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Prozanski puts brakes on helmet law expansion plan

Posted by on July 31st, 2008 at 8:56 pm

The Oregonian is reporting that Oregon state senator Floyd Prozanski is backing off his idea to introduce a law would have made helmets mandatory for adults.

The O’s Michelle Cole says Prozanski felt pressure to pull back due to the negative response he received. She wrote, “Prozanski also got a pounding this week from bloggers…”. Prozanski told Cole that, “Based on the information and reports I’ve gotten in the last day, I’m probably leaning away from a mandatory helmet law.”

Since news of Prozanski’s idea broke back on July 22nd, many people have expressed their opposition and the story quickly spread to media outlets across the state.

Advocacy groups like the Bicycle Transportation Alliance — who have long been opposed to mandatory helmet laws for adults — can now breathe a sigh of relief that this is one less battle they’ll have to wage in the coming legislative session.

Read The Oregonian’s story here.

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  • Keith Walker July 31, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    Wow, I hope he follows up with some car/bicycle safety initiative instead.

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  • Fritz July 31, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    I\’m on the other side of the country and yet I strangely feel relieved…

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  • Myra July 31, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    What a wimp!

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  • Scott Mizée July 31, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    very glad to hear this. thanks for letting us know.

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  • Scott Barker July 31, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Thank you Jonathan!


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  • SkidMark July 31, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    Freedom FTW!

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  • Graham August 1, 2008 at 12:39 am

    It\’s unfortunate he\’s sore about the whole experience (according to the article), because he sounds like he\’s a real friend to Oregon cyclists. Thing is though, if a friend wanted me to do something for my own good, I might expect that he would suggest it, maybe try to pursuade me, cajole me, leave informative pamphlets in conspicuous locations, maybe even strike some kind of friendly bargain. But would he enlist the aid of the cops in forcing me to do it? Not if he wanted to stay friends.

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  • David Dean August 1, 2008 at 1:49 am

    I hope everyone who sent Senator Prozanski a letter requesting that he reconsider his position will follow-up with a letter thanking him for doing so.

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  • Hillsons August 1, 2008 at 2:00 am


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  • Nick August 1, 2008 at 2:11 am

    I sent him a pretty strongly worded letter back when the story hit bikeportland, and I just sent him a thank you note for changing his mind.

    It feels good to control a politician for once.

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  • John Russell August 1, 2008 at 3:14 am

    Even living in Washington, I find this news relieving. It\’s good to know that the letter I sent him actually had some impact. It sure didn\’t work for Royce Pollard.

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  • n8m August 1, 2008 at 3:19 am

    Phew! such great news. I also sent emails and told my friends to email him. I am now sending a thank you to him. If he really cares about biking, lets hope he does something more constructive in the future – like seeking to increase bike ridership and bike infrastructure. Heres his email again for peeps who want to thank him: sen.floydprozanski@state.or.us

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  • Shane August 1, 2008 at 6:21 am

    Here\’s he email again:

    Please do write him and thank him for taking a step back on this issue (note, he did say he was \”probably leaning away\”)

    Floyd is an avid cyclist (I last rode with him on the Ride of Silence) and is a great supporter of cyclists rights, he just had to hear from folks about why this was a bad idea. The wonderful thing is he listened and will be holding a hearing in October where we can talk about the real issues of bicycle safety (education, encouragement, enforcement, engineering, etc…).

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  • Joe August 1, 2008 at 7:07 am

    Freedom!!! I will thank him in an email.

    be safe all,

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  • Jake F August 1, 2008 at 7:09 am

    Judging by the posted comments, I\’ll be in the minority here, but it makes no sense to me that there is a mandatory seatbelt law, yet no helmet law. As a cyclist and closet bike advocate, I was glad to hear there might be a helmet law in Oregon\’s future.

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  • Evan August 1, 2008 at 7:27 am

    Better driver education (and yes, better observance of traffic laws by cyclists too) would be much better than a helmet law to \”protect\” law-abiding cyclists from errant drivers.
    Thank you, Senator Prozanski, for your interest in cyclists\’ safety. But I\’d rather see some real respect for all users out on the road first.

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  • John Reinhold August 1, 2008 at 7:47 am

    Jake, maybe there should not be a mandatory seatbelt law?

    There are all kinds of things that can kill us. Laws cannot protect us from them all.

    What would be wiser would be to set a minimum safety standard for activities that must be adhered to in order to receive any sort of assistance if hurt.

    For example, If you obtain a head injury on a bicycle and are not complying with the minimum safety standard of wearing a helmet – then the state or government does not pay a penny towards medical care.

    Or some such standard.

    Or perhaps like Florida, where you can ride a motorcycle without a helmet but you must carry an extra insurance rider.

    I don\’t know the plan that would work best – but some sort of incentive to do the right thing is much more attractive than a disincentive to not do the wrong thing.

