My Stance on Bicycle Helmets

I usually avoid this subject like the H1N1, but I get asked so frequently what my position is on bike helmets, I thought I’d take the time to make it official. While I reserve the right to change positions in the future, here’s where I stand at this place and time:

  • I support the individual’s right to choose whether or not they wear a helmet (adults)
  • I support helmet laws for children
  • I wear a helmet most of the time
  • I occasionally choose to not wear a helmet
  • If a beginner asks, I recommend they wear a helmet
  • The data on helmet use appears to be inconclusive
  • Civil discussions on helmet use can be useful
  • “Helmet war” discussions are a total waste of time

I’m going leave the comments open on this thread with the hope that people can share their positions without getting nasty. If it turns into a flame war, well… you know.

89 Responses to “My Stance on Bicycle Helmets”

  • ksteinhoff says:

    Alan,

    You and I are mostly in agreement, like we usually are. We only differ in a couple of places.

    I used to wear a helmet most of the time; now I wear one all of the time. I’ve posted it before, but here’s my reason for wearing one.

    http://www.palmbeachbiketours.com/do-bike-helmets-really-save-your-life/ The data may be inconclusive, but I’m pretty sure my riding partner would still be beside me if she’d been wearing a helmet.

    I wish civil helmet discussions could be productive, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen many opinions changed one way or the other. Good luck with this one. I’d keep my grip firmly on the plug.

  • Croupier says:

    If you flip two parts of your stance to this:

    - I don’t wear a helmet most of the time.
    - I occasionally choose to wear a helmet.

    It’s my stance exactly. Thanks for sharing, Alan. It’s a good thing for your readers to know.

  • Perry says:

    I go in phases and am now firmly in a “non-helmet” phase but it could change again for no good reason any day. I think that for the most part, helmet discussions are a waste of time–a distraction not all that relevant to cycling, sustainability, health, etc. It’s just like trying to reform the complicated mess we call health care by talking about whether the Dems are trying to bump off granny. Not productive in the least and nobody’s mind is ever changed. But it sure makes for a powerful distraction.

  • Nathan says:

    I’m on the same page as you. Wish there was more to discuss, but it’s pretty individual. When I ride faster and in busy places, I like to have some protection from cars and hazards. When I ride casually with my kids I forgo the helmet most of the time. However, my 3 kids wear them all the time and are totally used to it. I believe in guardian angels and common sense.

  • Eric Warp says:

    Here’s what I don’t get… roadies with the expensive bike, the cool “look,” the trendy/team/stud muffin jersey– riding with a helmet, but the helmet is hanging from the handlebar stem. You’ve seen it… the helmet is centered on the handlebar stem. Is it then a magic amulet to ward off accidents? Can this be bottled and rubbed on a bike frame, eliminating the need for the helmet altogether?

    Case for helmets: my wife’s cousin, who would literally have been dead for twelve years now if it were not for the helmet. Cracked it right in half. Nice souvenir and reminder.

    And by the way, Donna’s accident happened when she was going less than 15mph.

  • Dottie says:

    That pretty much sums up my stance, as well.

  • charles says:

    I usually don’t wear a helmet when climbing in hot weather. My cotton cap soaked with water seems to cool me off better. I do wear a helmet when required on group rides and in town where I might be cited for not wearing one. I don’t believe helmets are all they are cracked up to be but having one on might help in certain circumstances. Its amazing to me how many cyclists talk about helmets but don’t use mirrors or wear gloves, not to mention those who have no decent taillight or headlight and shun reflectors, worrying that they might add weight to the bike or make it look cheesy. I’ve heard of plenty of poor folks who have crashed with a helmet on and have not survived, on the other hand, I’ve also heard the opposite. Most of the bad ones involve being hit or hitting an automobile or some inanimate object. Crashing on a bicycle without gloves or heavy pants and jacket will often result in severe road rash too but so can sliding into home plate. I empathize with those of you who may have lost a loved one in a bicycle accident. Be safe out there, use a mirror, lights and wear some gloves…………plus don’t get hit and for goodness sake, get some instruction on bicycle riding survival techniques . Its amazing how many of us remain unaware of the actual scenarios where we can be hurt or killed. We need to learn how to avoid them to ultimately be as safe as possible.

  • ToddBS says:

    I tend to wear helmets when riding in traffic but not when on a bike path. That’s probably opposite of what it should be as the impact with a car will likely be more than a helmet can take anyway, of course that’s assuming the rest of me is still in serviceable condition.

    The one spot I always wear my helmet is when riding off road on technical single track. I’m pretty sure it has helped me once or twice when it was me vs. tree, and it definitely keeps my scalp in decent shape; warding off all the low-hanging branches.

  • Carl says:

    Having worked for many years in and about a very busy ER and seeing too many fellow cyclists in big trouble, I have to tell you that you are dead wrong……..Hope I don’t run into you there. It’s not a pretty picture.

  • John says:

    I’ve had a life-saving event with a helmet. A red-light runner that cut me off flipped me over my handlebars on impact and I landed square on the back of my head. My helmet was crushed but I survived with a very light concussion and some neck strain that only took 3 trips to the chiropractor to feel better.

    I would never ride on my daily commute amongst cars without it.

    The times I am most likely to no want to wear it (just going around the corner on residential streets) are ironically when I feel most obligated to wear it, because that’s when my 5 year old will see me on my bike. If it weren’t for him, there might be times where I would forgo wearing it.

  • Alexis says:

    I always wear a helmet, partially because I learned how to ride a bike maybe 6 months ago. I’m not like super militant that itll save my life or what have you, but it makes me more comfortable. My boyfriend generally forgoes a helmet, mostly because his is falling apart and he can’t really afford a new one. But he’s also a much better bicyclists than I am and very comfortable taking his life into his own hands. I think for us (commuting about 4 miles round trip, right in the middle of the city) there’s not really that much danger–I feel SAFER in the middle of the city on crowded streets than I do in the suburbs. For one, in downtown there’s major speed control for cars because of traffic and lights every block, but in the burbs you can easily go 30+ mph which is more hazardous for bicyclists. In that situation my boyfriend would be more likely to wear a helmet.

