Special Report: Cycling

Blind Faith in Bike Helmets is Dangerous

Rather than mandating helmet use for cyclists, we should be pushing for safer streets for cyclists (and by extension, pedestrians).

By Sean Burak
Published July 06, 2011

When a cyclist is involved in a collision with a motor vehicle, the media usually report on whether or not the cyclist was wearing a helmet. While this can be an important piece of the story, it often happens that a non-helmeted cyclist suffers injuries to parts of the body other than the head, but the report still discusses the rider's lack of a helmet.

These stories sometimes turn the incident into an opportunity to interview police on their stance on helmet use - always resulting an a stern admonition to cyclists to "always wear your helmet".

It is tempting to compare helmets to seatbelts. Why not mandate helmet use, as we did with safety belts for cars? But there are some important differences.

Seatbelts have been proven to help rather than hinder in almost every collision situation. There was some backlash against seatbelts initially, by people who were concerned about being trapped in a burning car, but studies and real world data have shown that the benefit of seatbelt use vastly outweighs the slight possibility of being in a situation where it is a drawback.

The bike helmet story is much less straightforward. The tests under which helmets are certified are very simple straight-on-the-noggin bumps (read this great comprehensive summary of helmet testing procedures).

Glancing blows, neck twisting, and whiplash style impacts are not tested for, and independent tests have shown that a helmet could worsen concussions in many types of falls, especially when the fall causes rotation of the head.

Beyond that, helmet testing procedures show that the devices are not designed to reduce injury in collisions involving other vehicles. In other words, they are designed, tested, and certified solely to protect you from falling straight into onto a flat surface, at low speed, with no other vehicle involved.

Red Herring

The simple fact is that helmets are a red herring when it comes to cyclist safety, when riding at normal speeds in mixed traffic.

Beyond the chance of a helmet actually causing physical injury (and I freely admit that it is just a chance), there is a huge social detriment to the stigma of helmet use - and this is not just a chance, it is real. It is made much worse when helmet use is mandated by the government.

First, helmet use perpetuates the false idea that cycling itself is inherently dangerous. In reality, it is no more dangerous than walking or taking a shower, and is safer than driving. Head injury statistics show that cyclists are not especially at risk.

A study from 2003-2004 shows that there were 16,811 admissions to hospital for head injuries in Canada. Only 815 of these were cycling related - less than 5%.

Cause of Head Injury Hospitalizations, 2003-2004
Cause of Head Injury Hospitalizations, 2003-2004

The greatest number (7,637 or 45%) were from falls, followed by motor vehicle collisions (5,970 or 35%) and assault by another person (1,734 or 10%).

The real danger to cyclists is not hitting your head, it's getting hit by a car.

Safer Streets

Rather than mandating helmet use for cyclists, we should be pushing for safer streets for cyclists (and by extension, pedestrians). This could be as simple as changing the laws, but should be accompanied by physical changes to our roads as well.

Rather than putting the onus on cyclists to wear protective gear to prevent injury from a collision, we should be passing laws that put more responsibility on drivers to avoid the collisions in the first place.

The current approach is akin to mandatory bulletproof vest laws in lieu of gun control laws. It just makes no sense.

Here are some simple ideas that could be implemented at a low cost:

All of these are easy, law based solutions that do not require changing physical infrastructure nor special gear requirements for vulnerable road users.

Keep in mind, also, that cars come with seatbelts (and headlights, and horns, etc). For cyclists, every step toward safety is at additional retail cost.

Bike helmets are big business. Where does the majority of your $70 go to when you purchase a styrofoam hat from a bike shop which contains the same material as a $5 foam cooler? How much of this is R&D and how much is profit? Why does no one ask these questions?

Blind faith in bike helmets is dangerous.

Be careful out there!

Related

Mikael Colville-Andersen explains to TEDx Copenhagen why we shouldn't bike with a helmet:

"Any livable city worth its salt will feature bicycles, great numbers of bicycles on the urban landscape."

Sean Burak was born in Hamilton but raised elsewhere in Ontario. He returned to his birth town at the turn of the century and has never looked back. Sean is the owner of Downtown Bike Hounds.

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By RichardDenOtter (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 07:31:08

I am on vacation in Beijing right now. There are thousands of cyclists on the road and NONE of them wear helmets. What they have here are dedicated bike lanes the size of a car lane, as well as additional traffic signals, e.g. left turns for cyclists. In areas where it is impossible to add a full-size bike lane, the lane is separated from the rest of the traffic by a simple barrier. I can only hope we will see something similar in Hamilton.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 07:35:27

From Colville-Andersen's talk:

The automobile industry is one of the main promoters of bicycle helmets. And why? It's simple, really. The bicycle is a real and immediate threat to the dominance of car culture in our cities. And the reason you've never been given the opportunity to purchase [protective head gear for vehicle occupants] is that the car industry won't touch them. They excel at marketing their products, and they know it would be a catastrophe for car sales if we started telling people that driving a car is proven to be statistically incredibly dangerous.

