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12/18/2011

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Michael D

There is a ton of information explaining the issues with helmets (and especially with helmet laws) here: http://www.cyclehelmets.org/

Yes, helmets are sufficiently annoying to sufficiently many people to put them off cycling -- and keep them driving. Even though anecdotal accounts make it "obvious" that helmets are beneficial, the evidence for their utility really is a mixed bag.

Moreover, on balance, the health benefits of cycling massively outweigh the costs (helmet or no). Thus anything that discourages cycling is detrimental to public health. Helmets make cycling out as something dangerous, which it generally is not, and serve as the be-all and end-all of cycling safety. (Cyclist hit and killed by a car? Were they wearing a helmet? Oh, OK.)

Unlike the research on helmets, what has been shown to unequivocally improve cycling safety is the number of people riding. To get more people riding, you need to break down the barriers to cycling. Helmets are one such barrier, and the cycling-as-dangerous-sport idea they convey is another such barrier.

There is no city in the world with a substantial percentage of trips made by bicycle where most people wear helmets, and certainly no such city has a helmet law. When many trips are made by bicycle, most people who do it are not "cyclists", and they are not as committed to cycling as a travel mode as are cyclists in non-cycling cultures. Those people emphatically do not cycle at all costs, unlike "cyclists".

Bill

@Michael D. I don't disagree with any of your points. I have trouble understanding how cycling -- which is an activity unchanged by what you wear -- is determined to be more dangerous if you wear a helmet. Did the introduction of seat belt laws lead to a reduction in the number of people driving? When air bags came out, did more former drivers stop? Did more 15-year-olds say, "Wow, you need air bags? I'm never going to learn to drive." Thinking that helmets keep people from cycling seems like a dead end argument.

charles

What I wear impacts my enjoyment of cycling and riding with a big ugly lump of styrofoam on my head greatly reduces my enjoyment of cycling... to the point where I'd rather just stay home than wear a helmet. I have trouble seeing how helmet advocates can't seem to grasp this idea. I also sweat a lot and a helmet quickly makes me into a soppy mess.

It's really nice to be able to hop on my bike and not have to put on special bike hats, coats and whatnots. Most people don't have 5 point harnesses in their car or wear indy-car helmets, despite the fact it might improve their safety.

As a construction worker I can tell you we wear hard hats to protect us against minor injuries that might occur from bumping or scraping against something... falls and electrocution are the biggest killers on job sites, see: http://www.buildsafe.ca/UsefulInfo/ConstructionFatalities-2010.html

I see bike helmets similarly, if I actually doing something dangerous on a bike I would wear a full-face helmet and armour... but I'm not, it's no more dangerous than anything else I do without a helmet like walking and showering.

Michael D

You wear safety gear when engaging in a dangerous activity. Conspicuous safety gear (e.g. helmets) suggests to us that the activity is dangerous. I'm not sure how useful a comparison to driving is, as for a while now, most people have to drive as a consequence of land-use patterns. It is a dangerous activity, but if you have to drive you learn to ignore that and assume that your metal cage will protect you. Incidentally, helmets would be just as useful in a car or on foot.

I'm not sure what you mean by "Thinking that helmets keep people from cycling seems like a dead end argument." The evidence from jurisdictions with helmet laws shows that helmets do keep people from cycling.

Ryan

I'm sure you know where I stand on this, and apologize in advance for the book I’m about to write...

I would say Australia is a prime example of the negative effects of helmet laws.
Most large cities had respectable cycling numbers pre-helmet law...Today? They have become a complete joke. Things are (*slowly*) starting to change, however with a movement against helmets.

Even here in Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI have some of the lowest cycling numbers in Canada. Few people actually commute by bike in those places; they are just ‘tourist’ spots.
Although BC has more people riding bikes, there are also plenty of people who risk a ticket and ride without a helmet.
Vancouver had a goal a few years ago to get 10% of the population riding bikes by 2010. I think the city is still stuck at 3% or 4%. Vancouver’s bike share has been put on hold as you can’t have people sharing helmets, and carrying a helmet around defeats the purpose of the bike share. Melbourne’s bike share is one of the biggest failures around. Why? Helmet law.