    Nanny-state laws are a bad thing.

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  • Caroline August 1, 2008 at 8:31 am

    It\’s not wimpy to listen to the majority of your constituents.

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  • Ian August 1, 2008 at 8:34 am

    No helmets required… thank god I will never be able to afford a helmet after having to pay 20 cents for a grocery bag.

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  • wsbob August 1, 2008 at 8:52 am

    \”Bicyclists who have their shorts in a bunch at the prospect of a state law forcing them to wear a helmet can settle down now.\” Michelle Cole/Oregonian

    Hey thanks for the love Michelle!

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) August 1, 2008 at 8:58 am

    \”Hey thanks for the love Michelle!\”

    yeah.. good to see someone else noticed the disrespectful/snarky/unprofessional tone of that story.

    the Oregonian never ceases to amaze/surprise me.

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  • Pete August 1, 2008 at 9:01 am

    Ian (#19): Surely you can afford a buck to buy a reusable grocery bag. Keep using plastic grocery bags and you\’ll be paying a lot more than 20 cents for anything made from oil…

    Closer to the topic of helmets, Jake F (#15) asks why there\’s a seatbelt law but no helmet law. Insurance lobbies forced auto makers to put seatbelts in to help save lives and mitigate their payouts, but it\’s much harder to enact laws that change people\’s behavior than it is to regulate equipment modifications.

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  • Ian August 1, 2008 at 9:05 am

    dam…. don\’t get your undies in a bunch… you guys must have huge wedgies right now!

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  • bahueh August 1, 2008 at 9:16 am

    I love the \”helmets are too expensive\” line…that\’s precious. Basic helmets are 20$ folks. You spent more on lunch this past week…oh, how little a brain costs most people nowadays…

    I have you to give away if anyone is wanting it…seriously.

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  • Michelle August 1, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Prozanski is indeed a great friend of bicyclists, has championed important legislation before (Vulnerable Roadway Users bill, Share-the-Road-license-plate bill, et al) and surely will again.

    He\’s a creative legislator, and sometimes being creative means coming up with ideas that don\’t make the cut. Good for him for reexamining this one.

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  • Bad Times August 1, 2008 at 9:41 am

    Helmets aren\’t too expensive. They\’re ugly, uncomfortable, annoying, irritating, and pretty useless.

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  • Cøyøte August 1, 2008 at 9:55 am

    I am impressed that Prozanski is capable of rethinking a position, that shows leadership. I have written him expressing this, and I encourage you to do the same.

    In celebration, I went out and bought a helmet this morning. I have not had one since I quit mountain biking in the late eighties. Heck, I am even going to wear it in higher risk situations; like after dark, and in the rain. Not that any of you should care, I just thought some might like to know that thoughtful insights can adjust personal views.

    Unfortunately, I do not think we are out of the woods yet on the expanded helmet law. Others, who are not friends of cycling, will likely raise the issue now to show that they are protecting those of us who are too stupid, too poor, too reckless, not to have the common sense to drive. Be vigilant.

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  • tonyt August 1, 2008 at 10:00 am


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  • Paul August 1, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Awesome news. Now we can focus on improving the cycle route network instead of discouraging people to get out and ride.

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  • RonC August 1, 2008 at 10:17 am

    Bad Times (#26), go to a store and try on several types until you find one that fits your head shape. Look for a reasonable amount of venting. I agree, helmets are not that expensive, especially compared to an extended hospital stay. And by the way, they\’re only useless until you crash and hit your head. I\’m a crash survivor speaking from experience. Broken hip, separated shoulder, bruised ribs, and helmet cracked in three places – all due to pine cone on a wet road, less than three blocks from home. (No car involved.)

    I don\’t think a law mandating helmet use is necessary. I just think it\’s irresponsible not to encourage people to use one. It can save your life, even on a short ride with no \’anticipated\’ problems. Take care, and ride safe.

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  • Pete August 1, 2008 at 10:43 am

    Bad Times (#26): \”They\’re ugly, uncomfortable, annoying, irritating, and pretty useless.\”

    So is a trach tube, though it is kinda useful for breathing after a head injury.

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  • bahueh August 1, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Bad Times..you\’ll wish you had one the second your naked head ever slams into the pavement at anything more than 15mph…
    how do you feel about drooling on yourself for the rest of your life or asking your family to feed you through a tube? what\’s your general perception on catheters?

    would you like a local tour of the ICU ward at the hospital where I work? there are currently a few TBI patients in there.. I can set one up for you…you just let me know tough guy.

