There are certainly days that I’m glad I don’t live in Austin anymore and I started to feel that way when I first read this story. (the foolishness of bicycle helmet laws are best illustrated by what has happened in Australia (listen to the BikeLove podcast from June 2, 2006 for more on this), where the number of bicyclists plummeted and overall bike safety went down), but the good news is that it sounds like the Austin bike community is rallying its forces and fighting back. Here’s some coverage of this…
As for my own personal views about bicycle helmet laws, I personally wear a helmet when riding in heavy traffic, bad weather, and for long distance rides, but I generally don’t wear a helmet for short trips to run errands. I think I should be free to make that decision.
Furthermore, bicycling is one of the few areas in life where we (thankfully) don’t have to deal with much police-citizen interaction. No tags, no licenses, no taxes, etc. make bicycling a truly free activity. As long as one follows basic traffic rules (which come down to just being polite to others on the road), you shouldn’t have to deal with the cops. Unfortunately, helmet laws change that dynamic by giving the police yet one more reason to harrass bicyclists. I know there are good cops out there (particularly some I know of in Austin), but there are a lot of bad cops out there and I frankly don’t want those bad cops having an excuse to give folks grief. — BTW, for those who don’t know the history, Austin Police actually ARRESTED bicyclists for not wearing helmets when the law was first in force, and according to BicycleAustin.info, “70% of the no-helmet tickets given to kids went to black and Hispanic kids. “
But more importantly, the most important factor in bicycle safety is having visibility. In other words, bicycle safety is super-safe in The Netherlands and Belguim because there are tons of bicycles everywhere, even though almost nobody wears a helmet. Yet in places like Australia where helmets are mandatory, there are very few bikes on the road (and far less since the helmet laws went into effect) and hence motorists don’t expect bikes and end up driving in a dangerous manner to bikes.
So anyway, I think a better use of public safety dollars in Austin would be to provide training to both bicyclists and car drivers on how to share the road, and to provide better facilities (i.e. parking racks) for bicyclists so that more folks would ride bikes.