To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets

Tagged: ,

← Back to Forums


Anonymous #

Anonymous #

By the same logic, we should say no to mandatory seatbelt laws because they promote the image that cars are dangerous.

The article says that biking without helmets is a common denominator for bike friendly cities. Is that correlation or causation? My guess is correlation.

I’ve been fortunate to have never been in a bicycle accident, but I always wear a helmet and would feel naked without one. It is lightweight, little hassle and has a great potential to save my life someday. I say that is a big win.


Anonymous #

I agree with you about helmets–I always wear one.

I did think the article made an interesting point about the risks of not exercising/car culture/etc. vs. the risks of not wearing a helmet.

It’s based on the assumption that helmet-wearing discourages people from riding…whether that’s true I don’t know.


Ahlir
Participant
#

Well. Most interesting.

I mostly agree with the article. Though horrible things can happen, like Wouter Weylandt’s accident last year during the Giro d’Italia. That was pretty unusual. And I speak as someone who had to deal with 2 nasty OTBs in the past year.

That stuff happens with biker bikes. Public bikes are a completely different story. For starters they are not built for speed, and speed is what kills (Weylandt was going +40mph when he crashed). Public bikes are heavy and under-geared. It’s hard to screw up. Well, unless you’ve lumbered up a significant hill and then insist on freewheeling down the steepest, windiest, street available: Meaning that you are an idiot, and thus don’t count. …Or if you insist on ignoring motorized traffic.

More to the point, insisting on helmets for public bikes is complicated and counter-productive. Other than having every rack have an attendant (like say in Firenze), I don’t see how you can enforce it. Why not just assume that that lugubrious action is enough to minimize dangerous behaviour? (Yes, I’ve seen public bikers salmoning.)

Helmets are not a strict necessity for the casual biker. Let’s not make it an extra barrier to participation.


Anonymous #

> The European Cyclists’ Federation says that bicyclists in its domain have the same risk of serious injury as pedestrians per mile traveled

Which means that commuting cyclists have much a higher level of risk than pedestrians.

I wasn’t under the impression that we had helmet laws, other than those concerning minors…


Mick
Participant
#

@resurrectionfern Which means that commuting cyclists have much a higher level of risk than pedestrians

Why would you say that?

Do you have some idea of there NOT being pedestrian commuters in Europe? In the US, that is, sadly, close to true, but think other countries may be different.


Swalfoort
Participant
#

I thought it was pretty widely accepted that any required use of helmets – whether actual or inferred – resulted in a reduction of ridership.

I certainly know people who have said to me that their own self-imposed requirement that they use a helmet when riding has occasionally made them NOT ride when they otherwise might.

I think there is an element that says “bike riding is something I do for fun” If I have to use specialized equipment, including a helmet, it loses some of the sponteneity, and some of the fun.”


Marko82
Participant
#

I think the helmet thing is a red herring. You never hear people say they would take up running if only they didn’t have to buy special shoes. It’s just a convenient excuse, especially since helmets are not mandatory for adults in PA.


edmonds59
Participant
#

Yes, interesting.

I disagree with the article that it is the perceived danger that prevents/reduces ridership. I think it is the reduced (though realistically marginally) ease and spontaneity. If there were a bike-share, and I felt like I had to have a helmet and didn’t, obviously I would just bag it and walk. People will do what is easiest.

I have no idea how Australia ended up with an adult helmet law. Weird.


Kordite
Participant
#

“I think the helmet thing is a red herring.” I don’t have the statistics in front of me but I’m sure you can find them wherein I recell trends reported from Europe where ridership declined when municipalities instituted helmet laws. I bet you can the actual statistics at copenhagenize.com.


jonawebb
Participant
#

I believe some people don’t ride bikes because they think helmets mess up their hair, especially women. I remember some helmet-war claim that ridership among teenage girls falls when laws requiring young people to wear helmets are passed. This seems credible to me.

While I always wear a helmet and think people are foolish for not wearing them my preference is to not have the law, because there would be more benefit of improved health from more people riding, versus the small number that would get brain damage or die from an accident while not wearing a helmet.


Anonymous #

This July a helmet on my head was the difference between a dislocated knee and me remembering what my name is and were I’m from. Cycling is dangerous. People do need helmets. Government shouldn’t say otherwise. Laws like that will save the people who do bike, even if less people bike as a result of the law.


