Oregon Senator looks to strengthen mandatory helmet laws

Oregon Senator looks to strengthen mandatory helmet laws

Sunday Parkways - Northeast -30

If she’s under 18, SB 742
would require her to wear a helmet.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland

State Senator Chris Edwards (D-Eugene) is behind two bills this session that would strengthen Oregon’s helmet laws.

Sen. Edwards wants to raise the age limit for mandatory helmet use from 16 to 18 years of age (SB 742) and he wants to make helmet use mandatory for all ages when, “participating in an organized exhibition, competition or contest” (SB 741). Both bills are set for a hearing and possible vote in the Senate Business and Transportation Committee on March 25th.

According to Edwards’ Legislative Aide Holly Fifield, the concern over helmet use was brought to his attention during a meeting with a family last fall. “The family has a son who competes in skateboard competitions and that child has learned that there are benefits to not wearing a helmet [in competition],” wrote Fifield via email. Apparently judges in some skateboard competitions will award higher scores to people without helmets because the trick being performed is deemed to have a higher degree of risk. “So, if there were two athletes who performed the same trick successfully,” Fifield explained, “the judges would give a better score to the athlete who wasn’t wearing a helmet.” She said Sen. Edwards sees this as “a health concern.”

“He would like everyone to wear helmets during competitive sports activities so that they can be safe and so that there is equal playing field,” added Fifield. “He even wants adults to wear helmets so that they can be positive role models for our youth.”

Sen. Chris Edwards

The text of SB 741 could have unintended consequences because it remains to be seen how broadly “organized exhibition, competition or contest” would be applied. There is no clear definition of “organized” and given the myriad of bike events in Portland, it might be a good idea to further clarify what type of events would fall under this law. For instance, would a Sprockettes performance be considered an “organized exhibition”?

The bill to raise the mandatory helmet age from 16 to 18 years of age sprang from discussions of the competition bill. Sen. Edwards felt the age of 16 in the current helmet law is “an arbitrary age” and he wanted it to be more in line with other Oregon laws that define an “adult” as being 18 years of age and thus being, “capable of making responsible decisions and handling consequences.”

“Senator Edwards wishes that everyone would use helmets regardless of their age,” stated Fifield, “but he understands that is a decision every adult must make for themselves. SB 742 is a bill that would help protect our youth and would give parents the backing, which some appreciate, to enforce helmet use.”

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance opposes both of these bills, saying they feel education is the most effective way to increase helmet use. It’s also worth noting that a 16-year old can start driving a car in Oregon. One local activist wrote on Twitter this morning, “I support raising Oregon’s mandatory helmet age from 16 to 18 if we do the same for the minimum driving age.”

Nationally, of the 23 states that have a mandatory helmet law, 19 of them apply only to people 16 years of age or under and just three of them apply to ages 18 and under. (More info on state helmet laws here.)

On a sort of related note, on Tuesday Sen. Edwards voted yes on a bill (SB 238) that allows children under seven years of age to operate a motorcycle or ATV on public lands. That bill passed 22-7.

Stay tuned for updates on these bills and check the archives for all our 2013 legislative session coverage.

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