    Lights are an important safety feature, but we laugh at people who have like 6 blinking lights on. That’s more distracting than anything, I think. OF course, in Portland you’re legally required to use a front light and at least a rear reflector riding at night, and its not required to wear a helmet.

  • Doug R. says:

    Hey Alan, I have always worn a helmet on my motorcycles and now all the time on bikes too. As you know, I was hit and thrown through a rear windshield of the car in front of me in 2007!
    The full face helmet saved my life!! What bigger piece of evidence do people need to learn to wear them? Rat.

  • Andrew Priest says:

    G’day

    Thanks for the posting and your comments. My five cents worth:

    (1) I live and ride in a country where helmets are mandatory;
    (2) I fully support these laws;
    (3) I value my brain and my intelligence;
    (4) I always ride with a helmet unless I do something really stupid like forget it;
    (5) I encourage those who don’t think they need or want to wear a helmet to volunteer at a rehab centre so they can make a more informed decision.

    Regards
    Andrew

  • Len says:

    Generally agree with you.

    I support the individual’s right to choose whether or not they wear a helmet (adults)
    I support helmet laws for children
    I do NOT wear a helmet most of the time (yes in medium to heavy auto traffic, mountain trails, but not daily commute on bike paths and side streets)
    The data on helmet use appears to be inconclusive. Anecdotes are not facts.

  • tdp says:

    Well said Allen! I’ve been reading a lot of the studies done and opinions said and you’ve summed up my conclusions better than I was able to!

  • Jonathan says:

    I wear a helmet all the time. I want to stop wearing a helmet. However, I want to set a good example for my children, ages 3 and 6 years old.

  • Mohjho says:

    A sure way to decrease total riders in a population is to inforce helmet laws for adults.

  • SinglespeedJarv says:

    For me your first statement applies adult or child:
    ” I support the individual’s right to choose whether or not they wear a helmet”

    That said, if I have kids they won’t have a choice in the matter until they are responsible for themselves.

    Your position sends a bit of a mixed message as on one hand you support a riders choice, but on the other you recommend that a beginner wear a helmet and would definitely make kids wear helmets. I think those least likely to want to wear a helmet are those people who cycle less frequently or those just starting out cycling. Recommending them that they wear a helmet.

    As for me, I used to wear a helmet most of the time, until I crashed while not wearing one – a note to those people who only think vehicles cause accidents, my stem snapped, so went straight down on my temple. Given that people can die falling off a chair, I consider myself pretty lucky to be here now. I always wear a helmet these days.

    My beliefs are that if helmets were compulsory it would drive down the numbers of people on bikes.

    Nice one for sticking your head over the parapet though

  • Scott says:

    I almost always wear a helmet. It’s just not a big enough deal to not wear one. I know anecdotes are not statistics, but we are all in someone’s anecdote about something. People can & have died just from getting knocked down onto a curb. Maybe the odds are against it, but, again, we’ve all had some (probably lots) of various experiences that were “against the odds”. Counting on the odds is like expecting that you will have exactly 2.8 children or that you will die at exactly the average age.
    Defensive cycling is great, but I don’t care how amazing & aware of a cyclist you are, things can happen that are absolutely out of your control.

  • tdp says:

    I think in terms of children, there are lots of things they can’t do that adults are allowed to do because they are adults. I don’t let my son join me for a beer or occasional cognac and until he was 16 and proved not only to me but to the government as well that he could follow the rules of the road and was a competent driver, he wasn’t allowed to have a license. Also thank goodness that he has to wait until he’s 18 to go into the military or get a tattoo. I was 18 when I did both of those things but personally looking back now I wish the age limit had been higher. And though he’s a pretty smart guy and I would trust him in voting for a competent elected public figure, I still think that having guidelines about how old someone can be before they have certain privileges or take on certain responsibilities is a pretty good idea and in my opinion that would include wearing a helmet: “show me you’re competent enough and enough of an adult to ride safely and you can have the choice to wear a helmet or not.”

    That said I know adults who aren’t responsible enough to take on some of these responsibilities but I think it to complex and too much government interference to issue competency or “adult” tests.

    IMHO

  • Ulrich says:

    I wear a helmet about 99,99% of the time, I even miss it when I am without and I am quite shure that helmets do save lifes.

    As bikes should be used by more people we should leave the decision to wear a helmet to the rider. Here in Germany we tend to overregulate many things and forcing grandma / grandpa as an example to wear a helmet when she / he is riding to the grocery store or his / her friends will only stop them riding. And this does not do her / him good nor the environment.

    But we should advocate helmet by making them cheaper. My suggestion is to cut VAT from helmets.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    “Its amazing to me how many cyclists talk about helmets but don’t use mirrors… ”

    Okay, I can be civil in a discussion about helmets, but when someone brings up mirrors IT’S WAR. ;-)

    The only fundamental difference of opinion I have with Alan is that I think it should be up to the parents of children to decide whether a child should have to wear a helmet. Not that I believe children should have a choice, but I think their parents should. I simply cannot support mandated safety laws based on inconclusive evidence. Also, of course, anecdotal evidence isn’t evidence. I never share anecdotes, nor do I listen to others’.

  • Frits says:

    Could it be that wearing a helmet is part of the question to which extent bicycles are a normal and accepted part of traffic? Look at continental Western Europe or Asia where bikes are everywhere and helmets are not. Here in Holland, where cars and bikes are kept separate as much as possible – in the interest of both parties, accident statistics do not indicate that helmets would be an absolute panacea. A cyclist who is run over by a truck turning right will be dead anyway. But if people feel more safe when wearing a helmet they should absolutely do so.

