Should bicycling adults wear helmets?

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Should these Guardian models have been wearing helmets?
AYANA IVERY AND CIELLE TAAFFE GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MATT REAMER

Did you pedal today, on Bike to Work Day? And if so, did you wear a helmet? I biked without a helmet, and in the eyes of some, that makes me reckless and irresponsible. Similarly, they say the Guardian has done a disservice to the community by featuring photos of cyclists-sans-helmets in our current issue, a criticism we also received about our Bike Issue last year. It's an interesting enough debate that I thought I'd move it from the comments section on my latest story up into its own blog post.

“Helmets save lives. I was amazed to go through the entire issue and not see one helmet on your biker models. Please mention this in your paper,” Jim A wrote in our comments section. And when I responded that it was a personal decision for adults (children are required by law to wear them), another commenter wrote, “So isn't requiring bicyclists to wear helmets something that would benefit all of us in terms of preventing injuries we all pay for (not to mention emergency room costs and police reports, ambulances etc) -- and therefore much more than a 'personal decision?'”

It's certainly true that helmets make cyclists safer and that's why most cyclists in San Francisco wear them, but there is a significant minority who regularly ride without head protection, for reasons ranging from a simple preference to philosophical opposition to the notion that cycling is dangerous enough to require armor. The best way to make cyclists safe is to prevent them from crashing, and that means wide, hazard-free bike lanes and awareness by motorists of cyclists and our right to share the road.

“It's an extremely fraught and charged issue. People have very strong views on both sides,” says Andy Thornley, program director with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. The SFBC does bike safety and urban cycling classes, which include instruction on properly fitting one's helmet, but they stop short of exhorting everyone to wear them.

In fact, Thornley is among those who rarely wears a helmet. “On balance, you're going to be a little safer riding with a helmet,” he told me.”But I choose not to for my own personal reasons.”

Context is important here. The most recent federal statistics on bicyclist accidents shows there were 716 bicyclists killed on roadways in the U.S. in 2008, or about 2 percent of all traffic fatalities. Certainly, helmets might have prevented some of those deaths, but from public health or statistical perspectives, this is a pretty low number.

By contrast, there were 4,378 pedestrians killed in traffic that year, but nobody is suggesting they should wear helmets, even though it's likely helmets would have saved many of their lives. So this is about how much risk adults are willing to accept, and Thornley argues that if you're safely cycling at the typically leisurely pace that most people ride at in cities, you're unlikely to ever need your helmet.

“We want bicycling to be something that everyone can do without special clothing or gear or feeling the need to wear armor on their heads,” Thornley said.

He notes that in the most bike-friendly cities in the world, such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen, helmets are rare because riding a bike is widely seen as a safe, everyday activity. It would be a bit like pedestrians strapping on a helmet to cross the street, something most would interpret as slightly paranoid overkill.

Yet Thornley also admits that he's perhaps a little ahead of his time for San Francisco, a city with few separated bike lanes or other features that would make cycling safer. But that's starting to change, particularly on a day like today when there are so many cyclists the road, something that studies show makes them safer because motorists are more aware of them and drive more carefully.

Personally, I wear a helmet when I go mountain biking, when it's raining, when I go for long recreational rides, sometimes when I'm wearing headphones, or if I'm just feeling unlucky or not on my game – but most of the time, I don't. And I resent the condescending criticism that I'm being irresponsible or that I somehow deserve to be injured.

But what do you think?

P.S. BTW, those federal statistics also show that about a quarter of the bicyclists who were killed were legally drunk at the time, something to keep in mind if you hit any of the BTWD evening afterparties, including the SFBC event at Rickshaw Stop, the Rock the Bike event at the Academy of Sciences, or the Timbuk2 party at their 583 Shotwell Street headquarters. Come think of it, perhaps I should swing by my apartment on the way and grab my helmet.

Comments

I am opposed to being told to wear a helmet on a bike or motor bike, I am also opposed to being told not to drink a beer while walking down the street, wear a seat belt, being told to not use Plastic at the store, not being able to buy cigarettes at CVS the list goes on. I am capable of sorting though the data and making my own informed decisions.

But it seems like our public officials like to make laws (if they didn't come up with this stuff they wouldn't have a job). So why not make it mandatory to wear a helmet, it will give our law makers something to do, and give you something to complain about.