The biggest problem with BC, Eastern Canada and Australia is the culture of cycling is more 'sport' then an actual commuting tool. When it becomes a ‘sporty’ thing to do, you lose a large part of the population.
The only time I go above 30kph is when I have a strong wind at my back. Usually my speed (like many who commute) is a nice relaxed pace of around 15-20kph.

Although this winter hasn't been all that cold, I'd rather be able to wear a tuque so my head can stay warm, rather then a helmet and have my head (and especially ears) freeze.

There have also been some (unofficial) studies done that show motorists pass helmeted cyclists closer then un-helmeted cyclists.
After a few of these reports came out I gave it a shot to see if there was any truth in it. When I strapped the helmet on it was rare for people to give me more then an inch.
When not wearing a helmet people gave me plenty of space. In my 7 or 8 years of riding a bike I’ve only been passed close once while not wearing a helmet.
It's not to say motorists don't care about helmeted cyclists, it's that they believe a helmet will actually protect them in case they hit them or they fall off.

Look at Nova Scotia’s new (and ridiculous) ski helmet law. 11 people in 11 years were killed or seriously injured…Ironically enough all had helmets on.
Even in Ontario a few years back when it was suggested to force people to wear helmets on the slopes after a few people were killed within a month…All had helmets on.
Or how about Ottawa’s utter stupidity by forcing kid’s or “weak” skaters to wear a helmet while on public skating rinks.

Laws attack safe and healthy activities (cycling, skating, skiing) with helmet laws that people have been doing for over a century now safely, while ignoring one of the most dangerous things people do daily, and are the result of Ontario’s majority of head injuries…Driving.
Imagine if we had a motoring helmet law…Do you think motorists would just accept it and continue to drive willingly with a helmet?
You said; “”Not wearing a helmet in conditions where I could strike my head and do damage: unsafe.””
Do you wear a helmet while driving or walking? Three years ago when I was walking my dog, I slipped on a patch of ice and came close to smacking my head on the sidewalk. The GTA has seen a rash of pedestrian deaths/injuries lately. Why not force pedestrians to wear a helmet as well?

Just because people in cars have to wear a seatbelt, doesn’t make it right for cyclists to wear a helmet. Two completely different things. Plenty of people have suffered serious brain injuries in car accidents despite wearing a seatbelt.
Also, I’m of the belief that motorists shouldn’t be forced to wear a seatbelt, and if it wasn’t for the ridiculous speed limits we set on roadways seatbelts wouldn’t be needed.

You also can’t use airbags as a reasoning either. You don’t actually wear airbags. People also have an incorrect notion that driving is safe simply because they are behind all that metal.

I personally don’t care about the design of a helmet, in my own personal view they do little for the hassle of lugging them around or wearing them.
In my time riding a bike I have fallen off more times I care to admit (although only once in the past 3 years) and not once have I come close to hitting my head. An “elbow” or “knee” pad law would have helped me out more.
If the reason is in case a car hits you, then shouldn’t we push for better cycling infrastructure? And it would seem to me like blaming the victim.
If you live in a high crime neighbourhood, the solution is to crack down on the criminals and make the neighbourhood safer. You don’t tell people to just wear a bullet/stab proof vest.

For the few people who suffer head injuries each year while commuting by bike, I see little reason to make riding a bike even more inconvenient and less enjoyable. I say less enjoyable purely from my own personal experience of when I wore a helmet…for however brief it was.

Locklin

Frankly, I'm surprised anyone in your position would be so unaware of the anti-helmet arguments. Sure, you may not agree with the conclusion, but would it hurt to take a few minutes to educate yourself*? Or was this post tong-in-cheek?

I wear a helmet and make my children wear helmets, but I would be embarrassed to show such ignorance of the very real controversial background of helmet effectiveness and policy.

*The "Copenhaganize" blog has a well written series.

