Helmet Laws. That’ll fix it.

Ah bicycle helmets.  The topic that I just can’t leave alone.  While I try to remain non-judgmental to the choices of others, and personally can take it or leave it, I still remain decidedly against helmet laws.

Unfortunately, the folks that support helmet laws often throw out statistics without saying where they come from.

These types of issues are never as cut-n-dry as they appear.  The bicycle helmet debate even more so for two major reasons:

1) The fact that wearing a helmet prevents injury just seems “obviously right.” to many folks.  So did the fact that the earth was flat at one point.

2) There is precious little actual data – thus we tend to fall back on what seems “obviously right”

What does it take to get some real data into this discussion?

  • Enno

    Two points:
    1. People have never believed that the Earth is flat. That’s a widely-held myth, nothing more.
    2. All the people I knew that have died in bike accidents have done so from head injuries.

    • Yes, but the question is, were they wearing helmets, and if not, would those head injuries have been survivable if they had been?

      What too many people fail to consider is that helmets are only designed to provide full protection up to 12.5 mph, and partial protection up to 20 mph. In impacts above that — which are typical in a collision with a car — the rider may as well be wearing a tissue on his or her head.

      Don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer in wearing a helmet every time I ride, but only once in 30 years of riding, and four riding accidents serious enough to require hospitalization, was it necessary. In that case, it probably saved my life. But a helmet is far from the magic safety device some people seem to think.

      We’d save far more lives by teaching safe cycling skills and enforcing existing traffic laws than we could possibly save by making helmet use mandatory.

    • Yes, they might have died from head injury, but did they also have other injuries that would have been fatal separate from the head injury. And responding to point 1, in the 13th-16th century landlubbers did think the world to be flat. Sailors however and some of the educated class knew the world was round all along.

    • Regarding #1 above. I wonder if this is a result of my American upbringing. I was raised with the propaganda that “Columbus risked his life to prove to all the rest of the ignorant folks that the world isn’t flat.”

      For me, throwing out the “world is flat” reference was a literary device. An attempt to invoke the concept that something seeming very obvious to common sense need not be the truth.

  • What is needed is a study of all injuries inflicted upon bike riders before and after instituting a helmet law in some area. The only time I know that this was done the only injuries tracked were head injuries. This was the famous “85% reduction” study done in Australia. Without tracking other injuries with the head injuries and also the kinds of wrecks the data is meaningless, as meaningless as the “85%” claim.

    First establish the ratios of head injuries to some other part of the body that isn’t protected by the helmet prior to the helmet law taking effect, plus the type of crash that caused the injury: falling off the bike, bike/bike wreck, bike/motor vehicle wreck, kind of motor vehicle, etc. and if the rider was wearing a helmet. Then continue to collect the same information after the law goes into effect. Assuming a major change in helmet wearing happens, then there should be a major change in the ratio of head injuries to other parts of the body because the head is now protected and not any other part of the body. That is the assumption, but if there is no change in the ratios, then bike helmets are not as protective as assumed and either the standard must be changed or the law dumped. Third possibility is that there is no change because lack of enforcement results in no change in helmet wearing, which is why helmet wearing must also be tracked before and after the implementation of the law.

  • Brent

    Here are a few impediments:


    Also, I can’t find the article now, but I remember one writer complaining that bicycle helmet research seems to be resistant to the scientific method, as crash variables are numerous. Time studies are among the few tools left, but they are open to much criticism.

  • To avoid head injuries everyone should wear helmet while riding a cycle or any vehicle. Its safe.

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