By the way the context of those numbers is not helpful, I would think there are allot more pedestrians in US than cyclists but I do not know. Maybe put the number of dead per mile or some other context, we may or may not find it is more dangerous to cycle. Who knows? but just listing a number means nothing (apart from to the poor families who lost someone)

Posted by Chris Pratt on May. 13, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

Unfortunately, helmet laws can have the opposite effect. Some research is out that suggests, in addition to infrastructure (lanes, etc), the best thing to help cyclist be safer is just more cyclists. When more of us are out there, drivers become more aware of cyclists, drive more safely, and cause few accidents.

However, it's also been shown in some studies that helmet laws have a noticeable negative impact on ridership. For some reason, a helmet law discourages people from biking. Maybe because they don't like being told what to do? Maybe because it makes riding seem dangerous? Whatever the reason, people stop riding and cycling becomes more dangerous.

So the net effect of helmet laws looks like it a net negative for safety, cause more injuries and fatalities because it takes bike riders off the road. Instead of scaring people with mandatory helmet laws, we should teach drivers to share the road, create bike lanes, and encourage everyone to ride their bikes. That's the safest thing we can do.

Posted by Aaron on May. 14, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

"Maybe put the number of dead per mile or some other context, we may or may not find it is more dangerous to cycle. "

These numbers are estimated and compiled by the federal government annually. Incidents and fatalities are measured against estimated miles and hours traveled for pedestrian, cycling, bus, train, plane and motor vehicle traffic. Cycling is more dangerous than walking, but not by an alarming rate. With or without a helmet, cycling is still safer than riding in a motor vehicle. Bus travel is safer than walking, for whatever that is worth.

The statistical effectiveness rate of bicycle helmets minimizing serious or fatal head traumas for adults is about 20% (babies and toddlers the rate is about 85%, and that rate goes down significantly and quickly as children approach adolescence). I think that the stats are very clear in making the case that helmet use is safer, but a far cry from indicating helmet use is the end all be all dividing line between safe and dangerous risk assessment by adult cyclists.

Personally, much like the author, I use a helmet in situations that seem to have a higher risk factor than everyday city driving. If I ride long distances and am worried about the possibility of dehydration, which could cause fainting, I use a helmet. If I'm on my go-fast bike, going 30mph on down hills and bent over my handlebars, I wear a helmet. If I'm using the bicycle for a more aggressive workout, I wear a helmet. But, 80% of my riding is everyday transportation, and in situations where I'm simply riding to work, the grocery store, friends houses, etc. I do not and will not wear one. It is simply unnecessary and does not significantly, or even measurably, increase my safety.

Posted by dukiebiddle on May. 18, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

To all. So far when was 7 I hit a friend as I rode my bike down the side walk. As a pedestrian he should have had a helmet on it would have saved him a bump. As a bicyclist it turned out I did not need one as my head did not come close to the ground. I have crashed about 12 times. Some times from a car door in traffic in front of a truck and/or cars most times from rain slicked paint. A couple from gravel in the road. Raw elbows and knees. For many years at a time I have worn a helmet and I have never once used my helmet. They (my helmets) have never touched the ground. And so far the conclusion I am forced to reach is that if I ever believe that a driver sees me without having made eye contact then I'm as good as dead.
As a pedestrian my life is threatened every time I go walking. The cross walk is an extension of my body. Cars, trucks, bicycles and motorcycles are not supposed to enter a crosswalk when a pedestrian is any where in the cross walk. Assault with a deadly weapon is the crime and you know who you are. OOps your foot slipped of the brake did you just murder some one?
Cars are deadly my bicycle is less so and it does not pollute the air or make noise pollution it makes my heart healthier and I enjoy life as I cruse along No matter what kind of transportation I use my life and others are in danger. So leave my body alone keep your culture off of me. Don't do things which hurt other people. Well thats part of my rant. Have fun and I hope we see each other.lol

Posted by Guest on Jul. 28, 2010 @ 11:12 pm

I agree with this:

The best way to make cyclists safe is to prevent them from crashing, and that means wide, hazard-free bike lanes and awareness by motorists of cyclists and our right to share the road.

But until you get those bike lanes wouldn't it be prudent to err on the side of caution?

Don't get me started on parents who make their kids wear a helmet and don't themselves...

