The Mandatory Bike Helmet Law in Austin

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The Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Law After riding my bicycle around Austin recently, a problem with one of the city's laws became evident to me. Austin has a city-wide mandatory bicycle helmet law that requires all cyclists to wear a helmet regardless of age. Although the law was implemented in 1996 as a way to improve rider safety, several problems exist with it. One problem is the law interferes with a cyclist's right of choice. Because of the law, cyclists can not choose whether they should wear a helmet or not. The law also discourages bicycling because many people do not want to be hassled with the chance of getting an expensive ticket. Another problem with the bike helmet law is that it is enforced arbitrarily. Police officers often chase down cyclists simply for the reason to harass cyclists. A fourth and major problem with the law is that helmets are not really very effective. The helmet law does not work well because it has so many problems with it. By repealing the law, all of these problems can be solved at no cost to the city and can even save the city money in the long run. An important reason the law should be eliminated is because it interferes with the cyclist's right of choice. Most cyclists know whether they should or should not wear a helmet. Many people feel that helmets make bicycling much safer and choose to wear a helmet. Other people do not feel that helmets are of great benefit and should be able to choose not to wear them. Parallel examples of choices can be drawn from other aspects of society. Having sex with a condom is safer than without, but people are not required to use condoms. People who choose not to wear a bike helmet can only do harm to themselves but should not be penalized for their actions. Because of the bicycle helmet law, the number of bicycle riders in Austin has greatly decreased. According to the League of Bicycling Voters, similar bike helmet law situations in Australia and Oregon have shown a 30% to 50% decrease in the number of cyclists after the law passed. Many people do not want to put up with the law as well as the possibility of getting harassed and/or ticketed by the police. This decrease in bicycling has a negative effect upon the well-being of Austin's citizens. Because fewer people are riding bicycles, automobile traffic is increased. Many people decide that because they do not want to wear a helmet, they will drive to their destination instead. This contributes to traffic problems as well as poor air quality. The bicycle helmet law discourages a healthy, environmentally friendly, and traffic reducing form of exercise. Supporters of the helmet law feel that by forcing cyclists to wear helmets, cyclists will benefit. These supporters claim use the analogy that because seat belts in cars are required, helmets should be also. The seat belt analogy is invalid because the number of people killed by cycling accidents does not even compare with car wreck fatalities. According to Troy Daniel's evaluation of the bicycle helmet law, "Thousands of people die on Texas highways each year; the number of people that do not make it through bicycle accidents due to head injury is minimal in comparison." Daniel continues to state that the number of bike accidents since 1993 is less than ten and that most could not have been prevented by a helmet. Supporters do not have confidence in bicyclists' judgment and feel the need to make decisions for them. Many people argue that the bike helmets save lives and the law is needed to protect cyclists. However, some figures about the added safety of bicycle helmets are misleading. Many supports of the bike helmet law claim that the law reduces the number of bicycle fatalities. This is not entirely true and the bicycle accident rate was not high to begin with. For example, only 34 bicycling deaths occurred in Travis County between 1980 and 1994, according to the League of Bicycling Voters. Additionally, the League reports bicycling caused only 1.9% of traumatic brain injury from 1993-1996 in Texas. Because bike helmets only protect the head, other injuries are not prevented by the helmet law. This figure presents that idea that the helmet law was not necessary to begin with. An argument made by helmet law supporters regards the idea that helmets increase the general welfare of society. The idea behind the argument is that cyclists cannot make an intelligent decision for themselves and must be forced to wear a helmet. Backing up this idea are the costs of treatment of cyclists injured. Bike helmet law supporters falsely claim that because of the law, hospital costs have decreased. Because many bicycle injuries involve areas of the body other than the head, the helmet law is ineffective at reducing hospital costs. Furthermore, because many of the hospital costs are covered by the injured party, the general welfare of society is not affected. The simple act of repealing the mandatory bicycle helmet law can alleviate many problems associated with it. With the city council's vote, the law can be revoked and Austin may return to the choice of the rider as to wear a helmet or not. Instead of the bike helmet law, the City of Austin should be concerned with other aspects to improve bicycle safety such as the creation of more bicycle lanes. Because helmets are not really very effective, cyclists can ride more safely if they have their own lane. Additional programs aimed at educating automobile drivers on driving safely among cyclists would also be a more effective at accident prevention than the bike helmet law. The answer to the problems of the bicycle helmet law is clear. The right of the cyclists are not violated and people are free to choose how they want to protect themselves. Instead of the bicycle helmet law, Austin should be concerned with educating divers as well as cyclists on bicycling safety. Additionally, adding bicycling lanes would also help to improve rider safety. Getting rid of the mandatory bicycle helmet law and letting riders choose to wear helmets for themselves can greatly help the city of Austin. Works Cited: "Bicycle Helmet Information Sheet." League of Bicycling Voters. http://www.dbcity.com/bicycles (July 27, 1997). Burdick, Mike. "Kunich's extreme anti-helmet stance." http://blueridge.infomkt.ibm.com/bikes/News/tech/27/tech.0000173 (August 7, 1997). Daniel, Troy. "Use Your Head." http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~tovo/e306/spring/studentwork/eval/daniel.html (August 7, 1997). "Mandatory Helmet Laws: A Summary." Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. http://www.bysi.org/webdocs/mandator.htm (July 27, 1997). Schneidmiller, Chris. "Firing Line." The Daily Texan 30 Apr. 1993. http://mac31.tsp.utexas.edu:8001/AppleSearch.acgi$RETRIVE,29,5589,3632,0,133,0 (July 31, 1997).

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