SURPRISE! Federal Panel Seeks Mandatory Helmet Laws

By Gersh Kuntzman, STREETSBLOG NYC

photo: Seattle office for the Mayor

A federal safety board issued a surprise recommendation for mandatory bike helmet laws in all 50 states — unanimously approving a last-minute resolution that had not been recommended by the board’s own staff.

The National Transportation Safety Board voted 3-0 to recommend helmet laws even as staff members reminded panelists that such laws may reduce overall cycling, and lead to the “unintended consequence” of more road fatalities because fewer cyclists will mean less pressure on local officials to build the kind of protected infrastructure that is proven to improve cyclist safety.

The measure was not part of a set of recommendations that NTSB staff had drawn up for Tuesday’s meeting — those were approved without much discussion and included only a call for a national discussion of helmet laws. But board member Jennifer Homendy, who described herself as a regular cyclist who is “passionate” about safety, submitted the last-minute additional recommendation, citing the NTSB staff research that found helmet use reduces fatalities and injuries better than any single thing a cyclist can do.

“In an agency focused on safety [how are we] missing a recommendation for helmet laws?” she asked. “We have 16 pages in the report [saying] the most effective method for a bicyclist to mitigate head injury is to properly wear a helmet and that head injury is the leading cause of bicycle-related deaths and that bicycles involved in crashes with motor vehicles sustain a higher proportion of head injuries.”

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