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

"It's certainly true that helmets make cyclists safer"

if you change that to:

"It's certainly true that helmets make cyclists safer when they fall or are hit"

then it might be an accurate statement.

the problem is that wearing a helmet might actually lead to you getting hit. for instance, one study found that drivers got six inches closer to riders that were wearing helmets. that's not definitive proof, but it's interesting.

also, i don't think we have data discussing whether or not helmet-wearing cyclists get in more and/or worse crashes, or otherwise.

finally, helmets suck. :)

i'm actually still amazed that so many dorks....errr, i mean people, wear helmets. :)

Posted by Peter Smith on May. 13, 2010 @ 1:13 pm

For those who do not wear helmets with cycling, I offer this story (which you can do what ever you like with):

I edited an independent feature that was shot in San Francisco. During the production of the film, one of the actors was riding down Doleres Street on a bicycle and ended up going head first into a car windshield. The actor was wearing no helmet, which by all accounts would have protected him from the injuries he received to his brain which resulted in the need of surgery. The young man basically had to learn to do everything over again, as if he was almost an infant. Most of this young man’s part in the film had been shot before his accident, so I was able to use shots of a body double to bridge the holes left. At the premiere of the film, I met the young man after the film had been screened. He was in a wheelchair and was able to speak at that point. He told me that I had done a wonderful job making him looking good and apologized profusely for causing such a problem on the film. It was heartbreaking, in many ways. To sit at the film and see how he was just 8 months before the accident must have been upsetting, if not painful.

So when I see people not wearing a helmet, I tell them this story if they have time and they are open to it, and not in a condescending or moralistic way, which I do not offer here in such a way.

Posted by Michael Worrall on May. 13, 2010 @ 1:17 pm

While your at it, walk up to everyone eating a burger and fries and tell them about the tragedy of all those people who die from eating too much of these foods.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 11:32 am

Corrections: For those who do not wear helmets while cycling, I offer this story (which you can do whatever you like with):

I edited an independent feature that was shot in San Francisco. During the production of the film, one of the actors was riding down Doleres Street on a bicycle and ended up going head first into a car windshield. The actor was wearing no helmet, which by all accounts, would have protected him from the injuries he received to his brain which resulted in the need of surgery. The young man basically had to learn to do everything over again, as if he was almost an infant. Most of this young man’s part in the film had been shot before his accident, so I was able to use shots of a body double to bridge the holes left. At the premiere of the film, I met the young man after the film had been screened. He was in a wheelchair and was able to speak by that point. He told me that I had done a wonderful job making him looking good and apologized profusely for causing such a problem on the film. It was heartbreaking, in many ways. To sit at the film and see how he was just 8 months before the accident must have been upsetting, if not painful.

So when I see people not wearing a helmet, I tell them this story if they have time and they are open to it, and not in a condescending or moralistic way, which I do not offer here in such a way.

Posted by Michael Worrall on May. 13, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

You would be a fool to ride a bike in an urban area like SF and not wear a helmet. Even experienced cyclists have near misses due to the inattention of the many bad drivers around town. It would be nice if SF had wide bike-only areas (Valencia St. does, in fact), but it is no Amsterdam. Non-local drivers get stressed out driving in their *cars* around SF... what makes you think that you're that safe on a bike??

To the person who resents being told what to do: some people need to be saved from themselves. Even if you don't care about your own life, save someone else the grief and guilt from your carelessness. I've seen a number of hipsters run red lights and almost cause accidents, all while not wearing a helmet. If they get hurt or killed, I couldn't feel a whole lot of sympathy for them, because they are asking for it.

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2010 @ 1:49 pm
So

You're just impervious to data then?

Posted by generic on May. 13, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

I would love to know what the "personal reasons" people have for not wearing helmets while cycling. I suspect that most of them are based simply on wanting to look cool, which is pretty stupid.

Pedestrians don't go careening down hills at speeds of upwards of 35 miles per hour. Pedestrians aren't vehicles subject to the rules of the road as bicycles are. Most sane people recognize the importance of wearing helmets while on a motorcycle, or seatbelts while driving in cars, yet there are still silly, self-involved people who chose to do neither for "personal reasons". Only in San Francisco where cycling has become a hipster status activity can people find ridiculous reasons to justify not wearing helmets.

I and many other cyclists I know have been involved in accidents that could have caused brain damage or been life-threatening had we not been wearing helmets. This dork is happy to have her brain intact and I wish helmetless would get over the insecurities that prevent them from strapping a lightweight bit of fiberglass over their heads.

Posted by girlaboutoaktown on May. 13, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

Well said! I couldn't agree more.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 8:11 am

((thumbs up!!!))