Helmet campaigns and helmet laws tell people that cycling is dangerous, when in fact cycling is safer than driving. When people think cycling is dangerous, they stop cycling. When fewer people ride bicycles, cycling actually becomes more dangerous.

After considering the evidence, it's hard not to conclude that our helmet policy causes more harm than it prevents.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-07-06 07:35:35

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By rednic (registered) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 07:55:55

Im sure more motorists die of head injuries in a year than cyclists .. perhaps every one should where a helmet when out of the house at all times , and in my house inside as well....

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By Mr Meister (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 08:25:14

If I accept your article at face value and cycling is as safe as walking or taking a shower than there is absolutely no reason to increase fines or other punishments to drivers, or to change anything at all. I and most others reading this article will not accept such comments at face value.

Why the great opposition to wearing a helmet. Cycling helmets are very much like seatbelts. They both came to us from the racing world. Ask a competitive bicycle racer to ride with out a helmet and he would laugh at you, just like an automobile racer would. I remember all the whining and complaining about seatbelts when they were mandated so many years ago. It sounded then just like your article sounds now with statements like "Beyond the chance of a helmet actually causing physical injury (and I freely admit that it is just a chance)...."
If you knew that when you were out on your bike you were going to be involved in an accident of some kind and there was nothing you could do about it would you not rather be wearing a helmet than not? Wearing a helmet when cycling ( or skateboarding or rollerblading or any other high speed activity) is the single, simplest thing anyone can do to help themselves in case of an accident. Helmets like seatbelts do not, in fact can not, reduce the chances of an accident. Preventing accidents is a totally different question and does not belong in this discussion.

Reducing collisions between motor vehicles and cyclists will take a re-education of both sides. Both side have an abundance of concerns with the actions of the others. Cyclist should be doing everything they can do to avoid a collision with a vehicle because no matter who is at fault the cyclist will lose. When I am walking I always check for traffic when I cross the road because even if I have the right of way, I would rather wait for a car to do something illegal and clear the intersection than be right and get hit. The driver might face a fine or even imprisonment but none of that will help the cyclist (or pedestrian) if they are dead or worse. Yes, I really believe there are things worse than dyeing. Unfortunately in the 3 accidents that come to mind involving a vehicle and cyclist the cyclist was not doing that in 2 of them. The accident on U. James were the cyclist was on the sidewalk and drove into the side of a vehicle turning into a gas station. The young cyclist who blew through a red light on James Sth and ran into a vehicle. The other young lad who was hit and dragged by a car on Limeridge Rd. Only is this last case does it seem the driver was totally at fault. If not for the initial collision than at a bare minimum for failing to stop and dragging him afterwards.

A comprehensive network of bicycle lanes is the single best thing that can happen to make cycling safer. A pet peeve of mine is Main St. W. at the university. The whole street was redone recently and we have 6 lanes of traffic plus turn lanes at not a single bike lane anywhere. There are a lot of students who bike to McMaster. They have put bike lanes on Sterling (which disappear at King) but not on the much busier Main St. As the city proceeds with roadwork they should be looking at incorporating bike lanes wherever and whenever possible.

Even as that happens cyclist should be wearing a helmet if not for their own sake then for those that love them.




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By trevorlikesbikes (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 10:17:45 in reply to Comment 65609

The UCI only mandated use of helmets in 2003, much to the shagrin of the pros. If you've seen any of the pro racers training in Europe you would know they in fact only wear their helmets when in an actual race because they are forced to.

Comment edited by trevorlikesbikes on 2011-07-06 10:18:13

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 10:00:23 in reply to Comment 65609

Why the great opposition to wearing a helmet. Cycling helmets are very much like seatbelts. They both came to us from the racing world. Ask a competitive bicycle racer to ride with out a helmet and he would laugh at you, just like an automobile racer would. I remember all the whining and complaining about seatbelts when they were mandated so many years ago. It sounded then just like your article sounds now with statements like "Beyond the chance of a helmet actually causing physical injury (and I freely admit that it is just a chance)...."

So, since racing safety is directly relevant to non-racing, you naturally use a HANS device, helmet and six point harness when you drive to the grocery store, right?

It turns out that the best way to make cycling safer is to get more cyclists. If mandating helmets depresses the number of cyclists, then it's actually making cycling as a whole more dangerous.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 10:09:01 in reply to Comment 65623

Apples and oranges. More cyclists, driver education,and bicycle lanes will reduce the number of accidents. Wearing a helmet reduces injuries when involved in an accident. Wearing a helmet does not preclude any of the other measures. If mandating wearing a helmet stops someone from riding their bike then they were not serious about riding it in the first place. I heard all these arguments in 1976 when wearing seatbelts was made mandatory. It is pure and utter nonsense.

