Helmets make a basically safe activity seem really dangerous
September 30, 2012 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Back in New York I strapped on my helmet for a weekend bike ride in Central Park. But I’m not sure I’ll do the same two years from now if I’m commuting to work on a mature Citi Bike system. (SLNYT)
posted by Obscure Reference (229 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think for most cities, helmets aren't particularly necessary, and I don't wear mine for short rides in the city when I know I'll be on side streets most of the time. But in a city like NYC, with insanely bad drivers everywhere (not just cabbies...plenty of horrible drivers all around who don't look, speed into lane changes and are texting/speaking on phones), it may be a good idea to wear a helmet. Although, a majority of falls and crashes will result only in broken legs and scrapes.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:25 AM on September 30, 2012


In my town of 10,000 people, I have 4 bicycles in the garage, none of which I use even to go to the grocery store 5 blocks away for minor shopping, because there is a strict helmet law, aggressive police enforcement (it's a college town), and I don't have a helmet.

Take away that requirement, and I'd have been riding around for years by now.
posted by hippybear at 10:35 AM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


How many of the accidents in which riders are saved by their helmets involve collisions with cars? If you have a bike system that removes or reduces much of the danger from cars, do you also remove a huge amount of the risk of the kinds of injuries that we currently use helmets to prevent?
posted by dilettante at 10:38 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Helmets are never "necessary" - you can always chose to risk brain damage. Me, I like my brain and I want to protect what little functioning it has.

But, given a choice to protect myself from concussions and brain damage, the amount of traffic does not matter at all. If I'm hit by a Mack Truck, a helmet will not save me. But I can just as easily go flying over my handlebars after hitting a bump on an empty park path as be in an accident with heavy traffic - and if I land on my head, I have a much better chance of walking away.

And what is with people who don't want to wear helmets? Is your hair style more important to you than your BRAIN? Seatbelts are much more uncomfortable and inconvenient - esp on long trips - but no one ever says that we should end seatbelt laws to "encourage driving".

It's like seatbelts or drinking and driving -- soon, everyone will look back and think, what the hell were people thinking to object to basic safety precaution?

As for not having a helmet: they cost $10 at my local Canadian Tire. That is less than 1/10 of the cheapest bike. My bike lock cost 3 times as much. If anyone in this thread claims that they don't ride a bike because they don't have a helmet and can't afford one, memail me your address and I will mail you a bicycle helmet.
posted by jb at 10:42 AM on September 30, 2012 [48 favorites]


In my town of 10,000 people, I have 4 bicycles in the garage, none of which I use even to go to the grocery store 5 blocks away for minor shopping, because there is a strict helmet law, aggressive police enforcement (it's a college town), and I don't have a helmet.

You know that's a problem you could solve for somewhere in the neighborhood of forty bucks, right? Or more like five if you weren't worried about the helmet actually working and dropped by a thrift store?
posted by brennen at 10:43 AM on September 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


Prior to the unspeakable tyranny of helmet laws.

Srsly, I know two riders whose brains are still inside their heads where they belong because of bike helmets, but growing up back in the Pleistocene I certainly never wore one. Perhaps this would be another good place to apply the wonderful yet unsung doctrine of tolerated non-compliance.
posted by squalor at 10:43 AM on September 30, 2012


Helmets are never "necessary" - you can always chose to risk brain damage. Me, I like my brain and I want to protect what little functioning it has.
...
And what is with people who don't want to wear helmets? Is your hair style more important to you than your BRAIN?


