Oregon Bike Advocates Oppose Helmet Law

By LAUREN GAMBINO | March 27, 2013

An Oregon lawmaker is proposing legislation to raise the age requirement for helmets on young bicyclists, but the bill is drawing opposition from bike advocates who say that instead of protecting young cyclists it would discourage people from riding.

The law now says bicyclists younger than 16 must wear helmets. The measure would make it younger than 18.

“It creates the impression that biking is dangerous,” Rob Sadowsky, executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, said of the proposed legislation.

He said his organization encourages cyclists to wear helmets, but requiring young people to wear helmets is not a way to make Oregon’s roads more bike-friendly.

Senate Bill 742 would require people younger than 18 to wear helmets while riding bikes, skateboards or scooters, or while in-line skating or roller skating.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Chris Edwards of Eugene, told the Senate Business and Transportation Committee on Monday he was surprised by the pushback from cycling advocates.

“Ultimately, I’m just wanting to encourage and strengthen the culture of safety among kids riding skateboards and bikes,” he said.

In 2011, Rep. Mitch Greenlick was also surprised when a bike safety bill he sponsored went nowhere after opposition by bike advocates.

Greenlick’s bill would have banned children younger than 6 from riding in bike trailers or on the back of adult bikes. The bill died in committee. Cyclists and bike advocates said such a law was anti-family and wasn’t needed to protect kids.

Largely because of the state’s environmental awareness, cycling is hugely popular in Oregon. Thousands bike to work each day in Portland, Oregon’s largest city. People also use bikes for running errands and staying fit. Most Oregon cyclists wear helmets, although there are some who eschew them as an infringement on their freedom.

Under current Oregon law, anyone 16 and under has to wear a helmet while riding a bike, skateboard or scooter, or while in-line skating or roller skating.

Bike advocates say raising the age to 18 would not accomplish much, and legislative efforts would be better spent on programs educating cyclists how to ride safely and educating motorists to share the road with bikes.

More than 20 states and the District of Columbia require bicycle riders of certain ages to wear helmets, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. If the bill is passed, Oregon would be one of only three states requiring people to wear helmets up to the age of 18.

Edwards is the sponsor of a companion bill, Senate Bill 741. That measure would require people of all ages who are participating in organized exhibitions, competitions or contests to wear helmets when riding a bicycle, skateboard, scooter, in-line skates or roller skates.

Edwards said this bill was intended to target skateboarding competitions where riders who perform tricks without a helmet receive better scores for a more dangerous presentation.

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