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By julie twyford (anonymous) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 20:59:39 in reply to Comment 65694

I am not "serious" about riding my bike. I just want to ride it. I ride it to the grocery store. I signal my turns. Stop or really slow down for stop signs, and ride on the road. I'd actually much rather just take my SUV to the grocery store which is a 3 minute drive away, but I'm trying to be "good". If I had to wear a helmet to ride the bike, I'd sell it, because helmets are gross.

I'm okay driving my SUV. I think, in a tiny little mean-spirited way, I'd like "them" to legislate helmets so I wouldn't have to ride my bike anymore.

But, riding the bike without a helmet is lovely. The wind in my hair, the kid-like freedom (that sadly, kids don't even know anymore, the poor mites)...

Riding a bike doesn't have to be serious, but it should be lovely.

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By seat belted (anonymous) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 10:21:47 in reply to Comment 65694

I remember seat belts coming an and I don't remember hearing people would stop driving if they had to wear a seat belt. Anyway it IS apples and oranges, seat belts definitely do avoid a lot of serious injuries and deaths in car accidents but bike helmets don't do anything to stop serious injuries and deaths in car accidents.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2011 at 10:17:51 in reply to Comment 65694

If mandating wearing a helmet stops someone from riding their bike then they were not serious about riding it in the first place.

Quite the contrary, Mr. Meister. I don't wear a helmet because I am serious about my cycling.

I cycle to work, to the grocery store, to the library, to the pizza place around the corner, to the bank a few blocks away: I cycle as part of my everyday life, not just as a hobby or for recreation. I would not bike so seriously (as a way to get around all the time) if I had to worry about schlepping a helmet around.

When I drive, I pretty much always wear a seat belt because the seatbelt is not an inconvenience - even if I'm just moving the car to the driveway, it's no effort to buckle up, so I do generally so.

The seat-belt analogy is appealing but it's not useful: helmets have not the effectiveness of seat belts, nor do seat belts affect people's driving habits.

Perhaps if I just toddled on bike paths of a weekend for some fresh air or bounded down wooded trails for fun, I helmet would make sense and be no bother. But for this serious cyclist, my helmet (which hangs in the garage with my road bike) would be a hindrance.

Comment edited by moylek on 2011-07-07 10:30:12

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 09:30:15 in reply to Comment 65609

Even as that happens cyclist should be wearing a helmet if not for their own sake then for those that love them.

One hears these "think of your loved ones" appeals quite often -from cyclists and non-cyclists. It's earnest pleas such as this which demonstrate biggest impact of the helmet campaigns of the past 20 years: cycling has come to be perceived as a particularly deadly thing to do.

But it's just not a danger to life, limb or noggin to ride a sensible bike on the road while staying alert and obeying the laws.

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By safety (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 09:11:21 in reply to Comment 65609

So I guess it doesn't matter to you that helmets don't actually protect cyclists against anything other than a straight fall off a slow moving bike and are actually more harmful in some falls.

Totally agreed about bike lanes, I go nuts every time I try to ride on a bike lane only to have it stop all of a sudden but our paranoia about helmet "safety" is also part of the problem. If helmets really were as safe as they say I'd be all for them, but they're not, they just make people think cycling is more dangerous than it really is and scare people away.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 09:08:29 in reply to Comment 65609

It would appear that based on your argument that bicycle racers, like automobile racers wear helmets, it would make absolute sense that every time you step into a motor vehicle, you are strapping on your trusty helmet as well.

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 09:00:13 in reply to Comment 65609

There is a good reason for opposition to helmets: they are a disincentive to cycling. If there was an overwhelming body of evidence that helmets improved cyclist safely, then cyclists would have to accept helmets as part of cycling. But there isn't.

Meanwhile, many, many people are choosing not to cycle because of helmets. Nobody looks good in a helmet. Helmets make your head hot. Helmets are a nuisance to wear and a nuisance to carry around once you park your bike.

If we want bicycling to become a more normalized part of people's daily life, then we really have to stop treating cycling like a sport that requires special equipment. Wear normal clothes and pedal at a reasonable speed. Get a good chain guard to protect your clothes from chain grease. Get a bike that lets you sit up instead of hunched over like you are competing in a race (fortunately these are becoming popular again). Use hand signals for changing lanes and ride on the road. Lobby for better bike lanes and use side roads if you aren't a confident cyclist. And enough with the freaking helmets.

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By Logician (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 09:06:55

This article offers a very flawed use of statistics, inaccurately suggesting that because only a small percentage of reported cases of head-injury hospitalizations are bicycle related, that helmets are unnecessary. This ignores unreported accidents and deaths caused by head injuries in bicycle collisions. It also takes a very small sample size - a single year study from a single country. The article also suggests - with no evidence other than hearsay and opinion - that the "real" danger is from vehicles. While this may be true, and I'm inclined to agree, there needs to be real evidence offered, rather than simplistic conspiracy theories based on the threatened dominance of the auto industry.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 10:32:46 in reply to Comment 65614

I am trying to find anywhere in the article where I said that "helmets are unnecessary".