That's some really stellar logic, and absolutely correct; I utterly hate my brain, and that's why I never wear a helmet. My brain is probably my number one most hated thing in my life, actually. I want to destroy it, to ruin it. You're correct that I'm trying to macerate it in any way I can find. I have great antagonism toward my own brain. I hope to someday find a machine with sharp toothy gears that I can just dip my whole brain into, but until then, I'm sticking with the somewhat-more-accessible not wearing a helmet and downing a fifth of everclear every hour or so.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:47 AM on September 30, 2012 [25 favorites]


Biking? That dangerous activity where you have to wear a helmet because you're constantly at risk of brain damage? No thanks, I'll stick to driving.
posted by Pyry at 10:51 AM on September 30, 2012 [18 favorites]


My grandson wears a helmet because he's 4 and he sucks at bike riding. Me, I'm a grown-ass woman riding a cruiser with a basket on the front and I'll be damned if I'm strapping one of those things on. I'm perfectly aware of the risks & benefits and made an informed choice - that's what being an adult is all about, last I checked.

Also, I do not have anti-slip flowers glued to my shower floor, even though I regularly share with someone twice my size. I'm a wild risk-taker, me.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 10:55 AM on September 30, 2012 [18 favorites]


I should wear a helmet whenever I get on a bike. I told my friend, who recently bought her first bike for city use, that she should get a bell and a helmet ASAP. Recently a friend of a friend got taken to the hospital after a bike-car collision along the route I normally take to get home. She's largely okay, thanks to her helmet. So it's not as if I don't have ample evidence that carrying a helmet helps. And yet, these days I pretty much never wear either of the two helmets I have lying around the apartment.

It's because I never take my bike out of my apartment anymore, either. Bike-sharing has made it so much more convenient to bike around the city—no worries about where to park the bike, or carrying locks so it won't get stolen, or wondering what to do if there's a rainstorm when I have to commute home. But the flipside of having the freedom to pick up a bike on a whim is that I never carry a helmet with me in case I might hop on a bike that day.

I know the responsible thing for me to do would be to attach a helmet to the outside of my bag at all times, so that it's there when I need it. But I never do it. Especially not the skate-style helmet I have, which is so big I'd need to stash it in a backpack. One of these days, I might finally talk myself into doing it—telling myself the annoyance I cause people on the streetcar when I try to squeeze past them with a bag AND a helmet, and the annoyance I cause myself just by having more bits dangling off me, is worth the one time I get hit or fall off my bike and hit my head. One of these days.
posted by chrominance at 10:57 AM on September 30, 2012


Another good reason to wear a helmet; if more people wear helmets, it becomes better accepted for everyone. You start looking less like an idiot if you wear a helmet and more like one if you don't. You are encouraging better habits on society, and particularly on kids, who are more susceptible to that kind of pressure and probably also more likely to crash.

That being said, I'd rather people ride without one than stop riding, but if a helmet is a total barrier to bicycling for you, you should probably re-evaluate your value system. However, this only goes for commuting; if you are a serious road cyclist or a mountain biker, you need a helmet, PERIOD. You won't even be allowed into any kind of group ride or event without one.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:58 AM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Natural selection in action? One day we won't need skulls at all.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:58 AM on September 30, 2012


You know that's a problem you could solve for somewhere in the neighborhood of forty bucks, right?

Sure. Just like how in this article, bike share programs are thriving when people have to spend extra money on a helmet rather than being allowed to just get on a bike and ride.

See, the point isn't that helmets aren't perhaps a good thing, or that they aren't that expensive. It is that requiring them diminishes the number of people who get on bicycles on a casual basis. At least, when I read the article, that's what I got out of it. Maybe you got something different.
posted by hippybear at 10:58 AM on September 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


Previously: we had a pretty good discussion last time, but it takes a while to get people to actually read the studies that show that they're wrong. Common sense can lead you astray. If you're really interested in this question, please avoid moralizing until you've seen the evidence.

Anybody who reads the cyclist-accident blog in their local city will realize that helmets would very rarely make the difference between life and death, where as the moralizing and regulation around helmets makes cycling less prevalent and that has tremendous costs.

