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Should California make helmets mandatory for all bicyclists?

Did you know that there is no state in the country that requires adult bicyclists to wear helmets while riding? To some this may not seem like a surprise; after all, there are few states that even require motorcyclists to wear helmets. But for those of our readers who know that your risk of suffering a fatal head injury increases significantly if you aren't wearing a helmet in an accident, this statistic is not only surprising but appalling as well.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 91 percent of bicyclists who were killed in accidents in 2009 weren't wearing helmets. Even more disconcerting is the fact that in 2013, 84 percent of bicyclists who died in crashes were adults age 20 or older. Although we are encouraged to wear helmets when we are younger, this data shows that many adults are not carrying over this lesson into adulthood, which is something some here in California are trying to change.

As some of our Sacramento readers may have heard, a bill introduced last month is aimed at making biking here in California safer by extending helmet requirements to all ages. The new bill would make helmets and reflective clothing at night mandatory for all riders. Because wearing a helmet could reduce a rider's risk of suffering a head injury by 85 percent, the hope is that the new bill will encourage riders to take up biking because it will be safer than it is now.

Some opponents of the bill disagree with this assessment though and say that if passed, the bill could have a reverse effect. So should California make helmets mandatory for all bicyclists?

Just as occupants are required to wear seatbelt use in a motor vehicle to reduce the risk of suffering many life-threatening injuries in an accident, so too could be the effect if bicyclists are required to wear helmets. Data that shows the effectiveness of helmet use is limited though, making it difficult to say whether such legislation would have a significant impact on riders or not down the road.

Sources: The Huffington Post, "California Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Riding Less Safe, Advocates Say," Lydia O'Connor, Feb. 19, 2015

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