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 don't always wear one because they are ill-fitting and look like Hell. If it was mandatory then that would inspire companies to make helmet hats that are both functional and attractive.

I actually like the vents, they keep me cool on sunny days, what I don't like is how my peripheral vision is obstructed by the sides of the helmet.

I would like to see helmets made of thinner, but stronger materials, that are vented and fit more precisely to the shape of the head...right now I look like I"m wearing a torpedo on my head...not Cycle Chic, this would accommodate vented hats made to fit over the helmet and provide a stylish way to get shade from a hat brim.

Posted by Gina on May. 14, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

Its up to the individual whether or when they wear a helmet and should stay that way

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

It's me... the guy that started this with my comments. For one... What the gentleman quoting me didn't mention was the pal of mine in the morgue who sees tons of bikers DOA due to brain/head trauma. I never said you had to do anything. I just wanted this to be brought into a discussion. Sorry, but the guy who wants to drink on the street will have to do so at a street fair, tho those chances have been drastically reduced by drunken knuckleheads. I see alot of defensive comments here. It is these folks that obviously haven't seen or had a dear one die by their negligence. It's your choice. It's your brain. I just wanted a public forum on this. Please don't take it the wrong way. Instead saying "Don't tell me what to do", just look at it as a little friendly reminder. The choice is yours, but last I remember dead folks don't make choices. Thanks for your time. Now ride on brothers and sisters.

Posted by jimA on May. 14, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

If your friend sees "tons" of dead bikers in the morgue, they must be bringing them in from around the world. The bicycle community of the SF Bay Area is small enough that if there were "tons" of dead cyclists we would all have multiple dead cyclist friends.

If you wish to make a point, I would say don't exaggerate it. Some people die while on bicycles, some because of head injury. There are no reliable data on this as the method for reporting "head injuries" is faulty in the first place. As a child I was bitten in the face by a dog and it was considered a "head injury". Any injury to the face or ear or scalp is considered a "head injury" even when there is no impact on or involvement with the brain.

Posted by Fiona on May. 14, 2010 @ 11:53 pm

The primary reason helmets are such a panacea among American cyclists is that they are marketed as the be-all and end-all of bicycle safety. Sadly, as the rest of the world knows, no population is more gullible to advertising than right here in the US.

In reality, profitability aside, helmets are the least effective means of achieving bicycle safety. Improved roadway design, improving the vehicle code, better law enforcement, motorist and cyclist training, and less bigotry like that displayed by the Sausalito City council will go a long way towards bicycle safety, Unfortunately, there's no profit in real safety, only the simplistic foam-on-head = safety kind.

Posted by Roger on May. 14, 2010 @ 5:50 pm

You are not making any sense.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 8:32 pm

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Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 9:28 pm

A cycling teammate of mine believed in helmets vehemently. He believed in them so much that he ran stop signs on group rides regularly (pseudo-racing). One stop sign too many, into a blind intersection, and he was killed (while wearing a helmet), leaving behind a wife and family.

I had mentioned to him on occasions past that his riding style was going to get him into trouble. Though he had several crashes my comments only solicited knee-jerk reactions like "Euro-pro wanna be" and "who are you to tell me how to ride" despite my having had decades more cycling experience.

My fear is that people believe strapping a piece of foam on their heads somehow makes them "safe cyclists". The evidence show that it is more likely to make them less safe then they would have otherwise been. The psychology of risk compensation illustrates this most clearly by measuring the safety of drivers of large SUVs, whose vehicles should make them more safe, but who have the same number of "accidents" because they drive faster (in compensation). The downside of this, as applied to bicycling, is that helmets don't even come close to compensating for dangerous cycling habits.

Posted by Roger on May. 14, 2010 @ 6:05 pm
heh

Your post made me think of the guy who squeezed past me on Market in traffic and raced through the yellow/red light ahead of us, then off he went riding crazy through traffic. I was thinking that Darwin was soon to sort him out.

I got up to Safeway on Market and was looking down at the Church St. intersection just in time to see him drive straight through the intersection to get hit by a car with the right of way. The car was coming from the left so the bike had the whole intersection to look at, the bike rider just popped out and pow. I felt sorry for the driver.