  • Alan says:

    @Frits

    You point brings up a serious question: does too much emphasis on helmets in the U.S. distract from what is arguably the more important issue of infrastructure? It’s a lot cheaper and simpler to say “wear a helmet, now go out and mix it up with traffic” than to deal with the much more difficult problem of a lack of bike and ped infrastructure.

    Alan

  • Tom Barone says:

    Let me see– I always make my kids wear a hulmut when we ride but i never do.

    If you think enough of your children why would you conpromise their future with an accident happening to you? You are seriously head injured and will not be able to work ( ever) who do you suppose is going to have to support your children? The thought of setting an example to your childred by wearing a helmut should by it’s self be an insentive to do so . Not taking into account the possibility that you could become a public liability yourself!

    WEAR A HELMUT Dude!!!

  • Alan says:

    @dukiebiddle

    The reasons I support helmet laws for children are twofold: one, I don’t think children are capable of making an informed decision on the matter, and two; kids are less likely to disobey the law than they are to disobey their parents.

  • Ows says:

    I live in Wales, UK. I wear a helmet. I don’t want to, but my girlfriend flips out if I don’t… so I do.
    :-)

  • Alan says:

    @Tom

    On the public liability question, we could say the same thing about fast food, cigarettes, automobiles, motorcycles, and any number of other things that appear to be more dangerous than riding a bicycle.

  • Frits says:

    @Alan: it’s a matter of numbers, really. If you have to accommodate at least an equal number of cars and bikes, it’s best to give each its own road. Bike paths are cheap. They don’t need strong beds, the tarmac layer can be thin. The only problem is space which we haven’t and you have in abundance. 50 years ago bikes and cars mingled happily as there were less of both, cars were a lot slower and the roads were far less smooth. The population has almost doubled and so has the number of bikes; cars easily tripled in number. The only way to keep the peace was to separate them so that is what we have been doing since. 150 years ago people walked in the middle of the road, among carts and carriages. You wouldn’t dream of letting pedestrians roam free among cars nowadays. The most common injuries to cyclists are elbow and knee fractures … Pads anybody?

    What you need in the U.S. is more cyclists. City planners will then have to look for better ways to regulate the traffic. East, I would say (or West, in your case; I suppose Europe is equally far away in both directions).

  • jdmitch says:

    Generally speaking, I wear a helmet if I’m riding outside our neighborhood. My main reason is that, should someone strike and disable or kill me, I don’t want them to be able to hide behind any “partial liability” argument in court. Fact of the matter is that most judges in the US are pro-car anti-bike (just like most of the population).

    @Alan,

    I agree, there are far more social problems that cause far more deaths than helmets will ever save.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    Tom Barone, although I’m not sure, I believe the comment you are paraphrasing is this one:

    “When I ride faster and in busy places, I like to have some protection from cars and hazards. When I ride casually with my kids I forgo the helmet most of the time. However, my 3 kids wear them all the time and are totally used to it.”

    In its proper context, I believe it is evident that the commenter was saying that in high risk situations he does wear a helmet, but in low risk situations, such as peddling on a path around a park at say 8 mph, he opts not to. The commenter also did not say that he made his children use helmet. He, he may not, but that is not said. The context of the comment and the context of the paraphrase are unrelated.

    With that said, I’m sure parenthood would make me look at my own risk assessment very differently. I would never say that I don’t think helmets make cycling safer for the individual. I think they would, just as they would make walking safer or taking a shower safer. My decision to go helmetless is based on risk assessment founded on statistical analysis of field effectively and likelihood of a significant head trauma or death measured against I million km/miles peddled and 1 million hours peddled. But yes, if I had dependents my risk assessment would be calibrated differently.

  • Tamia Nelson says:

    I agree with much of what you list, Alan, with one exception. I worked for three years with head trauma patients and don’t want to end up like they did. So to hedge my bets, I wear a helmet. Several times I’ve been very glad I never ride without one.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    “I agree, there are far more social problems that cause far more deaths than helmets will ever save.”

    Agreed, and I think we can all agree that a much bigger social problem than not wearing a helmet is the health consequences of not riding a bike. The access weight and heart disease that cycling heals are bigger killers than cycling head traumas.

  • Christy says:

    I guess I’m over kill in what I wear – helmet, gloves, mirror, two safety flags (I’m on a trike), rear flashers at dusk. I’ll do whatever need to do to enjoy my bike riding and know I will come back from my ride safe and sound. I don’t want any excuses from “I didn’t see you.” to “You should have been wearing a helmet.” if something happens to me. My sister calls me the ‘bike dork’, but I feel safe on my trike and that is all that matters. I know I can’t prevent the pure accidents, but I can prevent most of them by being visible and being able to walk away from the minor ones due to the helmet.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    “I guess I’m over kill in what I wear” I don’t think any of that is overkill at all. There should be no limit, social or otherwise, to the steps we choose to take to make us feel comfortable enough to get in the road. Plus, if I was on a trike, I’d have 2 flags and mirrors too.

  • peteathome says:

    I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the statistics related to helmet performance, as well as the testing standards. As far as I can tell, helmets likely help in simple falls off bikes but are unlikely to offer much help in higher energy events. In some cases, due to the head rotations they can cause, they might actually hurt.

    Simple falls off of bikes, such as scraping a curb at low speed and falling over, are pretty common on bicycles and can lead to simple concussions if not more. Helmets should be able to prevent significant head injuries caused by the equivalent of a fall from a standing These can be pretty darn serious. A family friend recently died after slipping on a sidewalk, while walking, falling backwards and hitting his head. This is the sort of injury a helmet can mitigate.

