New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been campaigning recently to promote new legislation that would set forth a legal framework for riders of e-scooters and e-bikes within the Empire State. In short, Cuomo looks to pass regulations that would provide clear rules for those that choose more sustainable methods of transportation than heavily polluting cars. Among these regulations is one that clearly states these riders must wear helmets when mobile, a solution that Cuomo alluded to helping everyone who frequents New York's crowded roadways. But when Streetsblog NYC asked if Cuomo might consider a seemingly outlandish safety measure—helmets for motorists and their passengers—the governor didn't shrug off the suggestion; instead, he called for data to support the claim.
Cuomo called the current state of these transportation methods a "legal vacuum" and addressed the need to officially mandate safety measures. This would ensure that casual riders and delivery drivers alike are protected from "arbitrary enforcement" as they navigate the busy streets of the five boroughs.
"We need an alternative to automobiles driving in New York City," said Cuomo. "The volume is paralyzing, the cost is prohibitive and it is environmentally destructive. New transportation technologies like e-bikes and e-scooters pose exciting potential as a sustainable alternative to vehicles, but we need clear laws and regulations that put the safety of riders and pedestrians first."
The regulation would legalize the use of many types of electrified bikes, including those with electric pedal assist and throttle control. It also separates bikes into three numbered classes, the fastest of which (Class III) is capped at 25 miles per hour and would require riders to wear helmets, something which commercial cyclists are already required to wear by law. When later questioned about why the helmet mandate didn't extend to all bike riders, Cuomo insisted that it's based on speed.
A report from Streetsblog followed up that question with a more interesting conundrum: would Cuomo support legislation mandating helmet use by car drivers?
"I'm thinking," replied Cuomo.
After a long pause, he continued: “I don’t know enough. I’d like to see the data.”
The outlet suggested this measure as 650 people were killed inside cars and trucks last year while traveling through New York. The majority of these, as studies have shown, can be cited to head trauma.
In 2019, New York City alone experienced 218 traffic deaths, of which 121 were pedestrians and 28 were cyclists. Studies by the Center for Disease Control show traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of traumatic brain injuries in the United States, making up at least one-quarter of all cases. The statistics do not differentiate between in-vehicle and out-of-vehicle accidents.
The safety designed to protect the driver and passengers of a vehicle is significantly more refined than it was 30 years ago. In fact, to combat the sub-par safety standards in the 1980s, an Australian company actually designed and marketed helmets to be worn while driving. But with the addition of modern technology designed specifically for vehicle occupant safety, this product seems a bit outdated—not to mention the issue of fitting into a low-clearance vehicle with an extra few inches of padded material atop your skull.
It's not clear if Cuomo will take any action on these statistics, though it can seem perplexing from an outside perspective to see the governor even considering helmet mandates for car passengers. Realistically, it's difficult to see any legal standing behind the mandate.
“We’re glad that the state is working to provide clarity on this complex, regulatory matter," a city hall spokesperson told Streetsblog."Our top priority is the safety of everyone on our roads, and we are reviewing this legislation to determine our next steps.”
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