Here's what I've concluded:

1. If worn correctly, a cycle helmet may afford some protection against minor, largely superficial, injuries to the head.
2. A helmet is unlikely to offer protection against more serious or life-threatening injuries.
3. You are more likely to hit your head in a crash if you wear a helmet.
4. You may be more likely to crash in the first place, particularly if a helmet makes you feel better protected.
5. A helmet may increase the very small risk of the most serious brain injuries that lead to death and chronic intellectual disability.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:00 AM on September 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


Also, a lot of the comments in this thread are backing up the article's claims that the US has a fixation on bicycle helmets.
posted by hippybear at 11:00 AM on September 30, 2012 [18 favorites]


Mr. De Jong, who grew up in the Netherlands, observes of Amsterdam: “Nobody wears helmets, and bicycling is regarded as a completely normal, safe activity. You never hear that ‘helmet saved my life’ thing.”

Because the people who weren't wearing helmets crashed and died from head injuries?
posted by scratch at 11:01 AM on September 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


Article did not scan for me -- it conflates the risk to an individual of not wearing a helmet, with the risk to a citywide bike propagation effort of requiring them. Is the author really saying he would ride regardless, but is seirously considering not protecting himself if it wasn't required?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:01 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't say that I'm in favour of mandatory bike helmet laws for adults. I also wouldn't ban smoking.

That doesn't mean I don't think adults who refuse to wear helmets aren't idiots. A not-especially-close friend of mine just spent several hours at the hospital with her boyfriend who had a concussion. He's a serious cyclist, riding 1-2 hours a day to and from work; he owns more than one bike; I'm sure he's an extremely competent cyclist. He still went flying over his handlebars after hitting a pothole the wrong way and had a concussion.

We have safety-gear in a car -- a big iron cage and straps to keep us in it. All sensible motocyclists not only wear helmets but also leathers to protect themselves. Walking is much, much slower than cycling and you have more reaction time to break your fall. A bicycle helmet is extremely light compared to the safety gear of a car or motorcycle, but heavier than what is used for walking -- and that fits with the speed of the mode of transportation.
posted by jb at 11:02 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


3. You are more likely to hit your head in a crash if you wear a helmet.

Do you have any supporting evidence for this?

Because I work with epidemiologists - professionals who study the risks of health problems, including accidents - and they all support wearing bicycle helmets.
posted by jb at 11:05 AM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


jb, those are extremely intuitive arguments. I am very sympathetic, and I hope your friend recovers. However, please consider the possibility that you are wrong. SNELL helmets have not been shown to decrease mortality or morbidity.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:06 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, many researchers say, if you force or pressure people to wear helmets, you discourage them from riding bicycles.

I can vouch that this is true. Growing up we spent a lot of time in school talking about terrifying "safety" topics like how to escape your burning house, and how you could go over a pebble riding a bike and splatter your brains all over the street, and how you could break your neck doing somersaults.

Every night I still go to sleep terrified that the house is going to burn down, I am not able to ride a bike and stopped doing somersaults as soon as I found out what "breaking your neck" meant, and didn't learn as much about math as I needed to succeed in middle school. Not kidding about any of this.

All that bike safety stuff just made me think, why in the world would I want to expose myself to a horrifying brain injury when I could just not do that. Even though my life would be a lot easier right now if I could get over my fear of biking there's no way I'm going to.
posted by bleep at 11:06 AM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


“Nobody wears helmets, and bicycling is regarded as a completely normal, safe activity. You never hear that ‘helmet saved my life’ thing.”

Actually, I think the key point was missed here. In the Netherlands, a driver regards biking as a completely normal thing to expect in one's field of vision. In the US, you still have the "crazy bicycle came out of nowhere" mindset.

We have safety-gear in a car -- a big iron cage and straps to keep us in it.