    And even simple concussions are to be avoided, as the injuries to the brain can add up.

    What I DO object to is the bad science that implies helmets can have a significant effect in higher speed car/bike collisions. They mostly can’t. I still see that “helmets prevent 80% of head injuries” study being used to justify helmets and laws that was long ago discredited.

    So bicyclists are given a false sense of security by this nonsense. Helmet or not, you still need to practice safe bicycling and avoid car/bike collisions, not to mention bike/tree collisions, etc. , in the first place.

    I always wear a helmet primarily because if I ever am seriously injured in a car/bike collision, the jury is likely to blame me for the collision if I wasn’t wearing a helmet.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    “I always wear a helmet primarily because if I ever am seriously injured in a car/bike collision, the jury is likely to blame me for the collision if I wasn’t wearing a helmet.”

    Sadly, you couldn’t be more right. It drives me batty how every tme I read an article about a death from a bike/auto accident, and the writer always takes special care to state “…the cyclist was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident” and all I can think is what does that have to do with anything? Until I remember that the reader of that article wants to know whether they can internally blame the cyclist for the accident, regardless of the legal conclusion.

  • Maven says:

    This is a really interesting discussion. For the record, I do wear a helmet almost all the time (when I’m biking, that is). But I agree that improvements to biking infrastructure AND public awareness campaigns for drivers would go a long way toward eliminating bike fatalities. Here in Minneapolis we have lots of fairly new bike trails and lots of bike commuters, but there has been no concurrent public awareness effort–and I’m talking about something as simple as “watch for cyclists” or “share the road” signs. On my daily commute I pass through an intersection that was dubbed the most dangerous for bikers in the Twin Cities (based on the number of bike accidents involving cars) by one of the local papers, but absolutely nothing has been done to mitigate the problem–no signage for drivers, no attempt to re-route the bike trail, or to change the traffic signals.

  • dave says:

    Personally, I’m out of the discussion, but John Pucher has some interesting research papers concerning injuries and so on. Heck, just about everything cycling.

    http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pucher/

  • Sharper says:

    @ToddBS:

    We seem to have swapped our general helmet usage. I wear mine religiously on my bike trail commute, but almost never when I’m riding around my neighborhood in even heavy traffic. Generally, if I’m going to be pedaling faster than I can run, I wear my cap. And for some reason, I feel much more comfortable in traffic with my head free than helmeted. It might be purely psychological, but clamping on a helmet feels like it removes me from the environment, dampens my senses, and distracts me just a little. That’s okay on the trail, but the last thing I want when surrounded by hungry 4,000 lb steel dragons is helmet-induced myopia!

    Damn near all of the “close calls” I’ve had with cars were of the sort where my arms and legs could be cushion my fall, and despite broken collarbones and cracked ribs, I’ve never had a fall where my head so much as grazed the pavement. That said, I’m far more worried about injuries from neck or spine trauma than from direct head impacts, and I’m not about to start riding with a protective steel shaft down my shirt.

  • Dave says:

    I agree, helmet usage should be free choice. I think that riding with common sense and alertness are much more useful than a helmet, particularly for adults. I’m not necessarily against helmet laws for children, as I think they are much more likely to just fall over on their own and bump their heads, though as a caveat, they are also unlikely to do any major damage to themselves either, since they won’t be going fast, and they won’t be falling from any higher distance than if they were standing. All in all, I think it’s better not to require helmets at all.

    I think the most destructive thing about the whole helmet issue, and what generally gets people so fired up against them, is that they are often used by governmental authorities as a cop-out for actually making things safer for cyclists. “You have to wear a helmet. There, now you’re safe and I’m not liable if anything happens to you.” And then they can just forget about it and go on living their lives with no extra effort. People think so irrationally about the protection a helmet can provide, and that really can be maddening. The sort of “nurse is cleaning your road rash on your leg which is your only injury and mentions how lucky you are to have been wearing a helmet” kind of thing.

    I love the stance the Dutch take on the whole matter – they specifically refrain from ever encouraging bicycle helmets, instead they prefer to make cyclists feel as safe as possible by providing infrastructure, law support, and education, and then almost nobody ever feels the need for helmets (because there really isn’t any need for them). No promotion of fear, no beating around the bush, just “let’s make things actually safer, so people feel safer.” And it clearly works – with the highest cycling rates in the world and the lowest traffic injuries and fatalities in the world, they’re doing something right.

  • Helton says:

    I think the worst part of the “to helmet or not to helmet” issue is that people always tend to think that THIS is the most important thing to do in terms of bicycle safety (to wear a helmet). What is almost never said is that the helmet does not prevent any accident at all, unless one argues that a car could have seen or respected better a helmet-wearing cyclist, but anyway… I think much more important is learn how to master a bicycle well, how to corner, brake, even jump over small obstacles, and most of all how to fall on the ground without too much serious damage – things like rolling the body and protecting the face and skull with the hands and arms.
    Of course it helps a lot to follow traffic rules, but in some countries (Brazil, for example) it doesn’t guarantee your integral safety at all.

    Excellent post, and excellent replies, too!

  • bentguy in vanvouver says:

    I’ve just received my first ticket for not wearing a helmet. My wife and I were on our recumbent tandem which is a long wheel base style. You’d have to have ridden one to know but I doubt there is a safer ride. We sit upright, feet close to the ground, have two bells, two mirrors, one air horn, one front light and two rear, two mirrors and two sets of eyes. She has a maps and a gps in the back, signals all of our turns while I follow here directions and brake and steer. And both of us have been cycling for over 40 years each (including touring across Canada and all over British Columbia and Ontario) without incident.

