Bike helmets save lives, so much so that Oregon law requires them for riders under the age of 16. Senate Bill 742 would extend that requirement to cover riders under age 18.
A companion measure, SB 741, would require helmets for riders of all ages in organized exhibitions, competitions and contests. The bills — which also cover such “vehicles” as skateboards and roller skates and are sponsored by state Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, — make sense.
First, the bike numbers.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 600 “pedalcyclists” — riders of two-wheel nonmotorized vehicles, tricycles and unicycles — were killed in this country in 2009, while another 51,000 were injured. Of the cyclists who died, about 75 percent were not wearing helmets.
In fact, says the Centers for Disease Control, wearing a bicycle helmet reduces a rider’s risk of head injury by about 80 percent. Statistics about skateboarders are more difficult to come by, but again, helmeted boarders suffer less damage than those who decline to wear them.
Currently, only 21 states have any helmet requirements for bicyclists, and about half of those require the headgear only for riders under age 16, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Edwards’ companion bill would require helmets for such things as exhibitions and races and would apply to adults as well as children. According to the senator’s staff, constituents told him that in skateboard competitions, for example, scores rise as the risk goes up. And Oregon, like the vast majority of states, has no requirement for general skateboard helmet use, much less one for competitive use.
In reality, it makes sense for bikers, boarders and skaters of all ages to wear helmets, though no state requires that adults do so.
That’s no doubt because a blanket requirement smacks too much of the nanny state to make many of us happy.
That said, it does make sense to have the state step in and protect children, even older ones. It also makes sense to require helmets in competition, no matter the age of the competitor. States perform that function all the time — think car seat laws, among others.