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  • John August 1, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    The helmet law is a solution in need of a problem. Last year how many cyclists in Oregon died or suffered severe head injuries that could have been prevented by wearing a helmet?
    Even if you could prove that wearing a helmet incrases safety (which has not been proven. A significant number of helmet wearers don\’t wear it properly), a mandatory law is a bad idea. Studies have shown that mandatory helmet laws actually increase the rate of cycling fatalities. Such a law would also support the concept that cycling is an inherently dangerous activity and lead to a decrease in the number of cyclists on the road. And who can realistically say that the PPD will not use such a law for selective enforcement against \”undesirables\”?

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  • Thomas August 1, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    Yay! Now we can help pay the medical bills for all the under-insured folks here who receive TBIs because they won their case to keep helmets optional. I\’m so proud of all you knuckleheads. What a great day for Oregonian idiots.

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  • Torfinn August 1, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    I have insurance, why the hell should I be forced to wear a helmet?

    It\’s a great day for keeping the nanny state out of my life.

    You people want to legislate everything. Disgust me.

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  • AngelWolf August 1, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    Encourage – Great!

    Legislate – Not so great.

    I\’m all for helmet campaigns that people put out every now and again. A program called \”Trauma Nurses Talk Tough\” puts on exhibits and makes helmets for all sorts of sports including bicycling, skateboarding, and horseback riding available for very little money; basically wholesale, just enough to buy another round of helmets.

    But they don\’t mandate or legislate people\’s behavior; they encourage, cajole, scold, joke, and demonstrate to people why they should wear a helmet.

    I work in an ER, and I\’ve seen just as many bicycle fatalities with helmets as without when it comes to car v bike collisions. The times I see helmets really working well is bike v nothing, bike v ped and bike v bike collisions.

    Wear it, don\’t wear it, do you research and decide for yourself. The government shouldn\’t mandate it for us.

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  • Bad Times August 1, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    I don\’t believe helmets actually make you safer. I believe that they make you think you\’re safer, but in serious situations I don\’t believe the materials used to construct helmets are much protection at all.

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  • Opus the Poet August 1, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    I believe in wearing a helmet, I wear one every time I ride. I don\’t believe in a mandatory helmet law, for one thing because I live in TX and insulating your head like that can be dangerous when the outside temps are above 98 degrees. You feel pretty stupid when you crash because you passed out from the heat… The other reason I don\’t think helmets should be mandatory is a quote from Yehuda Moon, \”It\’s a car problem, why try to fix it by wearing a styrofoam hat?\” Another quote I like was \”Helmet laws are like preventing rapes by requiring every woman to wear a styrofoam chastity belt, uncomfortable and ultimately useless.\”

    Helmets can reduce the severity of head injury in some cases when worn properly and impacted in their protective zone. I was wearing a helmet when I was hit back in 2001 that probably saved my life, but I still had a closed head injury, and had to have parts of my face sewn back on (which is a bear, BTW, and itches like an ant farm under the skin). I did not escape brain damage either, but it wasn\’t detected until I went from being a top-rated CSR to just another warm body behind a phone after the wreck.

    I\’m also against mandatory seat belt laws, for one reason because the laws were passed under false pretenses. When seat belt laws were first pushed by the Feds their line was if we can get 75% of the states to make wearing seat belts mandatory we won\’t require automatic restraints (air bags). Well shortly after the 75% mark was reached the Feds made automatic restraint systems mandatory, and 5 years later made only air bags capable of passing their tests by changing the tests so that all other systems in existence at the time could not pass.

    Besides, do you know what the design speed of impact is for bicycle helmets? 12 MPH.

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  • Bill Cameron August 1, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Never underestimate the political power of the hissy fit.

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  • velo August 2, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    I\’m glad to hear this, it\’s not the right solution to the problem. The potential use by police of this sort of law to harass minorities and lower income folks is huge and an seriously injurious side effect. Hopefully the energy that might have been directed into this law is instead put into voluntary helmet and driver safety initiatives.

    We\’ve got a lot of work to do on safety issues and I am glad that this fight won\’t be distracting us in the near term. I wear a helmet every time I ride and encourage others to do the same, stack the odds in your favor.

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  • Val August 2, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Floyd Prozanski is one of the strongest advocates for cycling in the Oregon state legislature. He not only talks the talk but he walks (bikes?) the walk by putting thousands of miles a year on his Colnago road bike and commuting by bike whenever possible.

    Although there may be people who disagree with him on the manditory helmet law (myself included), it would be completely unfair to charictarize him as anything other than a great friend to cyclists. I am not suprised that Sen. Prozanski has reconsidered his position after hearing the strong opposition from the community. He has always been extremely thoughtful and dilligent in how he represents our district and our state.

    Sen. Prozanski knew both of the last two cyclists that died here in Eugene in car/bike accidents, one of whom might still be with us had he been wearing a helmet. This is an issue that is very personal for Sen. Prozanski and many of us in the Lane County cycling community. Although we may disagree on the method, I completely support Floyd in wanting to get more cyclists to wear helmets and appreciate all of his efforts on behalf of bicycle transportation since he has been in office.