As I rode by he was laying in the street holding his leg, which I am sure was seriously broke, his face was turning red and he was starting to cry, which made me chuckle. I would have given my name to the driver as a witness but it looked like he had a number of people with a better view already.

Posted by glen matlock on May. 15, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

I think Americans are attracted to helmets (and yellow jackets) because they know so much less about bicycling than cyclists in other countries. You can see it in how they ride, the crooked line, constantly slowing down and speeding up, unable to ride near other cyclists, unaware of things going on around them, not even knowing what the door zone is, ... In Amsterdam, by contrast,16 year old girls riding side by side, with only 10cm between their handlebars, with their friends riding on the handlebars, for kilometer after kilometer just as safe as someone walking on the sidewalk.

My advice, if you want to be a safe cyclist: go live in Europe, or Japan, and ride with the people there.
It will be an eye-opener.

Posted by Dag on May. 14, 2010 @ 7:16 pm

A friend's dad was wearing a helmet when he got hit by a car and the helmet didn't prevent the fatality.

It only protects one small surface area of your body.

The ladies in the Guardian article wouldn't have looked as sexy and fashionable in hlemets.

However, I have started wearing a helmet more regularly - due to parents' questioning about it and some friends' admonishments.

Yes, yes - good idea to wear helmet when raining.

I ride just about every day and haven't had a crash with any sort of injuries/scrapes since 2001! (wet road).

Biking isn't that risky if you're paying attention and look over your shoulder, if you are aware on the road and in control of your bike.

Bicyclists can make split second moves and can stop super super quick.

I've almost been banged by opening parked car doors sooo many times but ZERO crashes in SF in 5 years....knock on wood.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 8:33 pm

Reading through these comments in 2010 in San Francisco is identical to reading through them in every other locale and every other decade. There are two sides, and only two sides. The first (let's call it the libertarian perspective) claims that the individual has the ultimate say in the matter, and that nothing chan trump it, even the health and financial welfare of other individuals. The other (let's call it the communitrian perspective) claims that the community rightly claims ultimacy when the rights of individuals themselves come into conflict.
So the libertarian is justified in saying that s/he doesn't have to wear a helmet if it's perceived as ugly, or juvenile, or too hot, even when the failure to do so cost-shifts the price of accidents to everyone else in their insurance pool. The communitarian says that this is inconsistent on the surface precisely because the libertarian doesn't like it when others cost-shift (or helmet-shift) to them. So far, I think that the communitarian have the better argument c

Posted by krt186 on May. 14, 2010 @ 10:09 pm

think of laws in other areas?

Lets say that the "communitarian" says that outlawing all sex outside of marriage is a good idea, you going to go with that?

Lets say the "communitarian" says that there are all sorts of elective things that cost society money, for example; leaving the house to do something other than work, are you going to agree with that premise as it will save the insurance pool millions.

Who gets to decide the line, and where do we draw the line on where you get to decide what is best for everyone else?

If we want to cut costs on the insurance pool I bet I can find a lot better schemes than bike helmet laws.

Posted by glen matlock on May. 15, 2010 @ 5:35 pm

Your response suggests that you didn't read my original post carefully. I didn't say that there was only one way to think about these kinds of matters, nor did I say that the communitarian perspective is always and only right. Thus, you cannot ask me to provide a hard & fast rule to determine what's best for everyone else in a range of matters dealing with bicycle helmets, sex outside of marriage, and "leaving the house to do something other than work", whatever the hell this means. Sorry -- these kinds of binary over-simplifications are not available in life. Every situation has to be evaluated by the best criteria available, and when the situations change, so must the criteria.

All I said was that in this case, I believe that the communitarian approach is superior to the libertarian one because of its consequences both for the individuals involved and for the larger groups of which they're a part.

Finally, and for the same reason, if you want to cut costs in the insurance pool, you might very well find ways to do so other than requiring bike helmets to be worn. But then it's obvious that these ways, too, would be further benefitted by helmet laws. Not wearing a helmet may not raise costs, but no one credibly argues that it lowers them. Wearing a helmet, on the other hand, statistically lowers costs.

Posted by Krt186 on May. 16, 2010 @ 7:20 pm

Helmets would be more effective at reducing injuries in car accidents yet where is your car riding helmet?

I am against mandatory helmet laws because they are proven to make cycling more dangerous.