I do believe that mandating helmet use is unnecessary. But helmets do have their place - mainly for people inexperienced in cycling, or for those who actively put themselves in greater danger, independent of vehicular interactions (stunt biking, racing, etc).

The main argument is that if safety is the main concern, then we should focus our attention on reducing the likelihood of collisions rather than assuming collision is inevitable, and wearing gear to protect from it.

If you looked at the study I linked to, it actually spans a 10 year period with similar results. If my article was an endless list of exhaustive statistics, no one would read it. But the links are there if you care to dig deeper.

The scope of this article is not global, and I chose a study focusing on the country in which the article is being published.

There is plenty of similar data from other countries, including some damning ones which show that in countries where helmet use skyrocketed due to mandatory helmet laws, the overall head injury statistics actually worsened.

Surveys show Western Australia's mandatory helmet legislation reduced public cycling numbers by at least 30%, yet total hospitalised cyclist injuries did not decline at all. The reduction in head injury numbers was marginal. West Australian cyclist numbers recovered in the decade to 2000 but hospital admissions were at record levels from 1997, roughly 30% above pre-law levels by 2000. In essence, the results strongly suggest that the mandatory wearing of helmets increases the risk of accidents and thus injuries. http://www.cycle-helmets.com/

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By Ryan D (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 09:30:03

"helmet use perpetuates the false idea that cycling itself is inherently dangerous."

I've honestly never understood this idea. We're surrounded by safety equipment all the time; no one thinks driving a car is dangerous just because it's got a seatbelt and an airbag. (in fact, people probably understimate the danger of driving) My apartment has smoke detectors, and there's a fire hose out in the hallway, but I don't live my life in fear of burning to death.

I agree that helmets aren't a universal solution for cyclist safety, but they aren't useless, either, and I've never felt unsafe putting one on.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 10:34:06 in reply to Comment 65619

Please note: I did not say that helmets are useless.

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By Ryan D (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 11:15:48 in reply to Comment 65627

Sorry, didn't mean to suggest you did. Rather, there is a safety benefit to wearing a helmet. Maybe it's big, maybe it's small, but it does make a bicycle helmet more than simple paranoia, or a magical rock that keeps tigers away.

(Sometimes, I wonder if the helmet opponents are even more fearmongering, reminding people - correctly - that a helmet probably won't help in any sort of moderate-speed collision.)

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 11:26:23 in reply to Comment 65633

there is a safety benefit to wearing a helmet.

There are two overriding questions:

  1. Is there a net safety benefit to an individual wearing a helmet?

  2. Is there a net safety benefit to a public policy/campaign/law that encourages helmet wearing?

The first question is highly uncertain. Studies point one way and the other, contradicting each other and leaving confused anyone who is serious about making a decision based on evidence.

The second question is very straightforward: helmet policies do discourage people from riding bicycles, and lower rates of cycling do cause higher actual numbers (not just rates) of casualties.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 09:39:11 in reply to Comment 65619

"helmet use perpetuates the false idea that cycling itself is inherently dangerous."

I've honestly never understood this idea.

Consider Mr. Meister's plea: he and the many others who make such pleas seem convinced that cycling is dangerous. He got the idea somewhere and I maintain that one source of this message is the helmet nannying and the attendant "imagine what happens if you don't wear one" campaigns which are inevitably invoked in pamphlets and articles.

Comment edited by moylek on 2011-07-06 09:41:09

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 10:25:31 in reply to Comment 65621

Actually I got my idea that cycling poses certain risks about 35 years ago. I was riding my bike down King St in Stoney Creek admiring a couple of young ladies walking on the sidewalk. Because of my inattention I collided with a parked car. I was thrown over the handlebars and into the car. This occurred long before anyone even thought of wearing a helmet while cycling. I have put many many miles on my bikes over the years. This was not the only accident I was involved in but it was the only one that was totally my fault. If helmets had been available then that incident would have convinced me to wear one.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 20:52:08 in reply to Comment 65701

See, you took the wrong lesson from the collision. The lesson you should have taken was where to focus your attention.

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By DanielRodrigues (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 10:32:40

Just throwing this out there: But could it be that the media and/or police identify cyclists involved in collisions as "not wearing a helmet" to illustrate (albeit loosely), the type of the rider? (Serious riders generally wear helmets, while casual riders seem to be more inconsistant).

Media/police also report when they are wearing a helmet, and similarly they report when vehicle drivers & passengers were (or were not) wearing a seatbelt. A driver or passenger who is involved in a motor vehicle collision which results in injury or death is usually noted in the media as to whether or not they were wearing their seatbelt. If in the case they were not, then speculation is inferred that their death or injury may have been caused by the lack of the seat belt.