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  • wsbob August 3, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    After having made the announcement of his intentions to work for a mandatory bike helmet use law for adults, Senator Floyd Prozanski never followed it up by offering clear and compelling reasons for why he felt a mandatory bike use helmet was needed.

    That a senator acts to implement a law based only on the fact that two of his personal friends were fatally injured in bike related collisions doesn\’t to me, seem to make a compelling argument for a mandatory bike helmet law for adults.

    I appreciate that Senator Floyd Prozanki is a democrat and a strong advocate for cycling. Questioning his move to implement a mandatory bike helmet law for adults doesn\’t imply that his advocacy for cycling is being questioned. I would just hope his efforts in future are better directed towards the development and implementation of good law based on solidly demonstrated need.

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  • Duncan August 4, 2008 at 7:26 am

    what I wrote the senator:

    \”I think first and foremost that the nature of driving education needs to be changed- That stressing the responsibility of drivers to see and give room to bikes would be a great move on the part of the DMV. This could be an administrative process rather than a legislative one, requiring much less energy. Include bike related questions on the drivers test, road test, in Drivers Ed classes. Over and over again the people who have cut me off have stated when I asked them (politely) that they were unaware that I had a right to be on the road, to be in the center lane when the right lane was a turn lane/etc.

    I also think that the treatment of drunk/reckless and license-less drivers need to change. In New York (my home in the 80s) a person without a DL who was stopped would be arrested, taken to jail, their car impounded and they would face the very real possibility of jail time if they had more than one offense. By contrast, the license-less, negligent, reckless driver who hit a biker who threw him 138-feet was cited and released http://bikeportland.org/2008/07/31/man-on-a-bike-hit-from-behind-on-se-stark/. Yes it is great that the bike rider was wearing a helmet, and yes it saved his life most likely- but looking at the other injuries he sustained, it is going to be a very big deal for a long time to come- and because the driver had no insurance- the bicyclists ability to get the kind of long term Physical therapy he needs is dependent on his own insurance. Wouldn\’t it have been better if the driver of the car had chosen not to drive out of fear of going to jail? I really believe that it is time that we begin to enforce the existing laws, and that we remove dangerous drives from the roads.

    I likewise would whole-heartedly support a law that mandated long sentences for Habitual Violators of drunk driving laws. Many people may make a poor choice once and re-align their choices after facing a DUI charge, but after the first time through the system, anyone who repeats the mistake must be taken out from behind the wheel. When I was traveling in Canada I learned that DUI was a felony and that sentences were stiff- and thus being at some very serious parties I never saw people drive away drunk. Maybe thats says to much about my past, but my 20\’s were indeed a grand time.

    In the same vein I would like to see any injury done to another while operating a motor vehicle illegally classified as vehicular assault- and any death classified as vehicular homicide.

    I also think that schools should offer safe biking classes at an early age, thus building a future generation of safe bikers. You could even hand out free helmets and offer fitting help so that they were being used correctly.

    Thank you for taking the time to read my letter senator, and thank you for all your past and future efforts on behalf of cyclists. Even though many of us disagree on the helmet issue, I know that your heart is in the right place and I am thankful that someone in your position is thinking of how to make the roads safer.\”

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  • Ben August 4, 2008 at 7:31 am

    \”maybe there should not be a mandatory seatbelt law?\”

    Please don\’t push that line of argument any further. At least, not until you\’ve scraped a few buckets of human lips and face and intestines off of windshields and steering columns and decided that you\’re just fine with it.

    I agree that a mandatory helmet law is treating the symptoms and NOT the disease — which is the lack of attention drivers pay to smaller-profile fellow road users. But I\’ll bet that next year the same 700 or so riders will die, and the year after that and the year after that… until the # of bike riders increases so much that careless drivers can\’t ignore us any more. Because you can be sure that until a majority of drivers are also riders or have friends and family who are riders, they\’re still gonna be left crossing, right hooking and dooring us. The law isn\’t gonna change to protect us anytime soon.

    So I wouldn\’t be unhappy to see secondary prevention measures taken. Thanks Senator P, for trying to take a small step towards saving lives. Please ignore the colorful language you received in some of your email responses from the \”keep your laws off my wind-blown-hair\” crowd.

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  • Myra August 4, 2008 at 8:40 am

    ***Commented deleted for inappropriate content****

    [Editor: Myra. Jokes about death and injury will not be tolerated on this site. If you have a point to make, please use tact and intelligence to make it. Thanks. — Jonathan Maus]

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  • Keith August 4, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Thanks for monitoring Jonathan. It must have been pretty ugly because deleting comments are pretty rare in this forum. I have noticed the OP likes to do hit and run
    comments hoping you\’ll go chase it back to its blog, and never following up in this forum.

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