-Fellow Oakland "Dorky" Girl

Posted by guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

Am I really asking to get killed because I don't wear a helmet? And didn't I clearly articulate why I believe the risk factor is actually fairly low and other reasons that have nothing to do with "wanting to look cool"? I really don't understand why the decision to sometimes not wear a helmet makes people so angry and judgmental. Yes, bad things sometimes happen, to both the helmeted and helmetless, but those anecdotes aren't the same as making arguments. We can find heinous stories to tell about the possible outcomes of every conceivable choice that people can make, and let fear guide our lives. But I've made a different choice and that doesn't make me dumb or bad or deserving of suffering.

Posted by steven on May. 13, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

No, not "deserving of suffering"--just realize it is your choice, but if you end up brain damaged or dead because you chose not to wear a helmet then you are the callous, selfish one. In other words, your choice, and your responsibility. It would be hard to feel sorry for you. I've been cycling for 2 decades, and have known more than 1 person who died (no, not hit by a car) because they fell off their bike and cracked their head open on the sidewalk, or ran into another bicyclist. Both completely survivable if a helmet had been worn.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 8:18 am

As far as my post, I do not believe I was passing judgment. From what I was told, --from the people who were very close to the young man who was injured-- that if he was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, it would have greatly lessened his injuries. Again, I don't tell this story to be moralistic or instill fear but out of my wish that other do not suffer such a fate, or one worse, as the young man I am writing about.

Posted by Michael Worrall on May. 13, 2010 @ 3:19 pm

I cannot quite understand why you are so hostile to what I wrote. Where did I write that I support such a law. Do I de facto support it in your eyes since I posted the story?

Posted by Michael Worrall on May. 13, 2010 @ 6:16 pm

As I grow older, I would say 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.'

For as time passes, we hear about or even see such events--as I once did.

I suppose it is this that gives us wisdom.

Anyway, it would be useful to look at the disability stats on bike injury and not just fatalities.

For the disabilities are harder than the dying, for sure.

Posted by Guest Charley_sf on May. 13, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

I don't care about statistics. I have issues with the way those statistics are compiled, and I could make a good argument that it doesn't save society anything at all. But I don't even want to go there. For me, it's about freedom and comfort. I'm sure that drivers would be safer if we made them all wear helmets too. But we wouldn't dream of making such an imposition on drivers.

As a society we need to come to terms with the concept of reasonable risk. We can't reduce risk to zero, and if we try, we'll just decrease the quality of life in a dramatic way. Freedom has a value too, and statistics don't measure that.

The day the government forces me to wear a helmet is the day I stop riding my bike.

Posted by Greg on May. 13, 2010 @ 5:06 pm

I couldn't agree more. And by making that choice, just be sure your family and estate will pay for all your medical bills if you get brain damaged because society certainly won't want to.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 8:20 am

According to the NHTSA, "In 2006, there were an estimated 5,973,000 police-reported traffic crashes, in which 46,642 people were killed and 2,575,000 people were injured..."

And studies have shown that more than 1/2 of all Traumatic Brain Injuries are caused by auto crashes.And, according to the CDC, 17% of all TBI's are caused by auto collisions.

So, what this says is that auto drivers should be the ones to wear helmets-- statistically, you are just about as likely to be struck by a loose object INSIDE a car than struck BY a car. And both of these injuries are overshadowed by an injury caused by getting into or out of a car... http://www.forbes.com/2009/01/28/car-accident-injuries-lifestyle-vehicle...

Posted by mcas on May. 13, 2010 @ 6:25 pm

Further, I'd add that there are 202, 810,000 licensed drivers in the United States-- and each year 2,575,000 people are injured in a car crash-- that means that 1% of all drivers are injured bad enough to call the police each year... that's a pretty high number-- and no one has found data showing riding a bike is that dangerous, ever.

Posted by mcas on May. 13, 2010 @ 6:28 pm

I too did not believe in bicycle helmets until one afternoon in San Luis Obispo I decided to ride downtown and pay some bills. I didn't make it more than 2 blocks when I lost control and fell. Prior to this I had 25+ years of riding with no problems. When I fell, my sunglasses broke through my forehead and I was knocked out for a few minutes. As I sat on South Street bleeding, pissed off, and upset I realized that a helmet would of prevented everything except for the scraped knees and hands. The whole fall happened so quickly there was no way to protect myself. Now, with two children not only do I wear a helmet, but whether they ride in the trailer or a tricycle they too have a helmet on.