IMHO, Cyclists who wear helmets are percieved to be more responsible riders. I can honestly say that I've never seen a cyclist carrying a coffee whilst smoking a cigarette wearing a helmet...I wish I could say the same thing about that cyclist without a helmet. :)

Perceptions aside, perhaps the cycling industry as a whole should create some standards concerning riding practices, just as the automobile industry did with the AAA and CAA, versus a mixed gambit of what is and what is not important to a cyclist.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 11:21:00 in reply to Comment 65625

Serious riders generally wear helmets, while casual riders seem to be more inconsistant).

What's a "serious rider", Daniel? Why does he use a bike and what sort of bike does he use and what does he wear?

Did you have something like this in mind?
Serious cyclist

Or something more like this?

Serious cyclist

Comment edited by moylek on 2011-07-06 11:33:54

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By selway (registered) | Posted July 13, 2011 at 22:40:27 in reply to Comment 65634

Isn't that the same guy in both photos?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 13:50:28 in reply to Comment 65634

Albert Einstein Bike Helmet

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 11:55:51 in reply to Comment 65634

I would state as an axiom that if an activity requires a special uniform, it is by definition not normal.

In places where cycling is normalized and where cycling casualty rates are the lowest, people ride bikes in regular street clothes - and they don't wear helmets.

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By Ryan D (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 16:40:03 in reply to Comment 65643

"I would state as an axiom that if an activity requires a special uniform, it is by definition not normal. "

A helmet isn't a uniform, though. Does cooking become abnormal if you need oven mitts?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 21:20:58 in reply to Comment 65665

I wrote that in response to the two photos in the parent comment. The uniform in question is the hard-core-spandex-bike-guy outfit in the second photo - and that uniform does include a helmet.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 18:11:43 in reply to Comment 65665

You don't wear oven mitts during every minute of cooking in your lifetime - only when you are putting yourself in a situation where you are susceptible to a specific danger for which oven mitts are designed to protect you.

A helmet is designed to protect you from low speed falls independent of another vehicle, so it is perfectly reasonable to support helmet use among children and beginner cyclists, or cyclists riding in a way that they increase their chances of a simple fall.

But just as a firefighter would not expect oven mitts to protect them from entering a burning building, we should not expect helmets to protect us in case of collisions with vehicles.

But rather than wearing full body armour, we should be preventing such collisions before they occur.

If helmets are to cyclists as oven mitts are to firefighters, then changing the laws and infrastructure to benefit cyclists could be thought of as cycling's smoke detectors...

... If only there was a way to squeeze one more level of analogy in there ;-)

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 10:58:24 in reply to Comment 65625

Cyclists who wear helmets are percieved to be more responsible riders.

Fun fact: drivers tend to drive more aggressively around cyclists when the cyclist is wearing a helmet.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 10:28:58 in reply to Comment 65632

How many times was the cyclist struck while wearing a helmet compared to while riding without one?

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 12:48:23 in reply to Comment 65632

I use the presence of a bike helmet on an adult as a strong suggestion that they are more competent than non users.

So, like the drivers in the study, I'm giving non users a wider berth. Especially if they're wandering all over the road!

Same for drivers who signal all of their turns - they probably are doing everything else competently, and vice-versa.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 10:38:35

It's fine to state, once, whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet - especially if the cyclist sustained head injuries. But when was the last time a car accident article included a diversion about the importance of wearing seat belts? The point is, the helmet discussion often overrides the true point: we need to look at how these accidents happen so that we can reduce the opportunity for collision. This discussion is overshadowed by helmet use discussions.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 10:30:52 in reply to Comment 65629

When the number of cyclists wearing a helmet approaches 90%, the same as drivers wearing seatbelts then I am sure it will become much less of an issue.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2011 at 10:55:54 in reply to Comment 65707

When the number of cyclists wearing a helmet approaches 90%, the same as drivers wearing seatbelts then I am sure it will become much less of an issue.

Again, I have to disagree. If everyone wears a helmet, I will be at best marginally safer (i.e. protected from head injury in certain types of collisions). And how will that make it any more convenient for me to have to schlep the thing around or arrive places with a hot head and sweat running into my eyes?

This fixation on helmets just baffles me. It's as if we are worrying about drivers wearing helmets on a road system without lines, turn signals or stop lights.

Comment edited by moylek on 2011-07-07 10:57:41

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 11:50:14 in reply to Comment 65629

My impression has always been that in accidents where people are taken away in ambulances, that the media will report on the injured party's use (or non-use) of safety devices and/or whether they were obeying the rules of the road and/or intoxicated. I've never detected an explicit bias.

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 11:55:03 in reply to Comment 65640

Example: http://www.raisethehammer.org/comment/63254

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 10:50:11

Helmets don't stop people from participating in hockey, football or baseball…

Helmets are an insurance policy. If you don't want to wear one, that's fine by me. But it doesn't take much of a blow to the head to cause serious injury, permanent disability or death.

from BHSI

Bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent and the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent. Bicycle helmets have also been shown to offer substantial protection to the forehead and midface. It is estimated that 75 percent of bicycle-related fatalities among children could be prevented with a bicycle helmet. Universal use of bicycle helmets by children ages 4 to 15 could prevent between 135 and 155 deaths, between 39,000 and 45,000 head injuries, and between 18,000 and 55,000 scalp and face injuries annually.

