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The Writings on the Stall

Tuesday, 2006-08-22

my letter to the austin city council on the helmet ordinance

Council Members,

I commute to work on my bicycle every day. Although my current workplace is only around three miles from my apartment in central Austin, my last job was over twenty miles away in north Austin. I biked to that job every day as well; and I will commute by bike wherever else my employment takes me in the future.

I always wear my helmet when biking, but I do not support a mandatory helmet law. My fiancée doesn't commute to work by bike, but she is willing to ride with me around the neighborhood. Even though I'd like her to wear a helmet at all times, she refuses to — even though she owns one. You may ask why I don't support a helmet law, then? It's quite simple, really: I'd much rather have her bike some than not bike at all. (She has told me that if she were forced to wear a helmet, she wouldn't bike. Period.)

As a transportation cyclist, I understand the reasons people choose not to wear a helmet. It's cumbersome to carry a helmet around all day. Helmets are uncomfortable, especially in the Texas heat. And it may seem superficial, but based on my appearance at meetings at work in the morning, I know that helmet-head is more than just a minor annoyance.

In addition to the above-mentioned inconveniences, helmets are not a magical solution for safety. But they are treated by many as such. In other words, safety on the road requires more than a piece of foam on our heads.

Research shows that helmet usage is up — without an adult helmet law on the books. Why add an additional hindrance to cycling, then, for those who choose to ride without a helmet for personal reasons? If we want biking to become safe in this city, we need to invest in solutions which make biking a more viable option, such as improved infrastructure and education/awareness. Not on a helmet law that no cycling organization in Austin has yet to support.

Jonathan Horak


2006-08-23 17:05 / Karl-T:

Great letter Jonathan. I wish I could be at the session tomorrow but I'm going home to Fredericksburg. Nothing would give me more pleasure than sitting there hot and sweaty after riding down to city hall with helmet in tow and a horrible hairdo to give them an earful.

2006-08-23 17:21 / Jonathan Horak:

Glad to read you liked my letter, Karl-T. I intend to do exactly as you mentioned tomorrow.

Although I might also don a T-shirt that says: "I bike with a helmet and don't support a helmet ordinance." (If you can think of something similar but shorter/catchier, let me know.)

2006-08-23 18:54 / paul:

I propose a helmet law for walkers on public streets. I'll be willing to bet that hundreds of deaths and serious head injuries occur each year around the nation when people fall while walking. If such a law can save one life, it'll be worth it. :-)

2006-08-31 02:09 / Seth Johnson:


Great letter to the city council. It expresses my thoughts on this topic perfectly.

It really bugs me that the Statesman and other media outlets have characterized opposition to the law being motivated by 'freedom'. I didn't hear anyone at the City Council meeting talking about freedom to go helmetless. We were all saying this helmet law was an avoidance of the real problem -- streets unsafe for bicyclists.


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