You still to this day have people who say they want an SUV or whatnot because it's a metal cage around them instead of what they see as cheap, unsafe crumple zones.
posted by dhartung at 11:06 AM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


You are more likely to be murdered in the United States than die while bicycling in the Netherlands.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 11:09 AM on September 30, 2012 [16 favorites]


I might have had more openness towards a "no helmet, no problem" argument if I hadn't met 3 different people whose lives/executive functioning/emotional stability/personalities have never been the same, even after relatively minor TBIs.
posted by availablelight at 11:10 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea:

I read around that site you linked to. It cites a lot of studies, but it feels really axe-grindy; in particular, the rhetoric outside of the studies is very much about eliminating helmet laws, and they make some questionable leaps in logic at times. I have to wonder if the site is using the studies misleadingly to push what is clearly a political agenda.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:24 AM on September 30, 2012


I grew up in an era when there was no such thing as helmets for bicyclists. In the late 1980s/early 1990s I was a newly minted 30-something and I resurrected my old Schwinn (with its fat tires, coaster brakes and no gears) out of the garage in an effort to get some daily exercise. Helmets at that time were for those folks who rode fancy racing bicycles with hand brakes and a multitude of gears - those folks who wore acrylic shorts while riding. Me, I'd come home from work, have dinner, and a little later slap on my Walkman and take off on my Schwinn for eight to 10 miles every evening. No helmet, no fancy cycling clothes, just my sweatpants or jeans. I rode down a myriad of quiet suburban streets, but truth be told whenever I rode along large major streets I stayed on the sidewalk (there were no laws against it at the time). Anyway, I kept at it for five years and never wore a helmet and never had any sort of mishap. And I was in great physical shape, lost many pounds and - most importantly - enjoyed that ride every night, riding through new, foreign (to me) neighborhoods, listening to tunes. Flash forward five years and I got married and decided to start riding again. Mr. Adams saw me start to pedal down the driveway and halted me - "What?! No helmet?!!" He bought me a helmet and the first night I rode wearing it a carload of teens pulled up beside me at a stop sign. They were hooting and hollering, and I removed my headphones and gave them a look. "You're like a hundred years old and you're wearing a helmet!!" one of them called to me.

Were I to take up cycling again at my advanced age, I don't know that I'd wear a helmet. I don't use my bike for a commute, so I would be able to stick to little-used side streets. My logic is that I biked for how many years before without one, and nothing happened... But of course Mr. Adams' argument is that "all it takes is ONE accident..." *sigh*
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:25 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]



Mr. De Jong, who grew up in the Netherlands, observes of Amsterdam: Nobody wears helmets, and bicycling is regarded as a completely normal, safe activity. You never hear that ‘helmet saved my life’ thing.


First of all, cycling culture is so completely different in the Netherlands than the US. As was said earlier, drivers and pedestrians are just much more aware of cyclists. The infrastructure is built to accommodate them. People grow up riding bikes there, and they're a completely valid and accepted form of transportation.

Ignoring those differences is like saying "Oh, in the US I drive on the right-hand-side every day, why can't I do that in the UK?"
posted by dubold at 11:30 AM on September 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


I wear a helmet every time I ride, and I ride over 7000 miles a year. Why the heck not? If nothing else mine have kept my head from getting scraped up a couple of times. They may have done more, but there is no way to test it.

I usually wear a hat, so the helmet isn't much of a stretch.

And, my personal opinion: Anti-helmet people just don't like helmets for some physiological reasons I'll never understand.

But then I always wear a seat belt in cars.
posted by cccorlew at 11:30 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe we should just focus on making it fashionable to wear helmets. Just as it was once so fashionable to wear a hat that one would not think of going out without a hat. In fact we should bring back the hat. The decline in hat wearing can be correlated to an increase in skin cancers.
posted by humanfont at 11:33 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have been involved in at least two crashes that, were it not for a helmet, would have resulted in significantly greater injury to myself, possibly even permanently.

Neither crash involved a car. One was on black ice, and one involved streetcar tracks in broad daylight and perfectly dry conditions.

