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Bike Helmet Bill

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Background

This is one of the stories I did as a statehouse correspondent for The Bulletin, the daily newspaper in Bend, Oregon during Oregon’s 1993 Legislative Session. One interesting character who appears here is State Sen. Wes Cooley. In 1994, a year after this story was published, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Not long after, several newspapers began to dig into his claims in the state voters pamphlet that he served with a US Army special forces unit in Korea. It was later revealed that during the time he said he was in the special forces, he was in truth, in a military hospital being treated for a bad case of athlete’s foot. He didn’t last long in the US House, and decided not to seek re-election in 1996. In 1997 he was indicted by an Oregon grand jury for lying in the voter’s pamphlet, and after a plea deal paid a fine and served probation. Later he was photographed giving the finger to a group of environmentalists in Washington, and the photo wound up on the front page of The Oregonian. In 2009 a federal grand jury indicted him for money-laundering and filing false tax forms. Nice guy.

Bicycle-helmet bill has friends, foes

By Arik Hesseldahl
For The Bulletin
May 03, 1993

SALEM—Bicyclists are next on the list for mandatory safety equipment in the state of Oregon.

A bill introduced in the Senate April 27 would make bicycle helmets mandatory for all riders, subject to a fine ranging from $25 to $50.

Sen. Ron Cease, D-Portland, introduced Senate Bill 1080 at a press conference in which he and Sen. Wes Cooley, R-Powell Butte, both wore their own helmets.

Cease said that 1,165 people were seriously injured in bicycle accidents during 1991, and that 10 people died. Eighty-five percent of head injuries received in bicycle accidents could have been prevented by helmets, he said.

Several doctors support the bill. Portland pediatrician Kathleen Masarie told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that “we need to vaccinate every Oregonian with a bike-helmet habit.”

The bill also would make it illegal to rent bicycles without providing protective headgear.

Susan Bonacker, co-owner of Bend’s Sunnyside Sports, which rents bicycles for recreational use, says that the shop does not allow customers renting bicycles to leave without a helmet. She said, however, that helmet use “should not be legislated.”

“We feel very strongly about helmet use, but that making them mandatory would be counterproductive to encouraging bicycles as an alternate mode of transportation,” she said.

Bonacker also is a member of the Deschutes County Bicycle Advisory Board. She said the board is “steering clear” of a position on the bill, though most members support the use of helmets, but not necessarily a law to require them. The board is working on ways to encourage bicycle use as an alternate mode of transportation in the Bend area.

Some opponents to the bill have said that a mandatory helmet law gives the state an excuse to ignore the need of improved traffic conditions for safe bicycle use, and that it sends a message that they are generally unsafe.

Rex Bruckholder, a member of the state Bicycle Advisory Committee, part of the Oregon Department of Transportation, opposes the bill.

“The safety issues involved are better addressed though improved facility design and education,” he said.

Bruckholder told the Senate Committee about an incident in which a bicycle rider lost control on a road’s gravel shoulder and was hit by a car. He said that if the shoulder had been paved, the accident would not have happened.

“Helmets may reduce the injury rate, but not the accident rate,” he said. One local supporter of the bill says it’s a simple issue of health and safety.

Sally Russell, a consultant for the Cascade Cycling Classic, said she thinks a law would encourage children to wear helmets.

“There are studies that have been done at elementary schools where children have said that they don’t wear helmets because it isn’t cool. I think there’s a lot of peer pressure involved and a law might help them get over that hump,” she said.

Russell disagrees with the idea that mandatory helmets would discourage bicycles as an alternate mode of transportation.

“As much as people say its a barrier, I just can’t believe in the long run that it will be that great of a barrier that we wouldn’t gain for people’s health and safety,” she said.

Cooley, a former professional motorcycle racer, said that although he generally opposes government laws that intrude into personal decisions, “sometimes the government has to take responsibility and initiative” to protect citizens, especially children.

Cooley and Cease seemed unsure of the bill’s chances of passage in the Senate.

According to Cease, the first citation could be avoided by proof of owning a helmet. Parents would be liable for their children.

“We’re not trying to be punitive; we want people to wear their helmets,” Cease said.

Rep. Lisa Naito, D-Portland, has introduced a similar bill in the House, but said that it has little chance of getting a committee hearing, let alone passage.

Written by ahess247

June 28th, 2009 at 5:45 pm

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