Posted by nottoosly on May. 13, 2010 @ 7:55 pm

Instead of mandating helmets for people who ride bikes, how about mandating training wheels for people who can't stay upright?

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2010 @ 8:37 pm

Asshat. Even professional cyclists fall...it WILL happen to you, no matter how good your skills are.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 8:23 am

Forcing people by law, even kids, to wear helmets is the real nanny state that so many right wingers complain about. Where the direct consequences of an action are limited to solely the person committing the action, it's no one else's business what (s)he does. Being forced to wear a seat belt is another good example of the real nanny state. Laws like this are really disgusting, but they're a result of fearful idiots with foolish ideas about life, such as protecting people from themselves, a truly disgusting idea except for those who are literally mentally ill.

I grew up riding a bike in Chicago, which is much more dangerous than here. This was long before the days of bike helmets, so no one wore one. I never had any head injuries, and neither did anyone I knew, and every kid in my neighborhood rode a bike. This is just hysterical crap, as modern humans become more hysterical about bullshit, but care nothing about really important issues like species extinction and global warming.

Chris Pratt conflates different issues in his post. While he named two rules of the nanny state -- bike helmets and seat belts -- he also complained about not being able to get free plastic bags. Well, not wearing seat belts or helmets doesn't do any direct harm to anyone or anything else. But plastic is very harmful in its production and disposal. This is the big lie that right wingers who complain about the nanny state always promote: that regulating behavior that's harmful to others, humans and non-humans alike, is creating a nanny state. Quite the contrary, it's merely regulating behavior that people have shown they are not capable of taking responsibility for.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on May. 13, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

"Where the direct consequences of an action are limited to solely the person committing the action, it's no one else's business what (s)he does. "

WTF. Seriously? Your family and friends won't suffer because you fell off your bike, cracked your head and now drink tofu through a straw? There are no consequences to society, who will end up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in your medical care and treatment, assuming you survive an accident?

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 8:29 am

Everything you do or don't do has at least some consequences for everyone and everything else -- everything in the universe is connected, the issue is where to draw the line. My point is that where the direct consequences are basically limited to you, the government should not be regulating that behavior.

I didn't say that others wouldn't suffer consequences, I said they don't suffer DIRECT consequences. I find this hysterical idea that the government should protect people from themselves to be totally disgusting for two reasons. First and foremost, it's a big lie. The main reason for the seat belt and helmet laws was that the insurance companies wanted to make more money, pure & simple. Second, I strongly resent being told what to do and not do with my own body when it doesn't directly affect others. (For example, being prohibited from shooting someone else directly affects others, but being prohibited from shooting myself does not.)

If you want to live in a police/nanny state, just keep supporting crap like seat belt and helmet laws. (Actually, seat belt laws are a minor detail, it's driving that's the important problem, but that's another issue.) But if you supposedly believe in freedom, you oppose laws like these.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on May. 23, 2010 @ 11:24 am

"I find this hysterical idea that the government should protect people from themselves to be totally disgusting, ..."

Elsewhere you want to ban cars in the city for the rest of us.

Posted by glen matlock on May. 24, 2010 @ 1:10 am

or total lack there of

This is your quote below right?

" Wrong Question

Why are you asking about getting along? The real issue is getting people out of cars, because driving is so environmentally and ecologically destructive. I don't want to share the road with cars or get along with drivers, I want to eliminate them. Private motor vehicles should be prohibited from urban areas, and one member of the Board of Supervisors told me directly that (s)he agree with that proposition (I won't name him/her). "

Posted by glen matlock on May. 24, 2010 @ 1:20 am

The worst bike accident I ever had was when I flipped over the handlebars of my bike, hit my head on the pavement, and also managed to scrape and bruise my left shoulder and hip badly.

There was no car involved -- just me, the bike, a messed-up set of brakes, and some really hard pavement.

I'm so glad I was wearing my helmet. If I hadn't been, I would have had a nasty head injury, or be dead.

This is why I wear my dorky bike helmet: moving quickly + hard surface = injury risk. It's not about politics and freedom for me, but about personal safety. There are enough stupid ways to hurt yourself in this world. If I can cut down on my risk of injury/death by wearing a helmet, why wouldn't I?

Posted by Aidan on May. 13, 2010 @ 9:59 pm

The worst bike accident I ever had was when I flipped over the handlebars of my bike, hit my head on the pavement, and also managed to scrape and bruise my left shoulder and hip badly.

