The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute has published a response to Mikael Colville-Andersen’s anti-helmet TEDx talk delivered in Copenhagen this past December.
Read the response →
[via Bike Hugger]
Posted 1.6.11 in Advocacy | Bookmark or Share
I read Copenhagenize (Mr. Colville-Andersen’s blog) and enjoy it a lot. I always wear a helmet, like I always wear a seatbelt, and will do so regardless of the laws. But I have problems with laws that seem to primarily be about protecting people from themselves – at least once they are adults. It is better to use information and let people decide for themselves. I would probably tend to agree with The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute over Mr. Colville-Andersen in terms of “the facts,” but it’s clear that each side has its own perspective to promote and will marshal what evidence they like the most.
It was a bit ironic that Colville-Anderson’s TEDx talk against helmets appeared very close in time to Dr. Kim Gorgen’s TEDx talk about the importance of wearing a helmet. Whatever one thinks about helmets in general, they seem to be getting airtime in the oddest of places:
I wear a helmet and probably will continue to wear a helmet regardless of one web video or another. However, what i found most interesting in his talk and what this response failed to address was this: On a relative scale, cars really do kill and are extremely dangerous, it’s the #1 killer of people from infants to 25 years of age. And if we are going to heavily promote transportation safety, then we should really focus on cars.
The funny thing is that when i started commuting by bike, I can’t tell you how many people told me how I was risking life and limb in choosing this mode of transport. It got to the point where I started to get really freaked out about it. I thought “did i make a bad choice?” “did I not think this through?” “am i putting myself in harms way by doing this?”. Can you imagine this same thing happening when you get your drivers licence? No way right!
The take away message from me for this video was not, “Should you wear a helmet or not”. It was, “Hey, don’t freak out, bikes are pretty darn safe” and when you advertise, promote, or mandate something that’s to the contrary – regardless of your good intentions – then i think you risk supporting this crazy idea that riding bikes is dangerous.
“The take away message from me for this video was not, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Should you wear a helmet or notÃ¢â‚¬Â. It was, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Hey, donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t freak out, bikes are pretty darn safeÃ¢â‚¬Â and when you advertise, promote, or mandate something thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s to the contrary Ã¢â‚¬â€œ regardless of your good intentions Ã¢â‚¬â€œ then i think you risk supporting this crazy idea that riding bikes is dangerous.”
Well said, Mike. I couldn’t agree more.
I don’t understand why the BHSI doesn’t drop the \b\ from there name and go after all individuals that would benefit from wearing helmets. I believe that head injury in a leading cause of death to occupants of motor vehicles.
Why doesn’t the BHSI use their finely tuned advocacy skills and go after this great risk to our society? After all, there are a far greater number of motorists than bicyclists. Is the use of the automobile so abhorrent that our society should just write-off drivers and their passengers? It seems to me that number of lives saved would be much greater if they went after the \low hanging fruit\ sitting inside cars.
Of course, I fear that this would make the roads less safe for bikes because the drivers would no feel less need to drive safely if wearing a helmet.
I actually read the BHSI’s response. It’s all blah blah blah. It seems that there is lots of blah blah blah on both sides of the helmet issue, with neither side being able to produce good scientific evidence. At the same time it seems to make common sense that bike helmets have a great limitation to their ability to protect the head due to their design. If the bike helmet could be designed like a motorcycle 3/4 or full helmet, it would be much much much more effective. But due to the vents and the has-to-be-very-lightweight, it has limitations. Very few bike helmets are Snell certified. Why is that? From my understanding, Snell certification is tough. Having “Snell certified” sticker on a helmet can be a very good selling point. Yet almost all bike helmets found in the stores are not Snell certified.
To I it makes a perfect sense that their protection is limited to slow speeds and certain angles. As the speed increases, the force of the impact increases as well, of course. Such a limited design is unlikely to help much. I can also understand that in some ways bike helmets could make the injury worse. The head is pretty much round and smooth. Bike helmets are more oval. So when a body hits the ground, the natural smooth roundness of the head allows it to roll on the ground. The unnatural shape of the helmet can slow down the rotation of the head, while the brain inside tries to continue rotating the same speed (inertia); this could cause a great trauma to the brain. Another problem is that the bike helmet doesn’t wrap around the head like a good motorcycle helmet. Thus at the ear level there is all of a sudden a two-centimeter rise (the helmet). So when the head hits the ground, the helmet can force the neck into an unnatural position. This wouldn’t happen with 3/4 or full motorcycle helmet, because it smoothly wraps around the entire head all the way down to the neck.
