Should NYC require all cyclists to wear helmets?

By Trina Haynes, illustrations by Julia Green,

New York City is home to a plethora of cyclists. A planned bike-share program numbering 10,000 strong is being launched in July. The city also has its renowned reputation since the late 1970’s for its bike messenger scene. Plus the list of "famous" bike bloggers and the occasional bike skirt controversy all make NYC a bit of a bike Mecca.

But, not everything in NYC is all Quicksilver fixie bike dances and happy rent-a-bikers. Councilman David Greenfield has proposed a law that would require all bicycle riders, of all ages, to wear a helmet. Considering the Bike Share program is launching in a month, and few rent-a-bikers wear helmets, it appears the councilman is rather out of touch with the cycling world. NYC already has a law that all children 13 and under must wear a helmet and most parents would likely agree that is a good idea. To force an adult to wear a helmet regardless of their personal “helmet opinion” seems absurd.

NYC Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson shot down the law, expressing the fatality rate in cyclists is down due to the strides in protecting cyclist from drivers. He also stated, “First of all, there’s no other major city in the country that has a mandatory bike helmet law…."

Although I commend the Deputy Mayor for standing up for cyclist rights, his statement is actually not true. In Chicago, bicycle messengers are required by law to wear a helmet and safety vest provided by the messenger company.

Starkville, Mississippi, has a helmet ordinance that requires all citizens to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. Quite a few municipalities in Missouri require helmets for individuals of all ages. In Washington state there are 21 cities, plus all military installations, with an all-ages helmet law. And, last but certainly not least, college party town Morgantown, W.V., has one too.

Whether or not these helmet laws are enforced, is another story. But, the laws are there. 

Does Councilman Greenfield have the right to force that decision on cyclist?

Here is my final opinion and my soapbox moment: helmet wearing is your choice.

Personally I am a helmet wearer. A tendency to be over-confident when I ride has caused me a crash or two. I have also been hit by a car twice and was lucky enough to walk away. The Mom in me see’s a cyclist without a helmet and my internal safety alarm goes off: "Danger! Will Robinson! Danger!".

In an ideal world cities should be investing their time and money into driver education and proper bike lanes (not just painted lines). Why are we wasting all this energy forcing someone’s personal choice on citizens instead investing time into how to make our lives healthier and safer? I propose Councilman Greenfield get on a bike and ride consistently through the city he wants to "help". Talk to actual cyclist; maybe find out what the citizens of NYC want, they are the ones who will have to live with this law everyday.

What do you think? Should helmets be mandatory for all riders?

 

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