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Petaluma cyclist pushes helmet law

A Petaluma bicycle safety advocate is lobbying for the passage of a bill that would require all cyclists to wear helmets and reflective gear while riding, even as the California Bicycle Coalition opposes the measure.

Bernie Album, a retired teacher and longtime bicyclist, said he supports the proposed legislation - SB192, authored by State Sen. Carol Liu, D-Glendale - for the same reasons he supports the use of mandatory seat belts for motorists and helmets for motorcyclists: They increase public safety and save lives. Album recently circulated an email and authored letters to newspapers urging citizens to support the bill and to refuse to sign the California Bicycle Coalition’s online petitions that fight the bill’s passage.

The CBC petition maintains that mandatory helmets and reflective gear for bicyclists would “discourage bicycling, make our streets less safe and Californians less healthy.”

The CBC petition states that “similar laws elsewhere have been demonstrated to decrease the level of bicycling.” The group did not provide data with its petition to show how such laws reduce the number of cyclists.

The organization instead favors measures such as a reduction of speed limits, the creation of protected lanes and bike paths and the education of motorists and cyclists on how to drive and ride safely.

Album called the CBC’s reasoning “convoluted and misleading.”

But local bike advocates said a bike helmet law is unnecessary. Most adult riders already wear helmets, said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, adding that lawmakers should focus their energy on keeping cyclists safe from distracted or impaired drivers.

“First of all, it’s a solution in search of a problem,” he said. “What (SB192) does is send a message to the general public that there is something very dangerous about riding a bicycle.”

Album cited data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the California Office of Traffic Safety, recommending helmets and reflective gear for all bicyclists.

A recent state study said that two-thirds of bicyclist deaths on state and local roadways are the result of traumatic brain injury.

Album said he has experienced his own share of bicycling accidents and credits wearing a helmet to saving his life.

“I have had five or six crashes, none involving a car,” he said. “I always wear a helmet. In three of the crashes, my head hit the pavement and knocked me unconscious. Two sent me to the hospital overnight. All resulted with multiple open wounds requiring many stitches. I believe wearing a helmet prevents serious brain injuries and maybe death.”

Album added that as a former CBC board member, he is guarded against being labeled as “disgruntled” by anyone familiar with the advocacy group.

“My primary motivation is as an advocate for required public education on pedestrian, bicycle and skateboard safety,” Album said. “I have been a bike commuter since 1974 and (have been) hardcore recreation bicycle touring since 1978. After I retired from teaching in 1996, I volunteered doing community service for bicycle advocacy. Since my lifetime career has been in education, taking on this current helmet issue and the CBC just seems like a natural fit.”

(Contact Alex Horvath at argus@arguscourier.com).

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