However, I also know someone who is still recovering from severe injuries resulting from a hit and run, in which he was struck by a vehicle from behind. Had he not been wearing a helmet, he would have likely been killed.


But you're all grown-ups. Do what you want. In a province in which my taxes contribute to everyone's health care, I do wish that people would work to minimize unnecessary risks to themselves, but I don't think they should necessarily be compelled to do so.


If your child rides a bike, make sure he or she wears a damn helmet, though.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:33 AM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


The great Copenhagenize was just talking about this on Twitter: "You either promote helmets and goofy reflective clothing or you promote cycling and liveable cities. You can't do both."

Putting a helmet on while doing a dangerous activity doesn't make it safe. We need to be focusing our energies on making cities bike-friendly.

Here's Sheldon Brown on helmets. A good piece to read if you're not a cyclist to get a sense of a smart cyclist's stance on helmet policy.

[I wear a helmet. I work in brain injury research. I understand how devastating TBIs can be. That doesn't make helmet laws good policy]
posted by no regrets, coyote at 11:35 AM on September 30, 2012 [14 favorites]


Okay, I'll admit, I don't wear a helmet because I think they look stupid. If you told me I had to wear one, I'd stop riding my bike. I am that vain. Am I healthier due to the fact that I do ride my bike helmetless rather than not at all? Yes, I think so.

Accidents happen. Why not require helmets for riding in cars? Surely head injuries occur as a result of car accidents?

In my opinion, helmets just make reasonably safe and definitely healthful activity of cycling look weird and dangerous to those who might have otherwise tried it. The more normal we can make biking seem, the better off everyone is going to be.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:37 AM on September 30, 2012


Epidemiologists would look not just at rates of injury, but the overall societal benefit. Is society better off when cyclists wear helmets, or worse? The arguments that take a broad spectrum of effects into account suggest that mandatory cycling helmets are worse for society. Perhaps there are more head injuries per capita. But there are also more miles cycled per capita.

This is why we should rely on peer-reviewed professional studies to do this calculus rather than easily frightened laymen with their "intuitive" reactions.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:39 AM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh God. Another helmet thread. We're going to get the same tired old list of tropes being trooped out all over again aren't we.

Had he not been wearing a helmet, he would have likely been killed.

You cannot know this about any individual incident. Eminent, helmet advocating neurosurgeons have stood up in British courts and refused to argue under the strongest questioning by counsel that wearing a helmet would have made a difference in individual incidents.
posted by pharm at 11:40 AM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


the article: apple, meet orange. European traffic and bike lanes are worlds apart from the US.
posted by telstar at 11:41 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea:

Anybody who reads the cyclist-accident blog in their local city will realize that helmets would very rarely make the difference between life and death, where as the moralizing and regulation around helmets makes cycling less prevalent and that has tremendous costs.


Another go-round on bike helmets. Let me repeat what I wrote a while back:
-----------------------
A five minute tour through the ISI shows that you are demonstrably wrong. For example:

A PROSPECTIVE ANALYSIS OF INJURY SEVERITY AMONG HELMETED AND NONHELMETED BICYCLISTS INVOLVED IN COLLISIONS WITH MOTOR-VEHICLES
JOURNAL OF TRAUMA-INJURY INFECTION AND CRITICAL CARE 1991 Vol 31 pp 1510-1516

from the abstract: :"Helmet users in this group still had a much lower mean ISS (3.6 vs. 12.9, p less than 0.001) and were much less likely to have an ISS greater than 15 (4.4% vs. 32. 1%, p less than 0.0001) than were nonusers. In this group, 42 of 47 patients with an ISS greater than 15 (89.4%) were not wearing helmets. We conclude that helmet nonuse is strongly associated with severe injuries in this study population." ISS=severity of injury.

Without trying hard, I found 42 other articles that say the same thing, and 1 that didn't.
------------------------

Basically, just like global warming deniers, you can pick and choose a couple of things you like from the avalanche of information that you don't like. It still doesn't change the fact that the overwhelming majority of actual scientific information points to a large and reproducible protective effect against traumatic brain injuries.