Anonymous #

But fewer people biking=more danger for the people who do bike, right? So the question becomes, does the additional safety imparted by mandatory helmet laws outweigh the decrease in safety due to fewer people cycling?


reddan
Keymaster
#

But fewer people biking=more danger for the people who do bike, right? So the question becomes, does the additional safety imparted by mandatory helmet laws outweigh the decrease in safety due to fewer people cycling?

Given that cycling helmets are not intended to prevent injuries due to motor vehicle impacts, and the “fewer cyclists == more danger” is due to a greater number of motor vehicle impacts, I’d find it hard to believe that the case involving proportionally greater numbers of people getting hit by cars is much safer.

As a side note, if you seriously wish to protect your head in a collision with a car, please look for a helmet rated to do so. Snell or ANSI bicycle helmet standards are based on low-speed, low-impact events like slipping and hitting your head on a curb (equivalent of a 10-mph collision, IIRC)…if you want something that will keep your skull intact in a real collision, you’ll likely need to look at motorcycle helmets, or perhaps something from the downhill world?


jonawebb
Participant
#

Please please no helmet wars.

Bicycle helmets are indeed not intended to protect against collision with a car at high speed. They are intended to protect against the much more common low speed impact. And more cyclists = more motorist awareness of cycling = fewer accidents of both kinds.

So the ideal case is lots of cyclists all wearing helmets. But as a second choice I’m willing to go with lots of cyclists some not wearing helmets, with experienced cyclists pointing out, politely, that they are a good idea.


edmonds59
Participant
#

From a point of pure self-interest (a momentary descent into Objectivism, like Heracles into the underworld), the safest possible scenario for me is the most possible people on bikes, helmets or no, no matter, and me with a helmet. And that’s kind of how I roll.


Kordite
Participant
#

However, the point that leads from the title of the thread is not the inherent merits of helmets towards protecting the brain (if it were, we would also be advocating for helmets for pedestrians and drivers) but the effect that mandating helmets has on mode share.

Numbers from Copenhangen show a direct correlation between the numbers of cyclists and the safety of those cyclists. Cause and effect is not simple but it would seem that more cyclists means more drivers recognizing that there are more cyclists and behaving appropriately. More cyclists mean more drivers who are also cyclists behaving appropriately. More cyclists mean more bicycle infrastructure for cyclists. More cyclists mean more casual cyclists moving at a slower speed. All these factors make for safer cycling.

So, into this environment, I recall reading of several movements by auto industries and other concern trolls mostly in neighboring Denmark, to promote helmet wearing. Where their influence has grown and helmet use has increased, ridership has gone down.

Denmark has already discovered what the NYT article mentions above, more helmets mean fewer cyclists. Note that in saying this I make no mention of why people wear helmets or why people choose not to ride anymore. In some ways it is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter why people choose to wear or not wear helmets, the statistics show that if you push helmet use, fewer people ride.

Conversely, if you want to promote cycling, drop the mandate that people wear helmets. More cyclists mean safer cyclists.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
#

The very concept that a person known as a “concern troll” exists and is a force to be reckoned with, changes the game here. It is not simply a matter of are-helmets-a-good-idea or should-helmets-be-required. It is necessary to factor in the skew caused by the presence of concern trolls.

That said, I usually do wear a helmet, but I will not on occasion, either because I simply forgot to take one and won’t go back for it, or I’ll just assume the risk.


Anonymous #

Just some philosophical questions here:

Given that the media in the US (and possibly the non-cycling public) is so fixated on helmet usage when reporting accidents, would the cycling community be at greater risk from more frequent reporting of helmetless cyclists in accidents?

Should helmet wearing and non helmet cyclists pay the same health/life insurance premiums, given that the actions of others do affect your insurance?

Should we protect children under a certain age by enforcing helmet usage, under the pretense that they are unable to make logical decisions for themselves? (This is the law here I believe, as was in my home state Florida)

Do helmets increase danger by providing a false sense of security? (People have asked me this, but I’d disagree. I do feel more secure wearing a helmet, but I’m pretty certain it is not false security)

Why does mandatory helmet usage decrease interest in cycling, but mandatory seatbelt laws have no effect on the number of people driving?

And not so philosophical:

What can we do to make helmet wearing a fashionable or cool thing to do? (When I was a kid, especially, I hated wearing a helmet because it seemed super dorky, never fit right and just didn’t look cool)

Is there any correlation between helmet usage and abiding by the laws of the road? If so, what does this say?


edmonds59
Participant
#

I don’t know how this fits into the calculation, but something to consider – I know a crap-ton of people who still don’t wear seat belts, law or not. And many people reported dead in car accidents on the news are reported as not wearing seat belts. I can’t put my finger on it exactly but there seems to be some kind of vague implication that having a law has created some kind of uniform usage that we can compare helmets to in some way. Far from it. When someone is in a car there is almost no way to verify usage, bike helmets – way obvious.