There was no car involved -- just me, the bike, a messed-up set of brakes, and some really hard pavement.

I'm so glad I was wearing my helmet. If I hadn't been, I would have had a nasty head injury, or be dead.

This is why I wear my dorky bike helmet: moving quickly + hard surface = injury risk. It's not about politics and freedom for me, but about personal safety. There are enough stupid ways to hurt yourself in this world. If I can cut down on my risk of injury/death by wearing a helmet, why wouldn't I?

Posted by Aidan on May. 13, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

perhaps you believe the risk is lower than the burden, discomfort, etc of wearing the helmet. Perhaps, not. Shouldn't it be a personal decision. We cannot legislate away all risk, nor should we try.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

The worst bike accident I ever had was when I flipped over the handlebars of my bike, hit my head on the pavement, and also managed to scrape and bruise my left shoulder and hip badly.

There was no car involved -- just me, the bike, a messed-up set of brakes, and some really hard pavement.

I'm so glad I was wearing my helmet. If I hadn't been, I would have had a nasty head injury, or be dead.

This is why I wear my dorky bike helmet: moving quickly + hard surface = injury risk. It's not about politics and freedom for me, but about personal safety. There are enough stupid ways to hurt yourself in this world. If I can cut down on my risk of injury/death by wearing a helmet, why wouldn't I?

Posted by Aidan on May. 13, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

Should bicycling adults wear helmets?

---------------------

Yes, if one has anything up there (meaning in their head) to protect. I ride my mountain bike several times a week and I would never ride without a helmet. Especially these days with the nutty and inconsiderate drivers out there who are so self-absorbed and self-entitled. Many of them sit in their big-assed SUVs (usually 1 person in the thing) while running stop signs and traffic lights and/or turning quickly in front of you or cutting you off (they don't give a damn whether they hit you or not!), putting on makeup, smoking, shaving, text messaging, talking on their mobile phone, some people reading while driving, stirring their latte, eating, drinking, putting on their socks, picking up something off the floor they spilled, flossing, brushing their teeth, fuking with the CD player and CDs or the radio... and there are those who can't stand cyclists in the first place....so watch out. Wear a helmet. Is it really THAT difficult? It shouldn't be mandated from the government but to me it's basis sense to wear one, unless one likes the idea of their head becoming part of the pavement.

Posted by Sam on May. 13, 2010 @ 10:03 pm

The arguments for helmets basically break down along two lines:
#1 The costs to society of accidents
#2 It's safer, so you should wear one

With regards to #1, statistics don't take a few things into account. Sometimes helmets prevent injury, and therefore undoubtedly save money. OTOH, (not to sound callous, but let's be frank about this) sometimes an accident is so bad that the person wearing a helmet incurs severe injuries and costs the state millions and millions in hospital and rehabilitation costs, whereas WITHOUT a helmet that person would probably have died, and incurred ZERO dollars (except for funeral costs). That sort of a situation is never figured into the cost argument, and it should be if we were to do a full accounting.

Furthermore, it needs to be noted that a person who reaches old age will ALWAYS incur major medical costs. It's just a question of WHEN, not IF. In fact, the older you get, the more costs you'll incur. A person who lives to be 80 or 90 will incur MAJOR costs, most of which will be incurred during the last 10 or 20 years of their lives. Had that same person died a quick death in an accident, in the middle of their productive years before ever reaching retirement, they would have paid into the system, but not have ever had the chance to incur any of those costs. Again, these kinds of calculations are never made. Not saying that it's a good thing for people to die young, but from a strictly accounting standpoint, I'm not not sure which way society comes out ahead.

Of course that brings me to #2. Costs aside, it's bad to die young, and helmets save lives. Fine, I agree with that. And if you were to tell me that it's safer to wear a helmet, I would agree with you. But if you were to tell me that we need to pass a LAW mandating me wearing a helmet because it's safer, then I would tell you where you can stick your law. Because it's none of your g-damnned business what risks I choose to take with my own body.

Posted by Greg on May. 13, 2010 @ 11:46 pm

amen. could not have said it better

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

I grew up on a bicycle, spent hours everyday riding, and didn't own a helmet until I was 22 years old. My "personal reasons" for not wearing a helmet involve comfort and overall satisfaction with the ride -- it simply feels better to ride without a helmet. It makes the ride incredibly joyful.

