A mandatory helmet law, introduced into the Maryland House of Delegates last week and requiring all bicyclists to wear protective headgear, faces blowback from bicycling advocates.
Currently, only bicyclists under the age of 16 are required to wear a helmet at all times.
Nate Evans, Baltimore City’s bicycle and pedestrian planner and an avid cyclist, explained in a recent post at Bmorebike.com that he believes a mandatory bicycling helmet law for adults in Maryland represents “a step backward.”
“While helmet use is good practice, it should not be a barrier to cycling,” writes Evans, adding that he generally wears a helmet. He also notes that low-income city workers using bicycles for basic transportation would be pegged with an unnecessary penalty and cost.
Evans also cities an ongoing City Department of Transportation study showing that 65 percent of Baltimore City bicyclists already use a helmet voluntarily.
Last October, a new Maryland vehicle law took effect mandating that all motor scooters and mopeds operators, and passengers, wear a helmet and eye protection. The new motor scooter law also requires motor scooters and mopeds be titled and insured.
Although bicycling advocates and bicycling organizations — who often give helmets away to youth — support the use of bicycle helmets, they overwhelming do not support mandatory laws because studies shows that they deter bicycling. The Washington Area Bicyclists Association announced its opposition to Maryland H.B. 339 and have an organized an email-writing campaign to stop the measure that can be found here.
WABA notes, for example, that in Australia studies showed that mandatory bicycling helmet laws contributed to a 37.5 percent drop in ridership over a 26-year period.
“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,” Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney, told the New York Times in a story last fall. De Jong, using mathematical modeling, concluded that the benefits of cycling “may outweigh the risks by 20 to 1.”
Mandatory helment laws also hurt bike-sharing operations, driving down the number of users, and a Maryland law could damage Baltimore City's hopes of attracting a bike-sharing program to the city.
An Environmental Matters hearing on the mandatory bicycling helmet law is scheduled for Feb. 12 at 1 p.m. in the Lowe House Office Building.