    While the officer wrote up our ticket I tried to engage him in a conversation about our mandatory helmet law. He was completely uninterested except to express that he could think of better things to do on a Saturday morning then stake out a bike route and write 29 dollar tickets that no one ever pays. I had to agree. They stopped several other riders while I stood there but let a guy wearing his helmet backwards go by. In BC all you need is to show compliance. Your helmet can be cracked, you don’t have to strap it up, you can wear any other kind of head gear under it… you get the picture. This law is not about safety. And the current outcry from motorists that so many cyclist ride around without helmets (my unscientific guess would be around 40%) is behind the sudden interest that our police force has taken in hiding out around corners on our bike routes to catch us where we live.

    I would love to never mention bike helmets ever again but I live in a place that has a draconian law that after over a decade of being in place with widespread compliance (rates of compliance are changing recently as more and more people have decided to ignore the law and get back on their bikes) has had no effect whatsoever in its stated aim of reducing serious head injuries and saving lives. It has only afforded our politicians an excuse to ignore the real measures that would contribute to cycling safety.

    So we who live under mandatory helmet laws must keep banging on about helmets until our law is changed and we can refocus the discussion to more meaningful solutions.

  • Saddle Up says:

    I think not wearing a helmet when involved in any kind of activity where there is a risk of head injury (cycling, skiing, ATV’s, snowmobiles etc.) is pure selfishness. If people want to make their own choices and be responsible for what happens to them then they also need to be personally accountable for them as well. Personally accountable for all of the medical bills for instance. Why should I have to pay for someone elses bad choice? Am I responsible for what you do?, am I accountable? What about the choices you have now FORCED onto your family if you are seriously injured? Are they responsible if you cannot provide household income any longer even temporarily? Are they responsible to now have the burden of having to physically take care of you? I believe our society in in the mess we are currently in because of our self centered me first attitude to life. Holy cow it’s just a helmet, no one wants to take away anyone’s rights or freedoms, a helmet increases your chances of not suffering a head injury. Simple. I don’t understand why folks would not want that.

    I think maybe more people need to visit a hospital, a trauma center or rehabiltation facility and ask some folks there about choices they’ve made in their lives. Be personally accountable.

  • Nate says:

    I always wear a helmet, unless I am told not to wear a helmet, which is never.
    Happy Biking!

  • Alan says:

    @Saddle Up

    “If people want to make their own choices and be responsible for what happens to them then they also need to be personally accountable for them as well. Personally accountable for all of the medical bills for instance.”

    How about food choices and exercise choices then? Should people who eat fatty foods and lead sedentary lifestyles also be responsible for their own medical bills? It’s widely accepted that the biggest load on our health care system is obesity and its corresponding diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. If every bicyclist in the country suffered a head injury, it would still be a miniscule number compared to the costs associated with heart disease.

    From the AHA:

    Estimates for the year 2006 are that 80,000,000 people in the United States have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

    High blood pressure — 73,600,000.
    Coronary heart disease — 16,800,000.
    Myocardial infarction (acute heart attack) — 7,900,000.
    Angina pectoris (chest pain or discomfort caused by reduced blood supply to the heart muscle) — 9,800,000.
    Stroke — 6,500,000.
    Heart Failure — 5,700,000

    Alan

  • John in Roseburg says:

    Two members of my family have survived significant blows to the head resulting from bicycle crashes. Myself and my daughter. In both cases the damage to the helmet indicated how radically different the outcome would have been without it. For me helmet use is an educated choice.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    “Saddle Up says:

    I think not wearing a helmet when involved in any kind of activity where there is a risk of head injury (cycling, skiing, ATV’s, snowmobiles etc.) is pure selfishness.

    You forgot driving automobiles and showering. Both of these activities are more likely to cause significant head trauma and head trauma related death than cycling. If I visit a trauma center, before I would come across a bicycle related head trauma, I would have to wade through 5 walking related significant/life threatening head traumas first. The argument that we should visit a hospital adds nothing constructive to the conversation, unless the argument is that I should either stop walking without a helmet.

  • bentguy in vanvouver says:

    “Saddle Up says:
    I think not wearing a helmet when involved in any kind of activity where there is a risk of head injury (cycling, skiing, ATV’s, snowmobiles etc.) is pure selfishness.”

    “John in Roseburg says:
    For me helmet use is an educated choice.” — insinuating to not wear one is the uneducated choice.

    And this is where the discussion always breaks down. When the name-calling starts.

    Time to move on — there’ll be nothing else to see here matey.

  • peteathome says:

    Saddleup – this is why I avoid helmet debates.

    Do you believe people are selfish who don’t wear helmets walking and driving?

    I gave a personal account of a friend who died in a sidewalk fall who could have been saved by a helmet. Just because there are so many more walkers than bicyclers in this country, I’m sure pedestrian helmets would prevent MANY more head injuries than bicycle helmets.

    And, of course, driving causes tons more head injuries than bicycling. Side impacts and roll-overs are two types of accidents where helmets could really dramatically reduce the number of head injuries in this country.

  • Perry says:

    “If people want to make their own choices and be responsible for what happens to them then they also need to be personally accountable for them as well. Personally accountable for all of the medical bills for instance. Why should I have to pay for someone elses bad choice? ”

    I don’t want to be insulting but this is sloppy thinking at its worst. Where do you draw the line? I think I will come over to your house and inspect your lifestyle for “irresponsible” risks you and your family take. I certainly don’t want to pay for it (whatever “pay for it” means).

  • ethan says:

    I totally agreed with your points. 100%. Thank you.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    In an attempt to steer this dialog back toward constructive…

    It seems to me that everybody, cycling advocates, hostile drivers, anyone seeking out a cause-du-jor, etc., has some sort of agenda to exaggerate the dangers of cycling. I apologize to those of you who have personal experiences that influence your decisions, but I make mine based on the raw numbers collected by the government to measure safety. If the governments estimations of annual bicycle use are correct, then cycling is not a dangerous activity, but rather is essentially a safe activity that possesses a negligible and minuscule risk of significant danger and/or death (as opposed to cuts, bruises, broken arms/legs/clavicles,etc.), just like all other everyday activities. The aggregated numbers to not support the cycling advocates claim that shared roads (as opposed to designated bicycle lanes) pose a large risk to cyclists, the aggregated numbers do not support the hostile driver’s claim that we have no business in the road, etc,… I could go on and on.