Helmet proponents ignore the simple proven fact that increasing the numbers of cyclists on the road is way more effective at reducing cycling injuries per mile than other methods. Also, promoting helmet use as a part of riding bicycles decreases the number of cyclists on the road.

Promoting and mandating cycling with helmets actually increases cycling injury rates.

This is why countries experienced with promoting cycling as a policy do not mandate helmet use. They actually care about the health of their citizens.

Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2010 @ 5:06 am

"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."

The author is setting the context from a public perspective, but consider it from the personal perspective. If I'm deciding to wear a helmet it's based on my perceived risk to myself: (a) how likely I'll be in an accident of some sort, and (b) how likely having a helmet would save me from some sort of brain trauma?

The probabilities don't have to be very high before a $75 helmet seems like a reasonable investment.

And no matter how expert I think I am at cycling, I can still get wiped out by another vehicle -- in fact this has happened to me twice. There's no solace in the fact that these other drivers are getting traffic citations from the police (they did) and I'm getting settlements from their insurance company (I did) when I'm the one with the broken collarbone, the road rash, and so on.

Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2010 @ 6:56 am

Statistics show that 100% of drivers who died were not wearing helmets.

So in order for the 95% of deaths of bikers by riders sans helmet to prove that helmets wouldve saved lives, we would need a comparison figure. What percentage wear helmets? Does helmet wearing correlate to safer behavior? Do we really want to prove causation, or just use half-assed arguments to prove our point?

Posted by Jim T on May. 15, 2010 @ 8:10 am

Steve, keep riding your bike without a helmet, with any luck you'll get in an accident and what little brains you have will spill out onto the street and we won't have to read your smug condescending bullshit about bikes anymore.

Posted by US Grant on May. 15, 2010 @ 9:20 am

I am here today only because of the good will and consideration of a number of drivers over the years. When we ride in this crowded urban environment, there are many times when we are just inches from death. Perhaps it is a child running out in front us that we will swerve to avoid or a pedestrian who expects that a bicycle can stop quickly on a steep downhill or a slick spot in the street on a turn. If you have ever felt the impact and scrape of hitting the tarmac while still in motion then it will not be hard to imagine what will happen to your head on impact. A small impact is all it takes for irreversible brain damage. And road rash scars across your face are not going to make you happy either. You do not have to be going fast for this to be a devastating result, it can even occur at a dead stop, and if you go down you will most likely hit your head. Your life can be changed in an instant. We have a simple, powerful preventive available in the helmet. If I am involved in your incident I will never be the same again if you are brain damaged, even if it was your choice not to wear the helmet and to run the stop sign. If not for yourself, then perhaps you will wear a helmet for those of us who do care about you.

Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2010 @ 9:57 am

This discussion is missing the big picture regarding bike helmets.
There are roughly 250,000 deaths due to heart disease in the US each year.
There are roughly 190,000 deaths due to stroke in the US each year.
There are comparable number of deaths due to cancer in the US each year.

Most of the cardiac deaths half of the stroke deaths and a large number
of cancer deaths are due to little to no exercise and poor diet.

The best thing you can do for your own health and safety is
to ride a bike and not worry about using or not using a bike
helmet. The most dangerous thing you can do is sit at home and
not get exercise.

If you ride your bike and use a helmet all the better, but it is not
the most important decision you can make regarding your health.

The best thing you can do to reduce your chances of getting into a
car - bike crash is to take a bike skills class through the league of
American Bicyclist. Look for a Traffic Skills 101 class in your neighborhood.

There you will learn to avoid the right hook and left hook car/bike crashes.
You will learn to ride on the right hand side of the road. You will
learn that you are 80% more likely to get hit by a car on the sidewalk
than on the road.

Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

Helmet testing is a joke, they only test the lbs / inch impact of uncut unsculpted flat rectangular foam material, it's also only voluntary and has no governing body.

Real helmets, the kind that are actually safe (motorcycle style) are not marketable. Fear has been sold to us, and then a joke of a solution.

If anyone here REALLY wears a helmet to spare their family the grief of scooping up their brains, wear something tested and proven to be safe, a full face motorcycle helmet. If u aren't willing to do that you need to keep your herd mentality moralism to yourself.

Posted by Helmet free in sf, nyc & pdx on May. 15, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

It's obvious that if you are traveling on main roads with tons of traffic that you should wear a helmet.

