SUNSET PARK — Peter Steinberg, founder of the Santa Monica-based Steinberg & Spencer Injury Lawyers firm, was test riding a new road bike in 2008 when a pedal struck the pavement in the middle of a right turn. An ambulance rushed him away after he suffered a head injury from his fall.
At the time of his accident Steinberg wasn’t wearing a helmet. Now, not only does he always properly wear one when cycling, but he also wants to ensure all other cyclists follow suit.
On July 27 at the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce’s annual Well-Being Festival, Steinberg and his associates will be handing out about 200 free bicycle safety kits that include a helmet, a water bottle and a booklet Steinberg wrote on safe riding and what to do in the case of an accident, all of which are stored in a backpack.
Beyond the event, Steinberg said he hopes to be able to hand out more of these kits all across town as his personal project to reduce what he considers to be a large number of cyclists riding without helmets.
In California only minors under the age of 18 are required by law to wear a helmet when riding a bike. That said, the Think First National Injury Prevention Foundation reports that 85 to 88 percent of critical head and brain injuries can be prevented through the use of a bicycle helmet. Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently reported that 677 cyclists were killed and an additional 48,000 were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes nationwide in 2011.
Cynthia Rose, director of the bicycle coalition Santa Monica Spoke, said that about half of bicycle collisions tend to only involve the cyclists falling over when trying to turn or riding on hazardous roads. Such cases are what prompted her to wear a helmet.
“I don’t want a simple fall to leave me with a life-threatening injury,” Rose said.
Given the safety they provide, Steinberg advocates for mandatory helmet use laws for all cyclists, adding that wearing one is as essential as wearing a seatbelt while driving.
“It will save a lot of people from serious injuries,” Steinberg said.
While Rose and her organization encourage helmet use among cyclists, she said that mandatory laws would hurt the cycling community in the long run.
“Mandatory helmet laws tend to discourage people from riding,” Rose said.
Studies have found that an increased number of cyclists would decrease the number of bicycle collisions due to the greater visibility of cyclists on behalf of all parties who use roads, Rose explained.
Andrea Zeppilli, assistant manager of the Santa Monica Bike Center at Second Street and Colorado Avenue, said she discourages mandatory helmet use laws because adults should be able to keep themselves safe at their own discretion.
Nevertheless, while the center encourages bike helmet use by including them in the rental prices, there are some adult cyclists who opt to not wear one — the most common reason being they would look “dorky,” Zeppilli said.
“I don’t feel like I look dorky when I wear a helmet, I feel I’d rather be safe,” Zeppilli said. “Is it dorky when you have a concussion?”
Beyond safety considerations, there are monetary and legal ramifications when choosing not to wear a helmet.
The Think First national foundation reports that each year the direct cost of bicycle injuries is about $81 million, while the indirect cost is approximately $2.3 billion — many of these injuries are preventable or minimized with helmet use.
In legal cases, while it is not black and white, Steinberg said that if the defense mentions a cyclist was not wearing a helmet in an accident the jurors may frown upon such a decision and take it into consideration.
Though mandatory helmet use laws are still a contentious issue within the cycling community, Rose said that she encourages helmet use and advocates for more education for both cyclists and motorists on the rules of the road and personal safety measures — much like the recent efforts of Metro to provide up to 120 free bicycle traffic skills classes for Angelenos.
For more information about the Well-Being Festival where Steinberg will be handing out his safety kits and demonstrating how to properly adjust a bicycle helmet, visit www.smchamber.com/healthandfitness.