    The fact of the matter is, even in America, which according to seemingly everybody is a super dangerous place for cyclists to ride, there is only one cycling fatality for every 4 million exposure hours. The significant injury rate is also shockingly low, and significant head traumas small percentage of that number. Our numbers are double that of the Netherlands, but that doesn’t mean that we’re dealing with an incredible dangerous situation, it just means that it is only half as super safe to cycle in America as it is in the Netherlands.

  • Stipe says:

    It seems flame war is starting. Before it starts – I always wear a helmet. Friends call me Pterodactyl, I don’t mind – helmet gives me a sense of security. Sharper said wearing helmet cuts him from environment – to me, it’s opposite. When I put helmet on my head my brain gets the message: “Now you’re endangered specie, better be careful.”.

    In everything else I agree with the original post, and I agree that overregulating will decrease the number of cyclist. Every cyclist is needed to create critical mass which will produce separate roads for cyclists and motor vehicles (look at Netherlands :))

  • bentguy in vanvouver says:

    I just checked out the link that Dave suggested above.

    http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pucher/

    I’ve only glanced a few articles over but this looks like some good stuff. There is a nice pdf slide show with some shots of some of my regular cycling routes in Vancouver. Well I’ve found my Labour Day weekend reading. Thanks Dave.

    And I concur with dukiebiddle; cycling is a very safe activity and according to the British Medical Association the benefits outweigh the risks by 20 to 1. I can’t think of much in my life that beats those odds — maybe eating and breathing and some days I’m not so sure about that.

  • Ari Hornick says:

    My position on wearing a helmet: I almost never wear one, but I’m not anti-helmet. I am anti helmet law. I have two small children. I leave the choice to them. One of them almost always wears a helmet. The other almost never wears a helmet. We don’t go out seeking risks, but we don’t take huge measures to protect ourselves from small risks. Generally, we follow the Hand Equation: B less than PL i.e. burden of changing my behavior must be less than the probability of harm multiplied by the seriousness of the harm. After reading the research about bicycle helmets, my conclusion is that B greater than PL, so I don’t tend to wear one.

  • Erica Lucci says:

    Alan, good stance and well written.

  • pdferguson says:

    I don’t wear a helmet when riding a bike for the same reasons I don’t wear one when driving a car, taking a shower, or killing a hobo…

    Actually, I do wear one when mountain biking or the rare occasion of riding my old DF road bike. When I ride my recumbent, which is the majority of the time, I don’t. Instead I wear a wide brimmed hat, because I believe I am at greater risk from skin cancer than I am from low to moderate head trauma.

  • John in NH says:

    Again, its good to have a thought out and logical reason, not just because we are suppose to ;) when dealing with cars I wear mine no question, i also use gloves and a mirror as well as full front and back lights, and a couple extra reflectors thrown in for good measure. If I am on a physically separated track or in a no car zone (such as uni campus) I don’t typically. I feel it is up to each and every person to decide what makes them feel safer, and if a helmet gets them on a bike then I am all for it.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    I also wear a helmet when I ride my road bike, so even I’m not at all hostile to wearing them. It’s all about my own risk assessment: when I’m in the drops, shooting down a road 35+mph, with minimal geometric trail, my face shoved forward 2 feet above the ground and leaning into turns, I feel more secure with a helmet and gloves. But when I’m noodling around the city in my makeshift ghetto beater porteur with albatross bars, my risk assessment tells me helmets are kind of silly. It just so happens I’ve been loving the beater far more than the road bike lately.

  • Bob P. says:

    I used to race single track mt biking, and on a training ride with a great rider, he fell. He had a helmet on, and the helmet split in two. I wore one ever since. The only exception is after my morning commute, I ride two blocks from the gym to my job without one.

  • Scott says:

    As stated by someone earlier, helmets are most effective at protection in lower-speed situations. If you’re racing along on your road bike and wreck, you’ll be severely injured, helmet or not. If you’re puttering around town & a squirrel or dog cuts in front of you & causes you to fall, hitting your head on the curb or a parked car, a helmet can save your life. If you want to go by the odds & statistics, it makes more sense to wear a helmet in low-speed (perceived low-risk) situations rather than high-speed situations. For a high speed crash, anything less than a motorcycle helmet probably won’t help much.
    Of course I believe it’s the individual’s choice. I am a little concerned about people who equate “good odds” with “guarantee,” but that again is up to the individual.

  • bentguy in vanvouver says:

    Ok, let’s trade anecdotes.

    I store my bike in a small room under the back porch. The door is low and I have hit my head on it several times. When this happens I usually swear, rub my noggin for a moment or two, then go about dealing with my bike. After a few of these I learned to duck just that little bit more. One day I hit my head on the exact same spot while wearing a helmet. I hurt my neck a bit but no sore noggin. When I took off my helmet I saw that the outer plastic shell was cracked and inside I saw that the polystyrene liner was spit. Did this helmet save my life? Or is it just a fragile piece of junk? And is it possible that I would never have hit my head at all had I not been wearing that helmet… which I have never replaced. Since I have unwittingly tried this experiment both helmeted and un-helmeted I would feel rather silly showing this lid around and claiming that this would have been my head had I not been wearing it.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    “If you’re racing along on your road bike and wreck, you’ll be severely injured, helmet or not. If you’re puttering around town & a squirrel or dog cuts in front of you & causes you to fall, hitting your head on the curb or a parked car, a helmet can save your life. If you want to go by the odds & statistics, it makes more sense to wear a helmet in low-speed (perceived low-risk) situations rather than high-speed situations. For a high speed crash, anything less than a motorcycle helmet probably won’t help much.