However, I'm not convinced that it is necessary to wear one when I'm just tooteling around the neighborhood.

your opinions?

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2010 @ 8:59 am

As a medical social worker who works in the Emergency Department at San Francisco General Hospital, I have to say this one is a no brainer. Unfortunately, sometimes that means bicyclists who get in an accident with no helmet end up with no functional brain. The statistics in the article refer to fatalities, but don't mention serious injuries that result in paralysis, loss of sight, or other disabilities that can just plain make life harder.

Of course it makes sense to improve safety on the roads (and sidewalks...where many cyclists ride since the roads aren't safe). But in the meantime, I see wearing helmets as a clear sign that people have made a choice that their future is at least as important as the immediate joy of riding without a helmet. We should encourage people we care about to wear helmets. But I don't think making it law solves anything; let's create safe lanes for bicycles and enforce traffic safety laws we already have.

Posted by Guest Ed Kinchley on May. 17, 2010 @ 9:23 am

Alright, you're not going to wear a helmet. I personally do. I usually recommend that if you're going to wear anything wear gloves since when I've fallen it's always been my hands that get chewed up.

But headphones? Seriously? Honestly you're a moron if you're going to ride on the street with headphones. I've avoided more collisions bu simply being able to hear what's going on around me.

Also if you wear headphones you miss out on all the insults I'm yelling at you because you won't move your fixie off the damn road. :)

Posted by Graham R on May. 17, 2010 @ 10:34 am

I'm sick of cyclists hating on each other period. Any picture of a person on a bike is a good thing. I don't care what, if anything, they're wearing. If it's not Adolph on the bike, it's a plus for us.

We need all the media we can get cause we can't afford to advertise.

Posted by crhilton on May. 18, 2010 @ 11:56 am

I am still in debt for the stuff in my head and I think it is one of my main assets, so I wear a helmet most of the time, just in case. Sometimes I don't when I'm only on the bike path and I'm not going far or fast and there aren't any cars, mostly because of convenience. But I feel really neurotic when I do this, because I would feel really stupid if I did have an accident and flip over during one of these trips. I really need to stop doing that ;)

Anyways, I personally love biking but while I am doing it I am in a constant state of fear, ready to brake at any moment when a car (or pedestrian or other cyclist or skateboarder) does something stupid. The bike helmet is not the be all end all for bicycle safely. Safe riding is even more important, along with good infrastructure and education for both riders and drivers. But what we each individually have control over is how we ride and whether we wear a helmet. I like to take advantage of the stuff I have control over.

As to deciding the worth of helmets, there are obviously many different ways of looking at it. For me, the issue is, given the same crash, would a helmet more often make me better off? For me, I tend to think yes. Whether the population as a whole is protected by helmet laws is another, much more complex issue. I'm not really for helmet laws per say, but I think if you don't wear a helmet, you probably don't have much to protect in there. Yes, there are a lot of things you can do to prevent accidents by riding slow and paying attention, but worse-case scenario, you may still wish for that helmet. Drivers (and riders oftentimes) are idiots. Luckily I have never needed my helmet and I will be extremely happy if all my worry and time and $ spent on helmets is totally wasted in my entire lifetime. Here's hoping :)

Posted by Guest on May. 18, 2010 @ 2:50 pm

Can we please make it illegal for cyclists to listen to headphones / earphones while operating a bicycle.

I'd also like to be "nanny-stated" into a state of coma, literally!

Posted by TheLaw on May. 18, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

I used to LOVE to ride my 10 speed racing bike when I was a teenager. They didn't even have helmets back in 1968. I would probably have resisted wearing one anyway if anyone had suggested it or it were legislated. I mean, when I was are riding a bike fast, I felt so free. I liked feeling the wind around me. Once, when I was riding to go meet my first boyfriend, I rode through a stop sign from a two-lane street across a four lane street in the flat land of Palo Alto. At 14, of course I thought I was invincible. Unfortunately a pick-up truck driven by a 19 year-old guy hit me and I bounced up on its hood and was carried about 50 feet, I think it was said. I don't really know. I got into a 13-day coma (TBI) though and was taken to Stanford University Hospital where I was in ICU for a month. Then I was transferred to Kaiser Hospital in Redwood City. I had to learn how to walk, think, relearn a lot of things. I had regressed to being like an infant. I had amnesia for about a year or more. Everything in life was such a struggle. My hands had tremors later on when I tried to write. (I still have the control of only one of my hands when I type on the computer.) I wished many a time after my accident that I had died. A TBI is forever, I've heard. My life has been a bunch of difficult challenges and emotionally painful. I even got a brain operation at UCSF to try to correct my hand tremors. I'm on Disability now, I got on it about 2 or three years ago. I have ridden bicycles fairly recently, but I will never ride without a helmet now. (Except the many times I ride a 'bike' in the gym or the exercycle I've got in my backyard.) If anything I've related changes someone's mind as far as safety precautions goes, I hope I've made a positive contribution to your health. Happy cycling!

