California Bill Makes Helmets Optional for Off-Road Vehicles

Adults could be helmet-free when driving certain recreational off-highway vehicles under a bill that passed the Assembly on Friday despite opposition from public health groups and the industry trade association.

AB1835 by Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, heads to the Senate after narrowly passing on a 43-21 vote, just above the threshold for approval in the 80-member chamber.

She said existing state law treats recreational off-highway vehicles as if they were motorcycles. Instead, she said they are more like golf carts for outdoor enthusiasts.

Olsen said the existing law is an example of ``unnecessary nanny government policies.''

``People should be allowed to determine for themselves when a helmet is suitable for their driving style and conditions -- not the State -- especially when no data or studies have shown ROV drivers to be any less safe without a helmet,'' she said in a statement after the vote.

The Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association, however, cites a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission statistics showing that failure to wear a helmet was thought to be a contributing factor in more than half of injuries and deaths involving such vehicles. The group opposes the bill. On its website, the association lists helmet use among its top safety rules.

Democratic Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal of Long Beach opposed the bill, saying helmets save lives.

A recreational off-highway vehicle is defined as one meant for non-paved roads with a steering wheel and non-straddle seating with a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour. Unlike dune buggies or all-terrain vehicles, they are closer to normal cars with a cabin contained with protective rails, seatbelts and room for multiple passengers.

The California Medical Association said rollover safety measures aren't enough to prevent passenger ejections, which happened in 70 percent of ROV crashes.

California requires helmets for all motorcycle riders and children riding bicycles. A bill to require helmets for children who ski and snowboard was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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