Locklin

As far as helmet advocacy goes, show me a single city on this planet with both a high cycling rate and a high helmet use rate. Until we have at least a single example, I think that, whatever the reason, trying to push both simultaneously has a high likelihood of failing to succeed in at least one of the goals. I have no qualms with experimentation, but if one wishes to try to push both together, they should be honest in that they are trying something entirely untested.

Bill

@Locklin, Ryan, Michael D, Charles. Well, I feel well and goodly thrashed. No, it was not tongue-in-cheek, but somehow didn't get the message across. I don't want to know why we shouldn't legislate helmet laws, or apparently, even encourage them. I've been listening to those arguments for decades now, with all their contradictions. What I'm trying to figure out is why we don't want to wear helmets. Why is the hard shell a hard sell? Is it really just convenience?

Locklin

The big problem with that question is how do you ask it, and to whom? It's easy to gather a laundry list of personal qualms with helmets, but people are notoriously bad at evaluating why they do or do not do something. Rationalization runs us afoul here. The reasons for and against seat belts and cigarettes haven't changed in decades. Behavior changed because the perceived norm changed. Unfortunately, Hollywood and the television networks probably have a greater impact on both helmets and cycling than anything else.

Ryan

Everyone's reasoning will be different, however personally convenience is one reason for myself.
Charles hit the nail on the head with enjoyment. I had no enjoyment when I rode my bike with a helmet. Fortunately I have the choice not to wear one in this province.

Comfort is another reason. Even what most would consider the most comfortable helmet around I would find awkward and uncomfortable.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I found people (motorists) give less space/respect to me in the short time I did wear a helmet.

I also don't see any real added benefit from wearing a helmet. As I indicated in my last post, when I have fallen off, my head never came close to hitting the ground.

Just because something is considered a piece of safety equipment doesn't mean it works well.
A hard hat won't help if a hammer falls 10 stories onto a workers head.
A life jacket won't help if a boat capsizes in the North Atlantic.

I think what people in my situation can't figure out is, why so gung-ho on forcing or even just wanting people to wear a helmet?
I respect peoples choice if they want to wear a helmet, however I get up in arms when people want it law or scaremonger people into wearing a helmet...which in the end usually puts people off cycling all together.

Michael D

They're uncomfortable, make you sweaty, don't fit right, you have to figure out which one you need (and pay for it), they look silly (and the ones that look less silly are expensive). They mess up your hair. You have to lug them around with you wherever you go, generally being inconvenienced and defining yourself to everyone as a Cyclist.

Helmets are a hassle in a lot of ways, when cycling itself is often easy and simple.

Lilla

> What I'm trying to figure out is why we don't want to wear helmets.

Personal opinion here. I ride my bike every day most of the year, rain or shine (but not when it snows or when there's ice), using no specialized cycling gear - hop on, hop off, wearing regular clothes. I don't want to deal with a helmet. I don't want to have to lug it around, or lock it to the bike, or take it with me when I go into stores. I don't want to figure out how it works with rain or with winter hats. Or with summer hats. Wearing a helmet is uncomfortable and having to deal with it is annoying, so I'd rather not. My feeling is that if I get hit, from behind as it often happens, by a car going 60-70 km/h, a helmet is not going to save me. I am very careful around traffic, driveways, other cyclists, pedestrians, and railway tracks, and I've had more falls walking than I've had riding my bike. It's always possible, of course, that I have exactly the kind of a fall that a helmet could make better, but then my feeling is that this fall could just as well happen on the stairs in my own house.

charles

I don't want to wear helmets because it's 20-100$ to waste on something that only gives an illusion of safety. A bicycle helmet doesn't even cover my beautiful face or the sides of my head. I see them as a panacea at best... I'd wear one about as much as I'd wear lifevest at the beach.

I haven't had anything remotely resembling a crash in over 10 years of riding. I ride extremely defensively and have a well-maintained bicycle... I think everyone that buys a helmet would be better off spending that money on a Can-bike course or taking young drivers and applying defensive driving practices to their cycling.

Bad drivers are the biggest threat to me when I ride and helmets won't do jack when an inattentive and unskilled driver "didn't see you" and proceeds to run me over. At least the helmet will hopefully keep my brain intact enough to use in doctor school or something? I dunno...

