Dallas doesn’t need a bicycle helmet law

bike rider
Photo by Danny Fulgencio

As a vehicular cyclist in Dallas, I say a lot of Hail Mary’s. Thankfully, knock wood, praise the Lord, I’ve never been injured more seriously than a sprained wrist, which was my own fault.

But I have been brushed by a DART van, hit by an AT&T van (all it did was leave a me-sized dent in the guy’s quarter panel) and knocked over by a witless Chevy Suburban driver passing on the right. Not to mention the many times I’ve plumb fallen over onto the hot pavement because I am kind of a ding-dong. Ask anyone who rides a bike a lot, and they’ll have at least that many tales of near misses and sometimes more serious automobile-versus-bike accidents (spoiler: the car always wins).

After my friend was seriously injured three years ago when a car hit him from behind on the Jefferson Viaduct, I’ve never not worn a helmet on my bike. And occasionally, people who prefer to keep all their hairs in place rather than protect their beans acknowledge this to me sheepishly, like they feel the need to apologize for it. So I give them my friend’s line, “Hey, they’re your eggs. If you wanna scramble ’em, be my guest.”

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The truth is, you should wear a helmet when you ride your bike. Do you know it is still legal to text while driving in Dallas? Please, wear a helmet when you ride your bike.

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Even though wearing a helmet could save your precious eggs from injury or worse, the city of Dallas should not require helmets for bike riders. This has become an issue recently because our city’s helmet laws make bike-sharing programs, which even Fort Worth has, too expensive to implement here.

Mandatory bicycle helmet laws can reduce fatalities, but they also have the effect of reducing ridership, which could account for the lower number of fatalities.

When Dallas passed the helmet ordinance in 1996, many other Texas cities, including Austin and Houston, were passing similar ordinances because the state had relaxed laws requiring helmets for bike riders. Dallas is the only city in Texas that still requires them for adults.

Ron Kirk, who was mayor of Dallas in 1996, was against the ordinance, telling City Council, according to the Dallas Morning News: “I cannot support this. I just don’t believe we can legislate this, and I just don’t know how we would enforce something that makes a 6-year-old who doesn’t wear a helmet a criminal.”

I will even go out on a limb here and say that we don’t need a bicycle helmet law for children. Putting a helmet on your kid is a very good idea, and I strongly recommend it. It’s a practice that I believe should be part of our bicycling culture, especially on the road ragey streets of Dallas.

The real danger in riding a bike is not the bike, it is cars.

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If we want to reduce bicycle injuries in Dallas, we should start with a ban on text messaging while driving. If nothing else, that could give my guardian angels a break.

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  • schrodie

    …except for those who are far too poor to afford it. I mean the 1.2 million Texans who do not earn enough to qualify for an Obamacare subsidy (yes, that IS possible– Google it and see for yourself), and at the same time do not qualify for Medicaid, since Texas didn’t expand its coverage. Google the term ‘Obamacare/ACA coverage gap’ to see how many Americans fall outside the ‘umbrella’. Many of those folks who can’t afford insurance also can’t afford a car, so they ride bikes. Absolutely, a ‘lid’ is a must, but as with most ‘must-have’ laws, the effect is hardest on the poor, and they get ‘punished’ more often and more severely than the ones who are better off financially.

  • Andrew Hudson

    I ride motorcycles. Not a “biker” a motorcyclist. I have watched the growth of bicycling in recent years and am amazed at how this dialog has progressed.
    Every time I ride I wear a DOT approved, full-faced helmet, gloves, jacket with protective armour, long pants and shoes that cover the ankles per my instruction in the Motorcycle Safety Course. I feel way too vulnerable to do otherwise, not because of me but because of the mass of clueless people who drive cars irresponsibly!
    I am shocked to see people riding grossly underpowered, uninspected, unlicensed vehicles with totally inadequate safety gear! I have been told that bicycle riders simply want the respect that others sharing the road seemingly have.
    I watch bicyclist break driving laws on a regular basis, with police in plain view and have never seen an officer issue a citation! Recently I witnessed 7 bicyclists run the traffic lite @ Colorado and Beckley… what gives people the impression that they should be able to ignore traffic laws while demanding equivalent traffic rights?
    I would suggest that ALL vehicles on the road have annual inspections, drivers licences and registration like every other vehicle on the road! Any vehicle on the road should be required to follow all traffic laws and perhaps then some of the others on the road might begin gaining respect for bicycle riders, when they are held accountable like the rest of traffic!
    BTW, cycling of any kind is dangerous because it is easier to get a drivers license than a concealed weapon carry permit even though more people are killed or injured in traffic than by firearms!

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  • Mike Dunlap

    While I’m glad to see an article advocating for the removal of this idiotic anti-cycling law, your article makes it sound as if cycling is a dangerous thing. It isn’t.

  • Mike Dunlap

    You support the same for car passengers, right?

    http://www.howiechong.com/journal/2014/2/bike-helmets

  • Mike Dunlap

    For the sake of statistical consistency, I’m sure you support requiring helmets for car drivers and passengers as well, right? Far more head injuries come from riding in cars than come from riding bikes.

  • Guest

    I get that not everyone wants to wear a helmet – who wants to haul it around everywhere or have helmet hair? Not everyone wants to wear a seatbelt, yet we require it for our safety and well-being. Helmet laws weren’t put into place to turn 6-year-old kids into “criminals,” they were put into place to help prevent serious injury. And if this law is under scrutiny because it’s a challenge to start bike-sharing programs, then that’s sorry as hell.

    You say that helmet laws cause reduced ridership, but correlation does not equal causation. Phenomena occurring simultaneously contribute to reduced ridership, and that impacts research data: improved public transportation, decreased interest in bike-riding due to video games/iPads/and other trends (mostly speaking for the kids here), feeling unsafe riding in high-traffic areas, etc. So it’s inaccurate to say that reduced ridership is due to helmet laws. Don’t twist research findings to sway people. You’re also not pointing out the fact that Dallas ridership has actually increased in the past several years, in spite of this ordinance.

    I think that there are other creative ways to increase ridership that don’t compromise safety or give people the excuse/idea/impression that helmets aren’t needed. Unlike Austin, Dallas roads aren’t at the point where it’s safe for riders without helmets, nor is this city philosophically ready for riders without helmets.

  • Rachel Stone

    Well now everyone is supposed to have health insurance anyway

  • Bob Dobbins

    I think it should be like auto insurance. If you can prove you are financially responsible for the scrambling, you can skip the helmet. If Parkland is your health insurance, wear yer helmet. You can buy safety-certified helmets for 3.95.

  • Phillip Morales

    THANK YOU Rachel! You’re insightful article has mirrored what I’ve been arguing with friends and biking enthusiasts for years now! Ridership in most urban cities goes down by 60% when a bike helmet law is enacted in that city. I agree that wearing a helmet is a smart thing to do but it should not be a law. I’m looking forward to some kind of initiative that will bring about the end of this ridiculous law because I will sign up to help.