According to their statistics it seems a bigger safety issue than helmets may be bicycling while impaired?

Nearly one fourth (23%) of the cyclists killed were drunk. (BAC over .08 g.dl)

Comment edited by Kiely on 2011-07-06 10:50:29

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 13:30:59 in reply to Comment 65631

Cycle helmets prevent 85% of head injuries and 88% of brain injuries This claim originates from a single source in 1989 [1], and has never even been approached by real-world evidence anywhere. The research on which the prediction was made has been widely criticised for fundamental methodological errors [1]. The researchers themselves revised their prediction downwards to 69% for head injuries in 1996 [2], but this too remains greatly in excess of real-world experience.

In places where helmet use has become significant, there has been no detectable reduction in head injuries relative to cycle use.

http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1027.html#c1

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 12:42:43 in reply to Comment 65631

For cars, alcohol is responsible for 33-38% of deaths (depending on the definition of impaired). This has been dropping slowly both in percentage and absolute terms, with some upward blips based on economic strength (stronger economy = more driving, more deaths, and higher percentage of alcohol deaths). http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/roadsafety/tp-tp...

MADD says more, unfortunately they are as much a self perpetuation organization as a road safety organization, because they've refused to also say anything about the danger of cell phones, aggressive driving etc. - I've specifically requested

I don't know the percentage for pedestrians, probably similar. 23% might be the lowest of road users. Have you seen the guy with two custom built racks on the back wheel which fit two cases of 24 perfectly? Genius!

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By arienc (registered) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 12:09:48

This article provides strong evidence that not only does bike-friendly street design improve safety for cyclists, but for all road users.

Comment edited by arienc on 2011-07-06 12:11:11

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 20:44:37

It might seem to some people that there are a few of us here who are perversely opposed to helmets. I think that I may speak for others when I say that we are not opposed to people choosing to wear helmets when cycling if they feel that there is a danger of their heads being whacked.

What I am opposed to is this emphasis that so many people put on wearing a helmet and only on wearing a helmet. As if a lack of helmets is what introduces danger into cycling.

Helmets themselves are not the problem. It's 1) the faith put in them and the assumption that a bit of particular padding will solve such dangers as there are; and 2) that helmets help to make cycling seem dangerous and inconvenient.

I love to cycle for fun and as a way of getting around. I want more people to love it, too - for their own sakes and to make my little corner of the world better. So I want real safety to improve and inconvenient distractions to be talked about much less.

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2011 at 00:10:42

As someone who has looked after many catastrophic and preventable cycling head injuries I will make the anecdotal observation and come down on the side of helmet wearing and enforced legislation for it. This means I support helmet laws, education, better bike lanes, education, more cyclists and education.

If you need evidence then I suggest you look at the Cochrane Collaboration Review that concludes that helmet legislation prevents head injury in cyclists. The review non-evangelically concludes that this benefit even outweighs the community health benefit of the decreased exercise benefit of deterred cyclists. The study openly discusses it's weaknesses, limitations, unanswered questions and areas of future study. Please do not dismiss this conclusion because it is critical of the data that is available. This means that ALL the data is poor and making a contradictory decision would use the same data as well.

http://www2.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab00...

I would suggest that helmet laws be added for roller blading, skateboarding, ladder climbing, and any other habits that can send a person crashing onto their head faster than they can react. Nanny state hear we come. :) We have heard all these arguments against bike helmets before, however they were in the guise of: anti-seatbelts, anti-airbags, anti-motorbike helmet, anti-gun control, and even anti-climate change. It is easy to emotionally render a study useless by ignorantly picking away at it. The Cochrane Collaboration was created to study questions with tools that counteract as many of those biases as humanly possible.

Fight for bike education (by including bike safety in the vehicle licensing bureau), fight for bike lanes everywhere, but do it wearing your bike helmet. Fighting against bike helmets just wastes the time you can spend on the hard stuff. The evidence says so.

Comment edited by misterque on 2011-07-07 00:11:16

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By thrillhouse (registered) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 23:21:12 in reply to Comment 65676

This means I support helmet laws, education, better bike lanes, education, more cyclists and education.

I support each of these efforts, though I suspect that none would ever come close to approaching the reduction in brain injury we'd see if we, say, actually punished careless drivers who hit cyclists/pedestrians with more than just a fine.

Revoke licenses for a year in these situations, and watch head injuries drop like a stone. All the helmets in the world would have nothing on this.

Comment edited by thrillhouse on 2011-07-08 23:22:13

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2011 at 09:25:26 in reply to Comment 65676

The main problem with that study is:

For each of the studies, bicycle helmet legislation had been enacted for children only.