(also check out that cyclehelmets.org link)

Peter Pottinger

I don't wear a helmet on my bicycle. Riding at 120kph on my motorcycle is dangerous, I wear a full face for that.

Riding at 15kph on a side street is NOT dangerous if you ride defensively and there is no way i'm riding around on my bicycle with a helmet.

What a joke.

Teresa

As a nurse, I've seen my fair share of head injuries and how destructive even the minor ones can be. I agree with all the posters here that in a car-vs-bicycle accident, the helmet will do you no good, but a fall of any other sort, which I would consider much more common, is where it will protect you. I'd much rather the inconvenience (and yes, I think that's the real reason people won't wear helmets Bill - as evidence by all the comments here) of carrying it around/having a sweaty head, than the possibility of a concussion (or even just a headache) because I hit the train tracks at the wrong angle and went for a tumble.

Evan Rosamond

I've been riding a bike since before there were helmets, over 40 years and more than 150,000 km. I was helmeted for one 300-km week of that. I found that the best thing about the helmet was the visor, which can reduce the risk of sunburn. In spite of several falls over the decades, I have not hit my head on anything yet.
When I crunched some numbers from one of the pro-helmet studies, I discovered that the average frequency of head injury for the average US rider (in the 1980s) was about 450 years. Being smarter than the average rider is not difficult.
My decision to continue riding without a helmet is mainly based on the near certainty that the the helmet will never be needed.

charles

Teresa - surely as a nurse you've seen head injuries from other circumstances that people would not consider wearing helmets. Falls in shower, tripping down stairs, motor vehicle collisions, slipping on ice while walking, etc.

Why is that no one is advocating a completely helmeted and protected lifestyle? That seems like the best way to eliminate head injuries. Why is cycling singled out as being dangerous enough to merit while the statistics on head injuries show that cycling isn't a big contributor to the overall number of head injuries.

How do people call for us to wear a helmet when riding the bike and then to take it off when we do other things which might lead to head injuries, like walking across the street or underneath a tree?

Shawn

I"ve been riding with a helmet since my BMX days 25yrs ago. I feel naked riding without one. On more than one occasion wearing a helmet has either saved my life or prevented a serious head injury. I'll continue riding with a helmet.

Chris

I will always ride with a helmet. I don't care if anyone else does; that is their choice even if I find the reasons to not wear one to be trivial.

First, let me express the near certainty that no one goes out intending to crash. But crashes happen and you simply don't know when a crash will happen that a helmet will save you from. For example, my father was flattened by a buggy once (strange crash) but the only reason I still have a father is because he was wearing a helmet that prevented his head from being crushed when the wagon wheel rolled over his head. Freak crash? Yes, absolutely. Thing is, you don't know if your next ride will have a freak crash in it or not, do you? The minor inconvenience of a helmet is a small price to pay if a helmet will prevent your number from being up.

Second, no one who is pro helmet will ever say that helmets will save you from all harm. That is a dumb argument. Rather, they will reduce the severity of damage in certain types of crashes. I cannot speak for anyone but me, but if reducing the severity of an injury can be done by wearing a simple device like a helmet, then I for one intend to go for it.

Third, regarding fit. I have seen so many people while I am out riding who are using helmets who look miserable with them. In almost every single case, the helmet was not fitted right. Personally, I would never buy a helmet that can not be adjusted right (and not all helmets are created equally regarding fit.) The biggest thing that people en masse seem to get wrong is the chin strap / buckle arrangement.

kfg

Your main argument seems to boil down to: "There are people unlike myself and frankly, I just don't get it."

Argument by Incredulity is without basis.

Let us take your own example. Although I am most emphatically not among them, I understand that there are people for whom one of the chief joys of gardening is the feel of their hands in the living soil.

Mandating the use of gloves for gardening would, indeed, lead to a reduction of gardening. It takes all the fun out of it for these people, while simultaneously adding an annoyance factor.

Without such a mandate there will be people such as myself who garden with gloves, because putting one's bare hands in the living soil is a dirty habit and a risk to health. The afore mentioned people will persist in their dirty habit and enjoy doing it.