    You’re absolutely right. I cannot argue with you, but the truth of the matter is that my decision to wear a helmet on a road bike at high speeds has very little to do with actually safety and more to do with giving me a sense of safety and security. But thank for erasing my false sense of security, jerkface. ;-) I’ll continue to do things bass ackwards and go helmetless for noodling and helmeted for rocketriding.

  • CB says:

    I think not wearing a helmet when involved in any kind of activity where there is a risk of head injury (cycling, skiing, ATV’s, snowmobiles etc.) is pure selfishness. If people want to make their own choices and be responsible for what happens to them then they also need to be personally accountable for them as well.

    @Saddleup : It sure takes courage to say something like that. Unlike others, I won’t come wrestle you. This is a logical thought process and is shared even by folks such as David Gordon Wilson (MIT), the author of the book Bicycling Science. You can read his comments in my conversation about helmets here : http://cozybeehive.blogspot.com/2009/05/conversations-with-david-gordon-wilson_14.html

    I’m not sure what others are getting so worked up about. Look, whether its obesity or people hurt in an injury, they’ll end up in two places – 1) Hospital (or another institution). 2) Grave. The costs to society is threefold. 1) Direct expenses in terms of healthcare expenses. 2) Indirect expenses through lost productivity. 3) Emotional strain and costs to your own family. If you’re an employer and you have a valuable skilled person working for you who chose to not ride with his helmet on and got his head busted open one day, thats an expense both for him and for the employer. If you have wife and several kids and choose to ride unsafely today because you didn’t wear adequate protection, you may be leaving behind dependents who shared collective familial goals with you and now you’re not there anymore to support that vision.

    I can’t see what you guys cannot understand about this. The cost to society of traumatic brain injury in the U.S is put at almost 49 billion dollars. Its also the leading killer and disability agent of children. If you’re obese, you still have a brain to talk with. You don’t get that luxury with injury.

    -Ron
    Admin, Cozy Beehive

  • bongobike says:

    Wow! Sixtyfive comments in one day. No doubt about it, helmets are THE most contentious cycling issue in this country. You would think we’re talking about religion, abortion, gay rights or something like that. Crazy…

  • Sharper says:

    @dukiebiddle
    And I’ll be right there with you, my hair flowing in the car exhaust breeze and clamped down tight on the bike trail…

  • Sharper says:

    @CB

    1) Helmets are not the end-all, be-all of bicycle safety. A cyclist’s eyes, ears, reflexes, and judgment — not to mention the actions of those trafficmembers around him or her — also play a huge active role in preventing not just traumatic brain injury but all injury. I’d suggest that out in traffic, an actively engaged cyclist without a helmet is much less likely to suffer injury than a unengaged cyclist that expects to be kept safe by passive protection like a helmet.

    2) Brain injuries are not the end-all, be-all of traumatic injury. John and bentguy both mentioned anecdotes involving helmets and *neck* strain. Your helmet does you no good if your neck snaps, and there are numerous other traumatic injuries that can cause loss of work, permanent disability, or death.

    3) Your statistics are difficult to put in context. Of that $49 billion you claim, is that the total of all brain trauma losses, or just bicycle-related incidents? Of those bicycle-related incidents, what are the statistics on helmet-wearing and cyclist-at-fault?

    *All* injury should be avoided as best as possible, but I’m not sure you’re making the argument that helmets are The Way to do it.

  • pdferguson says:

    @bongobike
    I absolutely support a gay person’s right not to wear a helmet while having an abortion in church…

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Alan, thanks for bringing up the subject and hosting the discussion. Well done. So many people are unaware of the entire issue and I think it’s important to educate.

    bentguy, that’s an interesting anecdote!

    Anecdotally, before I read up on the issue myself, I was struck by the way the two different sides in the helmet debates argued their case. I noticed that many of the pro-helmet arguments were anecdotal. This convinced me to take the time and effort to research the facts for myself.

  • Larey says:

    I hardly ever notice if another rider is wearing a helmet, but for some reason, I always notice a person walking into or out of the office wearing their helmet. I don’t know why, but it always strikes me as odd looking.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    To quote 49 billion for ALL national head traumas is a well worn old manipulative argument tactic. The number is so bewilderingly high that the human must abstract it and compare it to his own income to grasp its meaning. It’s the theoretical overall head trauma amount which at best only has a 1% contribution by cyclists, and even that is to assume that the helmets significantly reduced the number significant head traumas and/or death or will in the future. Not to mention that it is the theoretical overall expense for ALL head traumas for a population of over 300 million people.

    I could continue to point out the flaws in the logic, but I have to go to my grandfather’s Obama death tribunal in a few minutes.

  • CB says:

    Sharper,

    1) “Helmets are not the end-all, be-all of bicycle safety.” No one mentioned it is. Looks like you’re quite the planner..being careful and taking all the time in the world to be “actively engaged”, but the deep hole in this sort of thinking is that the other person driving the car is also “actively engaged” and careful and taking all the time in the world to do so. Accidents are not planned, how much ever you follow active engaging from a logbook out on the road. Here’s an example to illustrate : http://cozybeehive.blogspot.com/2009/08/terssafety-moment-colliding-with-taxi.html

    2) No one said it is. But can your computer work by plugging out the CPU? Talk to a neurologist. I don’t have a degree in neck biology to analyze the neck. Here’s what I can tell you. I have calculated the force and declaration of a helmeted head impact : http://cozybeehive.blogspot.com/2009/06/deceleration-and-force-of-helmeted-head.html.