Most of us already agree that helmets are great for children because they are designed to protect against the exact type of fall that children are likely to take.

When it comes to adult populations riding in mixed traffic, the story changes.

In Australia, the universal mandatory helmet laws have been in place for 19 years and every report that I have read says that across the population, the number of cyclists has been reduced but the head injury statistics have not improved.

Is the goal of a mandatory helmet law to reduce head injuries across the population? Because if so, then the data from Australia should be raising some big questions.

All of the data surrounding the effectiveness of helmet laws AND of the helmets themselves is inconclusive. The default state is "no helmet". The onus should be on helmet backers to prove that we should change our default state.

I am not saying we should eliminate helmets, but I am saying that it is a bad idea to mandate their use, and until research shows more conclusive evidence of their effectiveness, we should focus on measures that are already proven to save cyclists' lives - such as encouraging more cyclists (Through laws, infrastructure, etc)

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted July 09, 2011 at 23:48:24 in reply to Comment 65690

There is no "main problem" with the study. They focus on the best possible evidence with absolutely no bias. Cochrane is the group that has brought this kind of research up to the standard that allows us to make informed decisions based on evidence. This is not blind faith.

In addition a detailed Meta Analysis from Harbourview concludes that helmets are good for brains:  http://depts.washington.edu/hiprc/practices/topic/bicycles/helmeteffect.html

The study you are referring to (I assume) is that by Piet De Jong: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?a... This is a recent actuarial assessment of several studies and is decent (hard to understand) science and makes a good point. It also recommends that you wear a helmet in hostile bicycling locations.

This helmet argument is a waste of time. There is overwhelming case controlled evidence that shows the helmets prevent brain injury. And brain injury really sucks. In the last week I have seen two destroyed helmets both of which represent energy that was not delivered to the skull. Wear a helmet. Legislate it, educate it, and enforce it. At the same time work for bike lanes, and all the rest.

I worry for the success of cycling when the energy of those who seem to care about it goes into advise that leads to preventable severe disabling injury.

The self transport lane is important in every city: bikes, skateboards, inline, etc. Support it. You need to convince a lot of people to get the bike lane installed. Blathering about helmet laws with weak science is damaging our cause.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted July 10, 2011 at 09:58:18 in reply to Comment 65930

Blathering about helmet laws with weak science is damaging our cause.

I think that you are missing the point: it's not that helmets don't provide protection and prevent injury (in particular types of accidents). It's just that the benefits to individual cyclists do not outweigh the damage they cause to cycling.

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted July 10, 2011 at 16:01:26 in reply to Comment 65934

I am hearing the argument and not agreeing with it. Different than not getting it :)

Legislating, educating and enforcement of helmet use for self propelled modes of transportation will decrease head injuries, morbidity and death. A separated network of self propelled transportation lanes will also decrease morbidity, and mortality massively. More so than helmets alone.

The utilitarian argument that not legislating safety equipment for self propelled transportation in order that more people will ride is desperately self centered and possibly even Machiavellian. ;)

Wearing a paintball mask does not prevent death. Therefore more people would play paintball if the mask was not used. So let's not enforce this piece of safety equipment (there is no legislation for paintball masks on the books).

I will challenge the concept that bike helmet legislation has decreased the amount of bike riders over the last 19 years. The vast majority of cyclists are recreational. There are lots of ways to get exercise and enjoy recreation other than cycling. Cochrane points out that there is no good evidence to show that cycling legislation decreases ridership. Too many confounding components exist.

There is fierce competition for exercise and recreation dollars. I feel that the decrease in cycling may not just be from helmet laws (poorly educated, unenforced ones), but from increasing options: inline skates, boarding, yoga, hiking, walking, running, line dancing, aerobics, women's gyms, aging population, etc.

I do see where you are coming from. I do not agree and I will also argue that your stance will likely cause harm. I enjoy every contribution on this freaking site (yes even A Smith) and don't want to lose any of you to a life of drooling spoon fed retardation because such a simple safety precaution was ignored due to poor interpretation of weak evidence.

(presently wearing a hat, not a helmet, to write this post).

Comment edited by misterque on 2011-07-10 17:53:56

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2011 at 00:27:50

I'm not "against" bike helmets. I'm against victim blaming.

It's one thing to suggest that people take practical precautions when it comes to safety. It's another thing entirely to conflate practical and moral concerns, shifting the notions of "blame" and "fault" because the victim just "wasn't careful enough to avoid it". Not only does this tend to add insult to injury, but it totally avoids any actual discussion of who or what is causing the injuries.

For example, I could tell you not to walk down dark alleys at night, to avoid being mugged. If you did, however, and did get mugged, it wouldn't be your fault. It would be the mugger's. You, too, might start recommending to others that they should take my advice. But at the end of the day, if nobody addresses the muggers, the problem never gets solved.