Which raises the question: so what?

Bias Disclaimer: I've been wearing a helmet for nearly 50 years and currently own two. I almost never ride without head protection, although that head protection may not always fall into the category of something you would recognize as a helmet, because I chose my protection based on a reasonably objective assessment of my risks and needs, without according said protective items with magical properties they do not, objectively, possess, or, for that matter, my risks as coming from some malevolent supernatural entity or entities. I protect my rights to make such assessments on my own accord and thus the rights of others to do the same.

James

The comparison between seatbelts and helmets for discouraging driving vs. cycling is an apples to oranges comparison. Cyclists already face a lot of barriers (bad bike infrastructure, ridicule, angry drivers, etc) so having one more barrier (mandatory helmets) would give people that extra nudge to avoid cycling for everyday use. I personally don't want to arrive at work with helmet hair, so I'd probably resort to taking public transit if I was forced to wear a helmet (or more likely I would disobey the law).

Most people in Canada consider driving a necessity, as their only option to get from their suburban home to anywhere. So naturally people wouldn't let seatbelts prevent them from driving, because they have no other options. Cycling is often a choice. We do it because we like it, not out of necessity. So adding another barrier to cycling just pushes people to seek alternatives (public transit, driving or walking).

There's also a good case study if you look at hockey. Studies have shown that hockey has become more dangerous than ever. Retired NHL players are living with permanent brain damage and concussions are becoming normal. This is *after* massive technological improvements in equipment and the addition of helmets. The theory here is that adding high tech equipment (including helmets) has encouraged players to play rougher and care less about their own safety because they feel better protected...

Jean

I think the fighting and body checking in hockey these days is much more fierce simply because fans do want to see some excitement and we live increasingly in a culture that does not value civility and good sportmanship on TV. We have to get real when you really hear hockey fans what they want to see...great playing but some excitement also.

Just talk to anyone who played hockey often themselves and watched NHL 40 years ago in style of playing vs. now. It isn't really the false of helmets. Just rougher play.

I didn't even know what "enforcer" meant, until recently...which the hockey team's bully/fighter. Horrible role..which has led to 1 suicide and other hockey players.

Sure some folks don't want helmet hair. I'm not sure how that jives with women who walk regularily to work with their hair blowing about. I really think it's more of a perceived comfort with bike helmets and for non regular cyclists, they may feel geeky or uncool.

The economic issue of cost of helmet, is not strong enough when I've known people on welfare and EI who still own/drive their car around. Come on....

The helmet issue is a red herring ....when we truly have to turn attention and energy to getting better cycling infrastructure.

I can imagine all the big engineering firms laughing their heads while they roll in the construction /design dollars for yet more roads for cars....millions of dollars...while cyclists dicker....over helmet requirements.

Seriously. (I also worked for a large construction engineering project that built a road bridge, 5 highways approaches which included cycling lanes...cyclists are viewed as ants/beetles in the big transporation infrastructure world.)

Brad

HI Bill. I'm not sure if it's an issue of not accepting helmets, but one more of respecting another's reasons for not wearing one.

I can give you 2 reasons I stopped wearing wearing a helmet after having worn one for over 2 decades.

One reason is that the protection afforded by a helmet is minimal.

I know, I know - there re lots of studies that say helmet provide substantial protection, but there are also studies out there that show they don't. The efficacy of helmets is about as clear as mud, so what I look at is the coverage they provide (about 2-3 inches to the crown of the head) and the protection within that coverage ( force of impact that rarely causes serious injury or death)

The second reason I removed my helmet is the relative rarity of receiving serious injury while on my bike.

Again, I know people are seriously inured on bikes, but after looking at data I can see the likely-hood of this occurring off a bike is just as great, that is, not likely at all.

When I see people wearing helmets, I think they think what they are doing is more likely to result in injury than when they don't wear helmets. Encouraging helmet use depends on convincing people what they are doing is dangerous, and that keeps people away from riding a bike. It also doesn't tackle the far more pressing problem in cycling safety which is to get people to act safely. To emphasize wearing a helmet avoids the central problem.

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