Personally, I wear helmet only when the roads get slippery. In those conditions I ride slowly anyway.
Oh, another thing from the report. The follwing sentence: “And the test drop speed is related to the speed of the head closing with the pavement, not the forward speed of a bicycle.” It doesn’t make sense at all. If the BHSI’s response contain such a BS sentence, how much can you trust the rest?
The BHSI grew out of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) so it’s only natural that they focus on bicycle helmets. You can read some background on the BHSI here:
If you truly believe motorists should wear helmets, there are plenty of organizations with much larger budgets that could advocate for that segment (such as the AAA).
@sb mike and Andersen-Colville are right: bicycling is an inherently safe activity. And the BHSI is right, to a point: helmets can protect riders in certain collisions from certain injuries, up to and including death. Unfortunately, the latter has a much steeper climb if they want to try to disprove the former.
@Michael Blue mostly nailed it. I went into their response assuming they’d bring up some statistics and research to knock down Colville-Andersen’s rhetorical criticism, since that could silence the issue entirely. But instead, they went with a deceptive rhetorical argument.
Complaining about the criticism, pointing out minor flaws without addressing larger issues, and (and this is worse) completely obfuscating issues (like how Colville-Andersen said mandatory helmet laws depressed bicycling in Sweden and Australia, but BHSI compared that to helmet promotion in the US) is something I’d expect of stereotypically idiotic American politicians, not from a advocacy group honestly dedicated to public safety.
The BHSI response only serves to show how US-centric their stance on bicycle helmets is. Have they seen those videos and pictures of Danish bicycle infrastructure? If I was riding a bike in the Netherlands or Copenhagen, I wouldn’t ride with a helmet, either. Here in Seattle, where the roads are riddled with potholes, uneven pavement, and debris, where blind intersections are common, where residential streets have no signage to show right-of-way at intersections… yeah, I always wear a helmet here.
Agreed. And conversely, Colville-Andersen’s video serves to show how Dutch-centric his views are (or at least appear to be).
Perhaps there’s no one answer here. Perhaps we should let local conditions dictate the level of precautions we each take.
I agree with Alan. The argument is a lot like a helmet – one size does not fit all.
In Florida I always wear a helmet. There is a high fatality/accident rate. Most drivers aren’t aware of the 3 Feet Law or how to deal with cyclists. It is slowly becoming more bicycle friendly, in my city. The biggest challenge is education and enforcement. Some cyclists also need to be educated on how to cycle safely and be visible in traffic.
well alan, if nothing else, eco velo is a thought-provoking site! and as with seatbelts (and i’m old enough to have learned how to drive in a car that was not so equipped), this helmet (yes or no) discussion will run and run, and this is a good thing.
first off, i live in the netherlands AND i ride my bike 7 days a week (to work and for pleasure) AND i wear my helmet 100% of the time; i wish more people here did. it is true that the netherlands has a great bicycling infrastructure…in many places and much of the time. the exceptions to that great bicycling infrastructure can get you just as injured or just as killed as in places without this great bicycling infrastructure. unfortunately i see it personally, or read about it in the papers, far more than one might expect in a culture so ingrained with the use and co-existence of the bicycle.
and maybe that is the point: we as bicyclists must co-exist with other transportations means, whether they be by foot, motor scooter (a big problem here and growing), motor cycle, auto or whatever. and in all honesty, the lowly bicycle – no matter how deluxe – still sits rather low on the food chain, open and vunerable to almost everything and from almost every angle. and it is that openness and vunerability that gives us bicyclist a sense of freedom and asks of us personal responsibilty in matters such as these.
I almost had to stop reading the response when they claimed that helmet tests are not done on the crown of the helmet. They are. Some testers drop them on the side also, but most just do the crown and call it passed.
I don’t wear a helmet when I ride just as I don’t wear a helmet when I walk. While the incidence of head injuries are actually higher for walking, the risk is so small that I just don’t see the need.
Interesting how dismissive and arrogant the BHSI response is. Especially since it contains factual inaccuracies and counter-logical arguments (the comments about lives saved in car-crashes was particularly sad example).
I used to be pretty pro-helmet, or at least a complacent helmet wearer. The barrage of pro-helmet marketing that contains such obvious and ill-reasoned propaganda has almost convinced me to stop wearing my helmet at all. As it is I am not wearing my helmet in all cases but it is a convenient place to mount things.