Updated: Eugene senator will look to expand Oregon’s bike helmet law

[Updated 7/24, 5:40pm: *See below]

Sen. Floyd Prozanski wants
to expand Oregon’s helmet law.
(Photo © J. Maus)

State senator Floyd Prozanski (D-South Lane and North Douglas Counties) plans to introduce an expansion of Oregon’s bicycle helmet law in the 2009 legislative session.

Prozanski told me via telephone this morning that he plans to make Oregon’s current helmet law — ORS 815.485, which only applies to people under 16 years old — apply to everyone who rides a bike.

Pointing out his strong record of support for bike-related legislation, Prozanski says “a combination of things” have led him to this decision.

The man involved in Eugene’s most recent bicycle fatality did not have a helmet on, although Prozanski says “it’s questionable” if the helmet would have made a difference. Prozanski also said he’s read and heard about fatal crashes in Portland where the rider was not wearing a helmet.

Reflecting on his desire for this law, Prozanski said, “I guess maybe as I get older, I feel there are certain things we can do that enhance safety but at the same time not be over-burdening.” He also said that he expects broad public support for the law, much like Oregonians supported a mandatory helmet law (as a citizen initiative) for motorcycle riders back in the ’80s.

“Based on that,” he said, “I’d be surprised if the general public would disagree with that same concept for all cyclists.”

Prozanski said his idea has the support of Cycle Oregon and that he’d also consider expanding programs that would help distribute helmets to people unable to acquire one and/or approaching helmet manufacturers for assistance.

This effort by Prozanski will set up an interesting conversation with Oregon’s largest bicycle advocacy group, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance.

The BTA has worked closely with Prozanski to pass bike-friendly legislation (most recently a rural safe passing law), but they do not favor mandatory helmet laws. In February, they drafted a letter advising Vancouver lawmakers to re-think their positions on the issue saying, “we are not confident that passing a mandatory helmet law makes bicyclists, as a group, any safer… We fear this law will reduce the number of adults and children riding bikes in Vancouver.”

Oregon’s current helmet law requires all persons under the age of 16 to wear a helmet while riding on public right-of-ways. The fine for riding without a helmet is $25.

Back in February, the City of Vancouver Washington passed an all-ages helmet law by a nearly unanimous vote.

[*UPDATE: The Cycle Oregon Board of Directors does not support this law proposal. I initially wrote that they supported it because I heard that from Sen. Prozanski. However, I did not take the time to double-check that position and I have since learned they do not support an all-ages helmet law. Sorry for any confusion and I regret the error.]

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