Driving is insanely dangerous - even for the best drivers, the odds of something going wrong in an urban area are just too high. It's a responsibility we all must bare, each and every time we get behind the wheel of a car. We're contributing the lethal factor. Cyclists and pedestrians are deliberately avoiding such a risk - and all too often pay the price.

Comment edited by Undustrial on 2011-07-07 01:06:41

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By Tnt (registered) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 00:35:19

I've been following this issue for several articles on RTH. I would like to add my own confesion: I hadn't rode a bike in 20 years. Bike culture was foreign to me and maybe even a bit of a nusance to my driving. After reading many articles on this site and others and witnessing the fantastic culture created by DownTownBikeHounds, I have a whole new outlook. I was given and old beaten up bike from my brother and as an expirament rode it. I have seen first hand the struggles and advantages to bikes. I have a bell on it and I wear a helmet. I assumed it was the law. The helmet, bell and lock came with the bike. I can't say I feel overly safe wearing the thing, but now as my confidence grows I probably won't.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2011 at 06:58:45 in reply to Comment 65680

Children are required by law to wear helmets, but not adults. However, under the Highway Traffic Act, every roadworthy bicycle is required to have a working brake, front, back and side reflectors, and one of: a bell, a horn, or a gong. If you're riding in the evening or night, you also need a working headlight and a working taillight.

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By FatalFourWay (anonymous) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 22:36:27

Clap. Clap. Clap. Bravo, using FOX news type arguments to discredit a good idea: I'm not anti-helmet, but you will get injured and look stupid if you do. Real mature.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 23:11:36

I bet you this guy was happy to be wearing a helmet

Press 4 when you're watching the video or FF to 1:18

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 23:13:41

I'd have likely suffered from brain damage (no jokes please;) if I wasn't wearing a helmet while snowboarding this past winter.

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By Cuirasse (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 07:08:50

What about those accidents that don't involve cars? Do cyclists ever hit anything other than cars? Do they ever crash as a result of road conditions?

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By trevorlikesbikes (registered) - website | Posted July 09, 2011 at 07:04:58 in reply to Comment 65798

well there aren't typically accident reports unless a motor vehicle is involved. And yes, people on bikes and cyclists crash without the assistance of cars. I personally crashed whilst riding down McNeilly as there was a considerable amount of sand in the switchback which caused quite the tumble. FWIW, i did crack my helmet on that one due to side impact (weak axis strength). Then there are always those trees that jump right out at you.

I know people who have gone down while crossing wet railroad tracks at a less than ideal (perpendicular) angle.

It happens often, but the results are typically catastrophic when the collision involves a cyclist with a styrofoam cooler on his hear and a 2 ton behemoth of steel and glass.

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By ralph m (anonymous) | Posted July 09, 2011 at 13:17:50

I haven't read every comment, but most of the anti-helmet comments seem to think the only thing a bike rider has to worry about is a car collision! I wear a helmet, just for the reason that a fall at 15 mph cause a serious head injury.

Also, do you anti-helmet cyclists ever ride hills, like the Escarpment roads and trails? There's no way I would feel safe on some of the steep descents with no helmet...a styrofoam helmet is better than nothing!

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted July 09, 2011 at 15:42:45 in reply to Comment 65917

Also, do you anti-helmet cyclists ever ride hills, like the Escarpment roads and trails? There's no way I would feel safe on some of the steep descents with no helmet...a styrofoam helmet is better than nothing!

I don't think of myself as an "ani-helmet cyclist." But my helmet hardly ever sees my head, so I'll chime in.

I rarely ride up or down the escarpment. And if you mean rough gravel trails or woodland trails, then no, I don't bike those either. I ride on the road or groomed paths for the most part.

I feel very safe when I ride on the roads - upright, alert and considerate. I just don't believe that cycling around town as I do it is especially dangerous nor that a helmet will protect me enough from most of the dangers I do face to make it worth the bother.

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By FatalFourWay (anonymous) | Posted July 10, 2011 at 18:43:02



Here is some more ammo to fire against biker kamikazees:

http://www.thestar.com/news/fixer/article/1022689--the-fixer-bad-cycling-habits-can-be-deadly

...and no just because some drivers have accidents doesn't equate.

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By kamikazee (anonymous) | Posted July 11, 2011 at 05:34:21 in reply to Comment 65940

There's no comparison really, Canadian drivers kill 3,000 people a year. But apparently that's not "ammo to fire against driver kamikazees".

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By TnT (registered) | Posted July 10, 2011 at 23:10:34 in reply to Comment 65940

Ok, I told myself I wouldn't rise to it, but come on! I can't be alone in thinking that this is just more of the blame the victim. Holy cow a biker was irresponsible and ran down a pedestrian. I imagine he was acting on behalf of the entire secret society of riders who are conspiring to bring down all the mores of society by preying on cars and pedestrians. How many times does this apples to oranges comparison equate? Yes, bike riders can break laws, so can any living person. It happens. This is one incident, we aren't looking at a massive deadly killing force here. We really are not!

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