Mick
Participant
#

@brybot Is there any correlation between helmet usage and abiding by the laws of the road? If so, what does this say?

I don’t have the exact reference,b ut there was a british paper on this. The question they were trying to answer was “Why don’t helmets save lives,” since there were a spate of papers that said they didn’t.

One hypothesis was that helmet wearing riders felt OK to take risks because they had “protection.” The paper found that there was not an increase in risk-taking behavior by helmet wearers – quite the opposite.

They found, as you hypotheisize that helmet wearers tend to ride more conservatively. This is a confounder in other papers about the protection afforded by helmets.

If helmet riders are less likely to take risks, they are less likely to have serious injury, but you would likely find the same effect in riders that wear neck ties.


sloaps
Participant
#

I think it gets to the basics of identity. Folks just can’t make the leap in their mind.

Wherein, most folks don’t think of themselves as spandex-clad Cat 6 jail trail racers, but would pedal down to a local pub on a scraper bike with no helmet, no lights, in an old t-shirt and jeans…


Marko82
Participant
#

@mick, I will sell all of my bikes the instant I have to wear a tie to ride one (tweed rides not withstanding).


Mick
Participant
#

Last century, I wore a tie to work, so I woujld often be on my bike wearing a tie. It was a little difficult wearing a useless thing simply because it was expected of me.


Anonymous #

We all know that wearing a helmet is a good idea, and that biking is healthy. The real question is do we want one more law regulating what we should or shouldn’t do? The result will just be more government bureaucracy and less liberty.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
#

Used to be, wearing a seat belt was a real pain. Both my 1972 Opel and 1971 Pontiac T-37 had TWO seat belts, one for the belt, one for across the body, each with a big honking buckle about the size of a wallet, weighing about 4 to 6 ounces. Reach down with left hand, get left piece of lap belt (the male end). Reach down with right hand, get buckle end. Attach. Reach across with right hand, or back with left hand, find hanging buckle (I think that was the female end). Reach down with right hand, find male end of shoulder belt. Attach. None of these were on retractable rollers, and half the time, one of them would be hanging out the door, chipping the paint off a body panel.

That was seat belts in GM cars in the early 1970s. Is it any wonder we trained people to NOT use them? Get anyone over about 50 talking who doesn’t use seat belts, they probably are remembering their ’72 Olds or whatever.


Mick
Participant
#

Regardless of whether fragile little bike helmets provide protection for hard human skulls or not this much is true: riding a bike without a helmet adds to life expectency by virtue of exercise. This addition far exceeds the risk of helmetless riding. One might suppose (correctly or not) that wearing a helmet would provide additional benefits – but riding without a helmet is healthier than not riding.


stefb
Participant
#

I would want my head to be in a helmet if it smacks into a windshield or bounces off of the road at any speed. I think once I didn’t wear a helmet no the rite aid 5 blocks down the street and I didn’t like it.

I personally wear it on trails and always because I don’t trust other cyclists, animals, or myself to not cause a wreck. I also work in the medical field and don’t want to be the dumbass who should have known better but ended up with a preventable brain injury. I don’t see a problem with a law meant to protect people. I understand that the helmets aren’t supposed to be effective for high speed crashes, but there are many crashes at lower speeds. I just shake my head at people putting themselves into dangerous situations without proper gear anyway. Most of it are motorcyclists without helmets weaving down the highway at high speeds, but I do also shake my head at the dangerous cyclist wearing no helmet salmoning without lights at night. You never know who is going to be drunk or a dangerous driver, and you may be doing everything safely and BAM! Someone plows into you at 10mph from behind at a light or stop sign and you strike your head. Just my thoughts.


salty
Participant
#

I wear a helmet but I certainly wouldn’t make a law to make it mandatory.

When I was in Holland almost literally no one wore them in the cities (I did), I mean like <1%. Although, the recreational riders out of town on fancy road bikes generally did wear them, often with a full kit. Not sure how to interpret that.

