensive bicycle riding

&quot;Either way, this study suggests wearing a helmet might make a collision more likely in the first place,&quot; - Dr. Walker (Ref: <a href=""></a>; )

While Dr. Walker does not state this, there is an inference in his data that learning defensive bicycle riding (or more specifically taking a class by a League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructor) will do more good for cyclists' safety then a helmet alone ever will. A next best option would be to promote MDOT's Safe Cycling in Maryland handbook. I'll note that information that this booklet exists and how to get this specific booklet has been removed from SHA's website, this should be corrected. I will also note that I tried to get a note in the Drivers' Handbook &quot;For more information on safe cycling request the booklet Safe Cycling in Maryland&quot; but that failed. This information should not be treated like it's top secret.

Like reducing homicides the police need to take cyclists safety more seriously.

I was amazed to find out that learning traffic laws as they apply to cyclists is an optional course in the police academy and very few of our police officers ever received that training. Leading to crazy ways to find the cyclist at fault by police. In one case a cyclist riding as far right as practicable (as required by law) was killed by a right turning truck (no signals.) But the police found fault with the cyclist road position because &quot;21-1303(d) a person may not operate a motorcycle between lanes of traffic or between adjacent lines or rows of vehicles.&quot; - Did you catch that? The police misapplied motorcycle law to a bicycle as if that overrides specific instructions to a cyclist. I have other evidence that the police were citing numerous cyclists for being &quot;illegally in the road&quot; (a pedestrian violation not a cyclist violation.) I have personally been ordered by police to ride on the sidewalk where sidewalk riding was illegal. I could go on and on about this but I have to ask how can we expect the roads to feel safe when even the authorities get the laws wrong. And just adding a helmet requirement so the police have more excuses to harass cyclists is not going to help.

That no power of suspending Laws or the execution of Laws, unless by, or derived from the Legislature, ought to be exercised, or allowed. - Maryland Declaration Of Rights

Hmm, is singling out laws for bicyclists to be excluded from regular police officers training an act of suspending execution of laws? I'm not enough of a lawyer to say one way or the other but I can say what is going on is outrageous. Even MVA has gotten into the act when introducing our new three foot passing law and concluded &quot;The law says the bicyclist has the responsibility to move aside and let you pass.&quot; (Ref: <a href=",0,6224574.story">,0,6224574.story</a>; ) I'll note &quot;moving aside&quot; is correct for motor vehicles capable of doing the speed limit but are going much slower. But &quot;moving aside&quot; is not correct for cyclists. I could go on with other issues but in short there is a lot of misunderstandings exactly what is the law for bicyclist among so called professionals. I will also point out that it was Michael Dresser and NOT MVA that issued the correction (ref: <a href=""></a>; ). It's rather sad that a layperson can see the plain text meaning in our laws while &quot;professionals&quot; cannot.

We desperately need to get everyone on the same page as far as cycling laws go and what constitutes safe cycling, this is paramount to safety. And putting more onus on the more vulnerable road user at this time is outrageous in my book.

Free helmets giveaways

I have a resource for getting really cheep bicycle helmets in bulk (and still meet the standards.) Wouldn't be cool if we could actually work together so these helmets could end up in police cars for the police to give away to helmetless riders instead of issuing warnings for failure to comply with this purposed law?


I know you meant well with this legislation but cycling is a safe activity, certainly a lot safer then walking in Maryland. You do realize that Maryland has earned the 4th highest pedestrian fatality rate in 2009 right? Maybe we should seriously think about making pedestrians wear helmets.

Maryland has yet to make it into the top ten in terms of cycling fatality rates and last time I checked our cycling fatality rate was below average. The big cycling issue for me is we have below average number of cyclists, we need to encourage more cycling for health (Maryland has a high obesity rate) and for cleaner air (too many code red days following really nice days to ride.) Not to mention more cycling makes a better place to live and encourages more tourism. A lot of states are doing a lot better then what we are in this regard, we are below average in our share of bike commuters, this needs to be corrected.

“Pushing helmets really kills cycling and bike-sharing in particular because it promotes a sense of danger that just isn’t justified — in fact, cycling has many health benefits,” says Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney. He studied the issue with mathematical modeling, and concludes that the benefits may outweigh the risks by 20 to 1. (Ref: <a href="[ItUCaa,1">[ItUCaa,1</a>; )

&quot;After scrapes with motorists [in Takoma Park, Md.], he now mostly drives.&quot; - about Obama's new Chief of Staff (Ref: <a href=""></a>; )

To many cyclists are harassed by motorist and and too many police are indifferent about getting involved or just plain hostile to cyclists, resulting in less people who bicycle. Mandatory helmets are not going to help this, it's just going to make it worse.

Safety-in-numbers is also observed in the U.S.

Portland, OR and New York City, NY are two places off the top of my head that have documented their Safety-in-numbers effect. And Minneapolis, MN just documented theirs (Ref: <a href=""></a>; )

We need more people who bicycle, please take steps to remove barriers and not add any more barriers to cycling.


by B' Spokes

Like most people I live a hectic life and who has the time for much exercise? Thanks to xtracycle now I do. By using my bike for daily activities I can get things done and get an hour plus work out in 15 minutes extra of my time, not a bad deal and beats taking the extra time going to the gym. In case you are still having trouble being motivated; the National Center of Disease Control says that inactivity is the #2 killer in the United States just behind smoking. ( ) Get out there and start living life! I can carry home a full shopping cart of groceries, car pool two kids or just get lost in the great outdoors camping for a week. Well I got go, another outing this weekend.
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