Bike Michiana

resources, news, observations and ideas about bicycling in the Michiana area

Two new bicycle safety bills in 2011 Indiana General Assembly

Posted by Paul Taylor on February 7, 2011

For the third consecutive legislative session, new bicycle laws are being considered. Both proposals would require youngsters up to 17 years of age wear a helmet. One proposal would add a requirement that motorists passing a bike allow at least three feet clearance. As of February 7, each bill has been assigned to committee, but neither has been heard.

SB0553 Bicycle helmets and vehicle operation near bicycles. Provides that it is a Class C infraction: (1) for a bicyclist under 18 years of age to fail to wear protective headgear when operating or riding on a bicycle; and (2) for a person driving a vehicle overtaking a bicycle to not allow at least three feet of clearance between the vehicle and the bicycle and not return to the original lane until the vehicle is safely clear of the bicycle.

HB1141 Protective headgear for minors on bicycles. Provides that it is a Class C infraction for a bicyclist less than 18 years of age to fail to wear protective headgear when operating or riding on a bicycle.

 Indiana cyclists will nearly unanimously support the 3-foot law, but the mandatory helmet law is controversial. Below are four links which will allow you to follow both bills in the legislature, as well as have an informed opinion on the merits of mandatory helmet laws. What do you think?

Senate Bill 0553,

House Bill 1141,

Arguments against compulsory helmet laws,

Arguments favoring compulsory helmet laws.

7 Responses to “Two new bicycle safety bills in 2011 Indiana General Assembly”

  1. Adam Bee said

    Helmet laws restrict access to cycling. The House bill is a huge step backwards for cycling and for youth health.

    The latest and best research finds that helmet laws DO reduce youth cycling injuries, BUT they achieve this reduction in injuries by REDUCING cycling itself!

    Driving kills hundreds of Indiana teens every year, just like clockwork.
    I can’t remember the last time I heard of a young cyclist being killed in Indiana.

    Meanwhile, childhood obesity is an epidemic in Indiana.

    I am in favor of requiring helmets for youths who are mountain biking, skateboarding, skydiving, skiing, etc. After all, kids don’t get to choose their parents, so the community must step in on their behalf when parents fail to act responsibly.

    But this law is fundamentally more about reinforcing the 2nd-class citizenship of cyclists than it’s about health/safety. Riding a bike helmetless is still healthier than playing video games, even if not as good as riding with a helmet.

    If we must have a helmet law, let it be accompanied by a suite of other changes that actually WOULD improve the safety of those who’ll continue to ride in spite of increased harassment. The three-foot passing law is a step in the right direction. Penalties for killing cyclists, like those proposed for killing while texting, would be another big help. Encouraging insurers to offer per-mile insurance instead of the current all-you-can-drive standard has been proven to have massive safety benefits, and would save both Indiana insurers and drivers and drivers billions. Even quoting fuel economy in “gallons per 100 miles” instead of the misleading, obsolete MPG would save more lives than a helmet law, simply by giving consumers better information.

    Of course these are all proposals aimed at reducing driving, but let’s face it: cyclists are not killing themselves. They’re not tripping over potholes or crashing into trees. They’re being crushed to death by drivers. Reducing driving even a tiny bit would save many more cyclists’ lives than a helmet law.

    I know St. Rep. Peggy Welch (D-Bloomington!) and IU Health are only trying to help, but I think this law is going to be promoted in bad faith by anti-cyclists like Craig Fry.

  2. Moderator said

    Here is a comment I received ‘offline’ from an experienced and knowledgeable cyclist. Do you agree?

    “Amazing how much this study wraps itself in mathematics to appear legitimate. Who’s going to argue with that? However, the study is completely flawed in the conclusion they were attempting to reach.

    a) the study admits that helmets reduce head injuries and deaths. Period. No math needed. On a per-mile, per-kid or per-anything basis, a helmet will reduce head injuries. Our responsibility to our uninformed youth is to encourage wise choices .. otherwise let’s just make it optional to attend school as well.
    b) the study admits that kids are more likely to not wear helmets than adults. No surprise. Adults are better educated. (pattern emerging here..)
    c) the biggest reason kids don’t wear helmets is because it’s “not cool”. Get over it. Let’s make them “cool” when everyone wears them.

    What the study does NOT do is compare the health benefits vs risk of head injury and conclude that overall, kids are statistically HEALTHIER by riding a bike without a helmet — taking into account the statistical risk of head injury. Why didn’t they do that? Because it’s ridiculous to assume that a law requiring youth to wear a helmet is going to cause a kid who would otherwise ride a bike to sit around eating brownies and soda all day and playing video games, and that habit would follow them for the rest of their life causing them to die 5 years earlier than someone who rode a bike as a child.

  3. Adam Bee said

    To clarify:
    I don’t mean the above to be confrontational or divisive. I’m grateful for the great work Paul Taylor and John Broden have done and continue to do on our behalf. I fully trust their judgment and the work they’ve put in on this. If they believe the Senate bill is the best we’re likely to get, and that it will prevail over the House proposal, then I support that 100%. We’re just at the beginning of a very long process.

    I just want to make two general points, which may already be obvious:
    1. Helmets save lives. Helmet laws kill. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive statements. Both can be true, and in my opinion the existing evidence suggests that they are in fact both true.

    Consider this “thought experiment”: Suppose helmets had not been invented yet. Would it be healthier to permit 17-year-olds to ride bicycles, or would it be healthier to prohibit it?

    2. Politically, it seems inevitable that any bill restricting widespread, irresponsible practices that threaten a minority must impose some counterbalancing costs on that minority as a way to shift blame.

    Do we really want to give up such a bargaining chip voluntarily? The fact that both bills are nearly identical, except for the three-foot rule, should give us pause. If the House bill is passed, what are we willing to give up next year? This proposal might not constrain us too much, but the next concession may very well impose heftier burdens.

  4. Adam Bee said

    I agree with the experienced and knowledgeable cyclist on all points, except that claim that the authors of the study were trying to prove any one conclusion. The authors couldn’t care less about the outcome of the analysis, as far as I can tell.

    I agree that it is unclear what minors who have been discouraged from cycling do with their extra time. It is also unclear how this restricted access changes their adoption of healthy behavior in later years.

    The evidence credibly indicates, though, that these laws unambiguously reduce the proportion of kids who say they’ve ridden in the past year.

  5. I’m another experienced cyclist from Indiana. I founded the “Bike Richmond” group there to promote cycling, and I’ve also studied the helmet debate in detail.

    I also generally oppose the mandatory helmet law. I go into my more detail on my blog, where I responded to the same proposal coming up in the past:

  6. john doe said

    Air Force vet ticketed in NYC for riding without helmet, which is not illegal (yet).

  7. M Forster said

    Why can’t those responsible for leadership for our youth just do what is the most responsible for our youth’s safety? Helmets make the sport safer – period. Seat belts make driving safer – period.

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