Posted by Guest Laurel M. on May. 18, 2010 @ 8:11 pm

Two things:
They don't wear helmuts in Europe because they keep the bike lanes separate from traffic. In regions like Germany, the sidewalks are large enough to split into a pedestrian side and a bicycle side, and they are physically located away from traffic.

I think they should make Drivers take 'bicycle safety' courses. Some don't know how to drive with a cyclist in a road, some panic, some don't care, etc..They should learn how to drive with a bicyclist in the road, next to them.

Posted by Guest Nicole Catalano on May. 19, 2010 @ 11:37 am

There are two types of cyclists in the US (a country that, unlike Asian or European countries, is built around cars, not people):
1. Those who have crashed, lived to tell, and will most always choose to wear a helmet.
2. Those who have not crashed (yet, so don't know any better), and choose not to wear a helmet.

Posted by Guest on May. 20, 2010 @ 3:41 pm

What about unsafe riding 'styles'. When cyclists don't follow the basic rules of the road, such as driving the wrong way on a crowded one-way city street, and any number of other traffic violations...you kind of have to wonder if this might not be causing a lot of the injuries...As a cyclist, this bugs me a lot more than helmets.

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2010 @ 10:18 am

I have been in two accidents on my bike. Both times I was wearing my helmet. Both times my helmet didn't help at all, instead I had to get stitches in my knee, and sustained severe bruising for 6 weeks.

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2010 @ 11:01 am

http://www.ctcyorkshirehumber.org.uk/USA_helmet_laws.pdf

Health and safety assessment of state bicycle helmet laws in the USA

Abstract
There are more than 60 million children under 16 years of age in the USA and about half have been subjected to state bicycle helmet laws. Survey data, 1998 to 2007, shows cycling reduced by 29.9% for 7-11 year age group. This assessment focuses mainly on fatality and health data and estimates the outcome. The findings show that helmet laws can result in 120 times more harm than the intended good and helmet promotion 12 times more harm. States with helmet laws, compared to those without, did not show significant improvement. It is estimated that between 1020 - 2040 premature deaths per year will occur due to helmet laws.

Posted by Guest on May. 28, 2010 @ 1:26 pm

Most fatalities are when people are not wearing helmets. If you brain is injured you may not know who you are anymore, have learning disabilities’, have motor skill problems. Your brain is the most important of all your organs if you lose it you won’t be able to get a new one.
Something else I like most people don’t want to fight you when you wear a helmet if you get into a road rage situation and you have the upper hand.

Posted by michael on May. 29, 2010 @ 10:54 am

This is America I don't have to do anything that I don't want to. I don't wear a seat belt I don't wear a helmet I smoke three pack a day I eat a shit load of mcdonalds I drive in the left hand lane a listen to loud music I smoke pot. Have a hurt you in anyway. Have I broke into your home and stole shit from your house. NO??!?! Then let's focus the stupid amount of attention and money tax payer money goes to stoping and clean up the ghettos and befend our borders.

Posted by Guest on May. 29, 2010 @ 11:54 am

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

"On balance, you're going to be a little safer riding with a helmet"
Wrong

Any statement that helmets make cyclists safer is an incorrect assumption. Instead of assumptions and opinions, I think it makes more sense to look at actual results in one of the few jurisdictions in the world where cyclists of all ages are forced to wear helmets. See http://www.cycle-helmets.com

This is about the most detailed pre and post law data in existence for a mandatory bicycle helmet jurisdiction, and it's clear that the legislation results in about a 30% increase in cyclist accidents and injuries.