That said, I still wear one when I'm on long rides in Marin County or around the city because I'm often riding faster and in a pack and I feel like it's safer. But, I hate it. I hate helmets and I hate that our current society isn't safe enough for us to ride without them.

Either way, I think vigilance, riding sober, and keeping in mind that every car is a potential weapon makes a difference. I've been in three bicycle accidents, two of them involving vehicles acting erratically, and I wasn't wearing a helmet during any of the incidents. The time I wasn't hit by a car but my tire got stuck in a Muni track, I was sent to the hospital with a slight head wound, no concussion.

I live on a sailboat now and haven't ridden a bicycle in over a year. Instead, I live with the everyday potential that the boom will swing across and hit me in the head. According to Andrew Nathanson, MD, an emergency physician who is conducting a worldwide study on sailing injuries through the Rhode Island Hospital Injury Prevention Center, this is the second leading cause of death aboard sailboats. I'm still not wearing a helmet.

Posted by Amanda Witherell on May. 14, 2010 @ 7:13 am

Good point on the Plastic Bags Jeff. But I would still like to drink a cold beer on the streets on a hot day.

Posted by Chris Pratt on May. 14, 2010 @ 8:29 am
97%

New York issued a statement on their bicycle safety study including these numbers:

Bicycle lanes and helmets may reduce the risk of death.
o Almost three-quarters of fatal crashes (74%) involved a head injury.
o Nearly all bicyclists who died (97%) were not wearing a helmet.
o Helmet use among those bicyclists with serious injuries was low (13%), but it was even lower among bicyclists killed (3%).
o Only one fatal crash with a motor vehicle occurred when a bicyclist was in a marked bike lane.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 8:37 am

74% of fatalities involved head injury- How many of these cases had TBI as the fatal injury? When someone is hit by a car there are a multitude of internal injuries that can contribute to death. For this to be a number of value, you need to know the break down of the actual fatal injuries (massive crush injuries vs internal bleeding vs trauma to organs.... Also be aware that if you scrape your face in a bicycle accident it counts as a head injury, so what are the degree of head injury sustained in these accidents?

97% who died were not wearing a helmet- this only means that TBI is contributory to death, not the main cause. This is important because if there are other serious injury types that can be prevented then those should be highlighted (and in most cases could only be avoided through better riding skills and improved infrastructure assuming they were urban accidents. How many of the fatalities in this study occurred as a result of more extreme sport riding?)

Only 1 fatality occurred in a marked bike lane- Then take the time and energy and put it into infrastructure and not helmet enforcement. the only thing that lowers the risk of head injury is to improve the conditions we cycle in and thus remove the true risk of urban cycling.

Posted by Fiona on May. 14, 2010 @ 1:30 pm

Health Care Costs and Savings

* The total annual cost of traffic-related bicyclist death and injury among children ages 14 and under is more than $2.2 billion.

* Every dollar spent on a bike helmet saves society $30 in direct medical costs and other costs to society.

* If 85 percent of all child cyclists wore bicycle helmets in one year, the lifetime medical cost savings could total between $109 million and $142 million.

* A review of hospital discharge data in Washington state found that treatment for nonfatal bicycle injuries among children ages 14 and under costs more than $113 million each year, an average of $218,000 per injured child.

"Journal if Injury Prevention":

"Approximately 107,000 bicycle-related head injuries could have been prevented in 1997 in the United States. These preventable injuries and deaths represent an estimated $81 million in direct and $2.3 billion in indirect health costs. Estimates range from 200 preventable bicycle-related head injuries and $3 million in health costs in Wyoming (population 480 000) to 13 700 preventable bicycle-related head injuries and $320 million in health costs in California (population 32.3 million)."

A note from the University of California at Berkeley Wellness Letter of Dec 97:
"It's estimated that 96 % of cyclists killed in 1996 were not wearing helmets."

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 8:43 am

the city I live in (el cerrito) requires helmets,
so if I am going to SF, I have to walk my folding bike to BART...
if they want restrictions like that in SF as well,
I will just drive everywhere,

if they repeal that law in el cerrito, then I will go biking again there,

I have allergies that make the foam helmets very hard for me to wear,
"they" don't know about my issues and I doubt they care.
"they" just make one law after the next that make my life much harder for no good reason.

and the real issue here is that it should be my choice to decide if it is worth it for me to have a helmet or not, and that answer is going to not be the same for everyone,
it is beyond me that someone would ever be invasive enough to mess up my life without even asking me about it first.