People riding motor scooters generally didn’t wear helmets either – it was higher than bicyclists but still maybe 10%. And I think there’s a much greater chance a motorcycle helmet will actually give you some protection in a crash than a bicycle helmet.


cburch
Participant
#

Regarding downhill mtb vs moto helmets; this is a debate that has been raging for a couple years in downhill and the latest research tends to show that while moto helmets offer better protection from penetration and the type of forces you see in a 50+ mph crash, the more flexible and more crushable mtb specific helmets offer much better protection for your brain in crashes at lower speeds (dh crashes tend to be between 20 and 40 mph). Basically they have made the moto helmets too hard in the quest to protect from penetration of debris and your poor squishy brain and skull don’t get the slowed deceleration in moo helmets that they get in bike helmets. In fact in motocross there is a not insignificant number of companies purposely producing softer helmets and on the mtb side there are companies trying all sorts of inovative approaches to decouple the interior of the helmet from the hard shell exterior in the event of a crash.


orionz06
Participant
#

Aren’t the downhill helmets significantly lighter too? I remember torquing the hell out of my neck when I was younger riding MX. Not sure if I would ride a dirt bike without the neck restraints now nor would I ride a street bike without a super light helmet.


salty
Participant
#

Interesting… I’m sure they’re both way more effective than normal bicycle helmets (I’m assuming most/all DH helmets are full face?).

I do think it’s a bit silly that I ride my scooter with a full face helmet and gloves but I take no such precautions on my bicycle. Unless I go riding on the highway (which is pretty rare), the speeds are similar. Of course the average speed on the scooter will be closer to the max, but as a percentage of distance traveled it’s not a huge disparity. I mean, i bet over half of my work commute is spent at 20-30mph on the bicycle.

Anyways, it’s probably better not to overthink it too much…


Anonymous #

@mick — I didn’t mean to imply that there are no pedestrian commuters in Europe, I was just pointing out that the statistic they supplied maybe isn’t the best one. The article said that pedestrians and cyclists have the same level of risk **per miles travelled**

The assumption is that cyclists travel farther than pedestrians, on average, in their daily commute. If that’s not true, then fine, but if it is, then their statement doesn’t clearly communicate the level of risk for those involved. Sorry for being pedantic :)


cburch
Participant
#

@orionz high end dh helmets weigh just a touch over 2lbs. Mine is 968g to be specific.


Anonymous #

I don’t bother with a helmet. To be quite honest I feel it is rather silly for someone with my expertise. Goodness, our country sure lives for the fear crap. It would be VERY rare a helmet would do any good. Sure for the young cyclists or the uncoordinated, they should wear one, but for most it is really a bit over the top. Your hands would protect you for the most part in a fall and most don’t fall. Last time I fell was when I had a bit low tire pressure on my back wheel and when over some tracks on less than a good angle at night. I bit it and my head wasn’t even close to hitting the ground. My hands and arms took over.

Article is great. In the more developed cycling areas like Finland, Denmark and others most don’t wear a helmet. They just ride and enjoy without all the fear and marketing of, “OMG you need a helmet!!!!” Whatever.


Anonymous #

Great article and really good comments here everyone.

Whern I ride, I wear a $12 helmet from Target. I suppose it would save me some road rash if I fall. Hardly worth mandating that adults wear these.

I just returned from a trip to a central PA bed and breakfast. The owners are cyclists and operate a ride share on the front porch. You get a comfort bike, a u-lock, and a helmet. I thought it was pretty cool.

The helmet is just one more barrier to jumping on and riding for the average Joe. I will always have mine on, but I see plenty without them.


rice rocket
Participant
#

I don’t bother with a helmet. To be quite honest I feel it is rather silly for someone with my expertise…

Your hands would protect you for the most part in a fall…

Pros don’t release. Expertise my ass.


orionz06
Participant
#

I am also strongly against mandating them. Where does that stop? Illegal to ride without knee pads and elbow pads? Purely a wild ass guess but I am willing to bet that there are more things helmets won’t protect from than they will.

That said I value my noggin and wear a helmet that I spent too much money on in order to obtain the fit, ventilation, and style I wanted such that I would wear it all the time.


sarah_q
Participant
#

When my kid went endo on the jail trail his helmet was practically melted. He looked at it and said “wow, if I wasn’t wearing a helmet I’d probably be dead.” As his mom I can’t even begin to picture what would have happened otherwise. My husband has always said “you don’t need a helmet on trails.” False.

My step mom falls into the “don’t want to mess up my hair” camp. I tried to tell her that she would look awfully silly scalped.

In Amsterdam no one wears a helmet. No one travels very fast, and there are protected bike lanes and an entire bike infrastructure. Nonetheless, I wished I had a helmet.


stefb
Participant
#

I don’t understand why people who think helmets are useless wear them. What is the logic behind that? Did I misread?

← Back to Forums

You must be logged in to reply to this topic. Click here to login.

Supported by