Posted by Guest Chris Gillham on May. 31, 2010 @ 4:42 am

If I had a nickel for everyone who told me a helmet saved their life, well, I'd be drinking a better brand of beer, anyway.

Those of us who were riding and/or racing before hardshell helmets were popular (or even existent) know that serious head injuries and deaths were extremely rare in those days. I personally find that riding in the age of helmets is distinctly more dangerous. Fewer people care about bike handling skills or intelligent decision making now because they think their helmets make them "safe". So people are blowing lights and cutting through traffic and just generally falling all over the place because they have substituted equipment for competence. And then these folks feel justified in lecturing the rest of us about bike safety.

Bottom line: "I fall off my bike a lot so you should put on a helmet" is not a convincing argument.

Posted by Eric on May. 31, 2010 @ 9:53 am

The argument for mandating motorcycle helmets usually weighs the cost to society (communitarian goals) against the cost to the individual (libertarian goals). This argument's logic does not translate directly to bicycle helmets. Bicycles provide additional public benefits that motorcycles do not. For instance, bicycle riders tend to be healthier, use fewer public resources, and pollute less. The cost to society of fewer bicycle riders -- riders who stop riding because they must wear helmets (see, e.g., Australia) -- is higher than the cost to society of mandating helmets. As such, the argument against mandating helmets should be more properly be seen as both communitarian and libertarian.

Posted by Brent on Jun. 09, 2010 @ 9:19 am

I am stoked that so many people are taking the time to discuss this topic. It really validates my job as a helmet developer and test technician. First I would like to say that if a death is preventable we should try to prevent it. Do we force adults to wear helmets, I say no. It only creates animosity.

Have you personally known someone that died from a preventable head injury? I have, let me tell you about it... an ex-girlfriend died when she was roller blading and she hit her head. She was not wearing a helmet. After several days in the intensive care she died. Karen was a beautiful 33 year old woman with a bright future. She was the youngest of a family of five kids. The loss devastated her family and I will never forget being asked to carry her casket as a couple of her brothers were too upset to attend the funeral. Watching the casket of a loved one go into the ground is something nobody wants to see. When I was young I did not wear a helmet but as I have gotten older and realized the value of life and my health I WANT TO PROTECT MY BRAIN/LIFE.

Your brain is not like your other organs or bones. Doctors are very good at fixing and repairing you other organs and bones. But your brain… Do you want to have brain surgery? I don’t. The doctors have gotten much better with brain surgery but I don’t want to increase their knowledge by being a brain surgery patient. If you want to protect your brain/life you need to be proactive about protecting your brain as it controls everything you do, eat, move your body, use the bathroom, talk… If you were to lose some capability of your brain this could have an enormous impact on your quality of life. If, god forbid, you lost a limb you could still carry on with a reasonably good quality of life. A brain injury is just not worth risking, in my book.

There will always be a percentage of people that don’t want to wear a helmet and that’s OK. When these people have more to lose in life than just themselves (children, wife, the realization that staying alive is really cool) they may decide to wear a helmet, any helmet is better than no helmet. The choice is yours… wear a helmet to protect your life and brain or don’t, we will all die eventually I just want to see my kid grow up and have a fully active brain/life until the end…

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), since 1998 thousands of people have died in bicycle accidents, more than 90 percent of whom weren't wearing helmets. In 2008, IIHS stats show that 714 cyclists were killed. Only 58 of those cyclists were wearing helmets. The rest, 656, were lidless.
656 possibly preventable deaths in one year in this country, let’s not contribute to this statistic.
One of my colleagues said it best, “wearing a bike helmet doesn’t look very cool, but having your brains splattered on the pavement looks way less cool.”

Posted by C. Matta on Jun. 16, 2010 @ 10:45 am

ok.I am scared of riding bicycle in the city now. I am living in San Francisco and drive to work (SOMA). I am thinking of riding a bicycle to work instead of driving (I love cycling when I was younger). . First to be more environmental friendly, good workout, and enjoy fresh air. I do not plan to ride fast, just cruising.

After I have finished reading all the comments on this post, I cancel my bicycle order ( online order) and stick to my car just to b safe.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2010 @ 3:24 am

That about sums it up this discussion: you're not riding. Helmet laws make people scared...really scared.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 26, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

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