S.1117, An Act relative to bicycle safety

Senator Brownsberger has recently submitted the following testimony on S.1117, An Act relative to bicycle safety:

TO:                  Joint Committee on Public Health

FROM:            Senator William N. Brownsberger

RE:                  S1117, An Act relative to bicycle safety

DATE:             September 22nd, 2015

I am writing to explain my present position on S1117, An Act relative to bicycle safety.

This bill would require helmet use for all cyclists and encourage use of high visibility clothing. I believe bicycle helmets and reflective clothing are indispensible safety accessories for cyclists. However, it dawned on me after filing the legislation, that by making helmet use mandatory, this bill would have the unintended consequence of creating more police stops.

I believe that increased use of bicycle helmets and reflective clothing would benefit public health and safety, but I do not feel we should mandate their use by law for adults. I am happy to work with your committee to redraft S1117, to make it about encouraging, rather than mandating, safety gear.

You can view an original copy of the testimony here.

Andrew Bettinelli
Legislative Aide
Office of State Senator William N. Brownsberger


17 replies on “S.1117, An Act relative to bicycle safety”

  1. I personally that that not only should helment use be mandatory, but flashing front and back lights for biking in the dark should also be mandatory, I say this because as the sun is setting earlier at this time of year I find bicyclists without lights VERY hard to see. These are inexpensive. There is no excuse. And I do not think that increased police stops should be a worry – we have bad bicycling behavior tainting all bicyclists and if some of them are stopped and ticked, perhaps this will have the effect of more adherence to the laws of the road. If they are on the same streets and roads and cars, they should be held acccountable to the same rules of the road. I don’t think a helment or flashing lights any different than turn signals or breaklights for a car.

    1. I do support the use of good lights! But, just so you know, good lights can cost more than a serviceable bicycle. I have put $500 worth of lights on a $100 bicycle. I think that is why some riders don’t put enough lights on.

      1. Senator, how long ago did you pay $500 for bike lights? The cost of good lights has gone down dramatically over the past decade, due to improvements in LED technology. These days you can get pretty good lights for around $50, and decent-for-urban-use ones for less.

        However, I find flashing front lights to be a problem. The first generation or two of LED headlights were not very bright, and you needed to have them blink to make them noticeable. But these days lights are very bright, and making them blink is dazzling and distracting, and gives some people (like me) headaches. I wouldn’t mind seeing some kind of legislation that bans these dazzling forms of blinking lights (while still making regular lights at night mandatory).

        1. That was six or seven years ago. I agree costs have come down with the LEDs. I wouldn’t go much below $100 at each end though, if you want to be sure to be visible.

          The blinkers are an issue — I try to shield mine when it may be blinding someone. But I think the biggest danger riding at night is a head-on with a turning vehicle, so I think the bright white front blinkers are in important safety item when in motion on the road.

          1. Hiya, late chiming in:

            Bought my Cygolite Metro 400 (USB rechargeable) for $40 shipped when I was in Boston. Maxes out at 400 lumens — more than enough for any type of city and suburb riding — and 6 modes. The bright flashing mode comes with a warning: “Do not use at night”. And I agree, while good in the daytime for raising alertness, it creates a bad strobe-like effect at night.

            On the rear I’m still using my Bike Planet Superflash Turbo, one of the brightest rear lights you can get, and commonly found at most stores. About $30.

            So I think you could easily do less than $100 for both ends, these days. The prices have really, really come down a lot!

  2. I compliment you on your reasoning about this question and your readiness to acknowledge changing your opinion about the balance of benefits and costs. The increase in police stops that Is needed is in enforcement of speed limits! That would increase Everyone’s safety. I suppose that helmets are mandatory for children under a certain age?

  3. Thank you for rethinking this act. While helmets can be an important safety device, they should not be mandatory. Certainly, municipalities can implement their own regulations regarding lights, helmets or other devices on bicycles, pedestrians or vehicles. The fact is that today’s drivers are regularly disobeying basic traffic laws, such as stopping at the stop line or stop sign before proceeding into an intersection, or yielding to oncoming traffic to make a left turn at an intersection, or illegal turns on red, or speeding in school zones. Will it make cyclists safer or would mandatory helmets make drivers feel safer to continue speeding and making other traffic violations that jeopardize the safety of more vulnerable users of the road. Drivers need to stop looking at cyclists and pedestrians as an exception to the road and drive with their considerations always – the norm in many other parts of the world.

  4. Helmets are personal devices, whose wearing only affects the safety of their user. Bill, thanks for your respect to individual liberties.

  5. Thanks for changing your mind on this. Mandatory helmet laws don’t appear to have their intended effect on crash rates, and there’s been a recent study suggesting that many of their individually inferred benefits are mostly due to composition of the populations that do/don’t wear helmets. I.e., people who are concerned about safety are more likely to wear helmets.

    In addition, helmet laaws tend to discourage bicycle use, and (1) the safety-in-numbers effect seems to be real, so this undercuts that and (2) the health benefits from cycling are an order of magnitude larger than risks from crashes. There have been multiple studies measuring this, they consistently find a 20% or larger reduction in annual mortality risk for peole who bike to work (with usual demographic adjustments).

    The net effects of reduction in safety in numbers and in health-from-exercise are that mandatory helmet laws kill people. I know that sounds like wild-eyed hyperbole, but look at how deadly diseases-of-no-exercise are, and look how good we are at pretending we’ll get the exercise that we need when we have to set aside time for only that.

    We should instead be doing everything possible to encourage walking and everyday use of bicycles. If we want safety, let’s impose lower speed limits in built-up areas. 20mph is far safer than 30mph.

  6. I disagree with your new position on helmets. The cost to the health care system for brain-damaged victims far outweighs the additional costs associated with more stops by police. In fact, if it is the law, there will likely be few violators.

    1. I’m really thinking about this police stop in an urban context.

      Personally, I almost never get on my bike without the helmet — having had one experience where the helmet saved me very serious injury. But, as other comments in this thread argue, there is considerable disagreement about the net safety impact of a helmet mandate.

  7. I am in favor. It is almost impossible to stop a bicycle for anything – there they go – very difficult for an officer on foot. Chasing a bike? So enforcement can start with a warning if anyone manages to be caught.
    In Cambridge we finally have most bikes off the sidewalks thanks to the excellent CPD bike officers.
    Word gets around.

    1. Yes, the Cambridge PD does successfully stop cyclists and any department can. BTW, legislation I carried in 2008 makes it easier for officers to ticket misbehaving cyclists by allowing them to use the same ticket book that they use for cars.

  8. Will,

    What is the bill doing for the other side of the equation: drivers? From the testimony above, it sounds like the bill is focuses on cyclists, implicitly putting blame on them for ‘not being safe.’ Is there anything in the bill to improve driver awareness, increase fines for cars (large metal objects) hitting cyclists (bare skin), or anything else to make cars respect cyclist more?

    If you want to improve bicycle safety, please consider both sides of the equation.

    1. Thank You, Travis, for linking to these threads. These are the threads that respond most directly to your question below. We are taking a balanced approach. There are many other threads on this site related to cycling and bike paths.

  9. I support your point of view. I ride my bike to Alewife on a daily basis. Most of the times I ride with a Helmet. But should I get a ticket for the occasional ride without helmet if I forget it? I don’t think so.

    Besides, I don’t know how this will be enforced fairly. Bike is almost always much safer than a car and don’t produce pollution, noise.

    Too many cars and not enough public transportation is the real problem, not the environmental friendly cyclists.

    Please also help us to get more bike trails.

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