    3) The 49 billion is a total figure. I won’t do all your homework for you, but you can read the following for clarification and debate statistics with the authors from reputed institutions :

    a) Finkelstein E, Corso P, Miller T and associates “The Incidence and Economic Burden of Injuries in the United States. New York (NY): Oxford University Press; 2006″.

    b) Bicycle Related Injuries Among Children And Adolescents In The United States, Nationwide Children’s Hospital Research Institute. You can read the article here : http://cozybeehive.blogspot.com/2009/03/latest-research-bicycle-second-to.html

    Helmets are a cheap insurance against common falls. When one doesn’t want to wear it, they can pull all sorts of excuses from all over the place and bring it to the table. That’s fine if you want to, but realize the costs of doing so as people here pointed out. End of discussion.

    Ron
    -Cozy Beehive

  • Dave says:

    It’s also worth noting that there is some real evidence that bicycle helmets can increase your chances of a major head or neck injury in certain cases, by adding rotational forces to your head if you hit the ground, and by increasing the chance of your head hitting the ground. It’s just another factor to consider in the whole decision.

  • CB says:

    Alan,

    I had posted an elaborate reply to Sharper as he addressed me. Your blog said “Comment Awaiting Moderation” and then there is no sign of my comment. If you’ve deleted it, that’s pretty unprofessional for a blogger. Boy what a way to waste time.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Trackasaurus, medical people know biology, not physics (a physicist and a physician are two different things! :-). To be an expert on helmets you need a little biology, but you need to know physics, statistics and risk too.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Trackasaurus, “you can’t represent uncertainty with a bunch of numbers”. Could you elaborate on that?

    And what exactly am I being ignorant about? I know concussions are something you can expect a complete and quick recovery from (see wikipedia). They are the most common injury among hospitalised cyclists in Sweden (30%), yet still there is only one concussion for every 2 million kilometres cycled. If you cycle an hour a day, it takes 274 years to cycle 2 million kilometres.

  • Larey says:

    Just a thought about statistics — no one knows them better than the insurance companies. They have whole mobs of actuarial specialist computing the odds of just about every kind of accident. The uninsured driver part of my auto policy covers me in the event I’m injured by an uninsured driver so it would seem they have a vested interest in the safety/danger of my habits. They asked me my age, commute distance, and driving record, but they never asked if I always/sometime/never wear a helmet.

    And as to the “Cost to Society” argument, I’ll start giving it some credence when the driving age is raised to 25 and the drinking age is raised to 30.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    We’re not talking about complicated calculus or molecular biology, trackasaurus. If you have the population number of 300,000,000 and the number of cycling fatalities for a year, like 698 in 2007, one can use the math most of us were tracked to learn in the first grade to see that the average fatality rate for that year was 2.32667 per 1 million. All the other statistics are just as easy to calculate, as ERs send all this data to the gov’t for statistical analysis. There isn’t anything manipulative about raw numbers.

    You don’t need a medical degree to know simple division.

  • ksteinhoff says:

    Since I was the first commenter, I guess I can weigh in a second time. The discussion has been more civil than most h-discussions, but I don’t think many opinions were changed.

    Let me see if I can sum up the various arguments as I see them.

    1. Foam hats have magical properties that will protect us from everything.

    2. Helmets are like parachutes: you don’t really need one unless something else has gone wrong. At that point, you’re happy to have one, if only so nobody can say, “He wasn’t wearing a helmet / parachute.”

    Not everybody who is wearing a parachute survives the fall, but more who are wearing them do than those who don’t.

    Parachutes CAN cause rotational injuries and CAN drag you through a field of cacti. I’ll take those risks versus using my nose as an augur on a trip to China.

    3. Helmets are something I wear only when I’m going fast.

    4. Helmets are something I wear only when I’m going slow.

    5. I don’t wear a helmet because it is hot, inconvenient, musses my hair, is heavy.

    6. I wear a helmet to be a good example.

    7. I don’t wear a helmet because I don’t like people / laws telling me I should.

    8. Anecdotal evidence is meaningless. You have to look at statistics.

    9. Statistics are meaningless. The samples are too small, skewed, questionable.

    (If an operation has a 1% mortality rate, then your odds are pretty good unless you fall into the 1%.)

    Here’s my stand based on the link I posted in my first comment. I see helmets as a piece of safety gear just like my mirror, lights, and gloves. It’s not going to keep me from getting squashed from an 18-wheeler. It may keep me from being like my riding partner with five skull fractures that may make her unable to work or ride a bike again.

    To echo the comment of several other posters, we had made the decision that we were in more danger from heat stroke than head injury on a paved bike path with no obstructions located miles from any motorized traffic.

    If she had been wearing a helmet instead of having it strapped on the back of her bike for when we got back on the road, her low-speed crash would have probably caused some bruising and road rash.

    Will Rogers said divided people into three learning categories: “the rare one who can learn by reading, the few who can learn by observation and the vast majority who just have to piss on the electric fence for themselves.”

    After sitting at the side of my friend for 30 of the longest minutes of my life, I fall firmly in the second group. What I saw may have been anecdotal, but I CAN learn from observation.

    At least, nobody has made the argument that Nazis wore helmets.

    Yet.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    ksteinhoff, very well said.

    And as you pointed out, since nobody has as of yet compared anybody to Hitler, allow me to smash the bottle on the hull:

    Fact!:

    First group that tried to require a national population of bicyclists to use designated cycling lanes:

    The Nazis.

    But that is an entire different cycling flame topic…

  • Alan says:

    @Ron

    “I had posted an elaborate reply to Sharper as he addressed me. Your blog said “Comment Awaiting Moderation” and then there is no sign of my comment. If you’ve deleted it, that’s pretty unprofessional for a blogger. Boy what a way to waste time.”

    Your comment went into moderation because it contained multiple links.

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    The comments are closed on this thread. Thanks everyone, for the interesting discussion.

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