Posted by adam m on May. 14, 2010 @ 10:24 am

I really don't care about the helmet issue but I would like to see state license plates mandated for bikes, as well as liability insurance for the rider. Someone one a bike riding stupidly can cause an accident that costs thousands of dollars, either for medical treatment or repairs. If you're going to use the streets like cars, you should have the same obligation to be financially responsible for your actions while using said streets.

Posted by GuestScott on May. 14, 2010 @ 10:30 am

Someone asked to hear personal reasons why people don't wear a helmet while riding. Mine are, first and foremost, that I'm vain. I have short hair, and no amount of air flow vents will prevent me from getting helmet hair.

However, because of this decision I choose to ride very safely. I have a big heavy bike with a rack that doesn't go very fast. I look out for traffic, always hand signal and ride like no one can see me. Basically, I ride to try and prevent all accidents. So that the one I do get in will probably be unpreventable on my part--and I will probably need a lot more than a helmet. Better infrastructure will make the streets safer, but cyclists can also choose to make safe decisions.

I've seen the way a lot of helmet wearing cyclists around town ride, and if they're comfortable with it, more power to them. I'm much more comfortable going grandma style, sans helmet.

Posted by Emma on May. 14, 2010 @ 11:31 am

Helmets aren't even designed to 'save lives'. They're designed to protect the head from non life threatening injuries in solo accidents under 12 mph. They're not even tested for impact on the sides or the front and back, let alone tested with anything resembling a human body attached. Impact with cars? No helmet is designed to withstand those kind of forces.

Most brain injuries in sports and activities like cycling are caused by rotational injuries, something helmets cannot protect against. Indeed, there are a number of studies showing that helmets increase the risk of rotational injury, turning a minor lateral impact into a dangerous rotational one.

The helmet industry is a lot like Scientology what with the crazy propaganda they're keen on spreading. The commenter with the 'anecdote' about the man hitting the windshield is NOT an expert in helmets. He has no proof that the helmet could have helped. His andecdote is anecdotal and surely must be dismissed. The Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation has a page dedicated to these 'A helmet saved my life!' andedotes.

Driving helmets HAVE been invented. 40,000 deaths a year in the US? Where are the helmet nannies on THAT issue? Oh yeah... deconstructing cycling and all the societal benefits that it brings.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 11:45 am

What I think gets missed in a lot of the talk about helmets, is that people ride such different bikes and in such different ways. I would say it's EXTREMELY rare for me to ride at faster than 10mph, and I sit pretty upright on my bike, so the likelihood of me ever flying over my handlebars is extremely low. On a typical Dutch bike, there is no change in hell you'll go over the handlebars. Going 10mph or less, there is also little to no chance of me hitting another cyclist or a car, as I can almost always stop in plenty of time.

You should base the decision of whether you need a helmet on how and what and where *you* ride, and let other people make that decision for themselves. Just simply stating that anyone in any situation would be stupid to not wear a helmet is extremely narrow-minded and ignorant.

When it comes to mandating the use of helmets, I believe that is simply an easy cop-out for cities/states/countries to say they are doing something about cyclist safety without actually doing anything about cyclist safety. If you want the cyclists in your city to be safe, make the streets safe for them, don't just tell them to strap a piece of foam to their heads!

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 11:51 am

Like you, I ride a Dutch bike, slowly. Like you, I don't wear a helmet. It's an acceptable risk for me given my style of riding and my bicycle of choice.

Posted by Guest on May. 18, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

Unfortunately, helmet laws can have the opposite effect. Some research is out that suggests, in addition to infrastructure (lanes, etc), the best thing to help cyclist be safer is just more cyclists. When more of us are out there, drivers become more aware of cyclists, drive more safely, and cause few accidents.

However, it's also been shown in some studies that helmet laws have a noticeable negative impact on ridership. For some reason, a helmet law discourages people from biking. Maybe because they don't like being told what to do? Maybe because it makes riding seem dangerous? Whatever the reason, people stop riding and cycling becomes more dangerous.

So the net effect of helmet laws looks like it a net negative for safety, cause more injuries and fatalities because it takes bike riders off the road. Instead of scaring people with mandatory helmet laws, we should teach drivers to share the road, create bike lanes, and encourage everyone to ride their bikes. That's the safest thing we can do.

Posted by Aaron on May. 14, 2010 @ 12:11 pm