Bike helmet skeptics and those anti-vaccine people are of a kind, IMO.
posted by overhauser at 11:42 AM on September 30, 2012 [20 favorites]


Maybe we should just focus on making it fashionable to wear helmets. Just as it was once so fashionable to wear a hat that one would not think of going out without a hat. In fact we should bring back the hat. The decline in hat wearing can be correlated to an increase in skin cancers.

ah yes, the helmet hat.
posted by mannequito at 11:43 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


the article: apple, meet orange. European traffic and bike lanes are worlds apart from the US.

True, but we're never going to be able to catch up as long as the predominant view is in the US is cycling: OMG Extreme Sport!
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:44 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mitrovarr: You could say the same thing about the IPCC. I don't know how to say this any clearer: being pro-helmet-law given the available evidence is the equivalent of being a climate change denier.

The problem is that helmet laws seem so intuitive to us. Doing anything else seems careless, and we have strong norms for blaming people who don't care. That doesn't change the fact that there isn't any good evidence in favor of helmet laws, and what evidence there is is overwhelmingly overridden by the evidence in favor of cycling itself plus the evidence that shows that helmet laws and norms reduce cycling.

If you want to wear a helmet, that's fine, but it's probably not making you safer. People who wear helmets get in more accidents, for one thing. Cars drive closer to them, for another. But the worst thing is that the majority of major brain injuries from cycling come from rotational forces, not focal forces. Hard helmets increase these forces by making the head heavier and larger. SNELL foam helmets don't make much of a difference for either.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:44 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bike helmet skeptics and those anti-vaccine people are of a kind, IMO.

Jinx!
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:45 AM on September 30, 2012


Even on MetaFilter, the only two real arguments people make in not wearing helmets are "helmets are gay", and "helmets are for pussies".
posted by sideshow at 11:47 AM on September 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


Without trying hard, I found 42 other articles that say the same thing, and 1 that didn't.

You should try harder. Learn to distinguish case control from epidemiology and study from meta-study. Also, distinguish hard from soft.

These threads seem to really stir strong feelings, but this is an important policy question and a good tool for getting people to think clearly about risk, so I feel like it's worth discussing.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:49 AM on September 30, 2012


Here's a direct link to the full paper abstract.
posted by overhauser at 11:49 AM on September 30, 2012


A lot of drowning deaths could also be prevented if people routinely wore life vests while swimming.
posted by Pyry at 11:51 AM on September 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


OrioleAdams,

I'd actually be more concerned that you were riding with headphones on, whether or not you were wearing a helmet. But seriously, you let a bunch of teenagers peer-pressure you into not wearing a helmet? I mean, I live a lot of my life according to the maxim What Would Juvenile Delinquents Do?, but I would probably rate my spouse's advice above that of a carload of random teens.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:52 AM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


A lot of drowning deaths could also be prevented if people routinely wore life vests while swimming.



A lot of drowning deaths would actually be prevented by people learning how to swim.

Other drowning deaths would be prevented by people wearing life vests while boating, or other situations where they might find themselves in the water unexpectedly.


The second scenario actually seems like a closer analogy to the issue being discussed, and is, in fact, mandated by law in a large number of jurisdictions.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:56 AM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]



anotherpanacea

You should try harder. Learn to distinguish case control from epidemiology and study from meta-study. Also, distinguish hard from soft.

So what, instead of looking at peer-reviewed meta-analyses of multiple papers you think I should do my own meta-analysis of all of them in realtime during a thread and if I don't my opinion isn't valid? Or are you just substituting condescension for a real argument?

How about this as a single study from a non-American country?:

Helmet use and bicycle-related trauma in patients presenting to an acute hospital in Singapore. Singapore Med J. 2006 May;47(5):367-72.

RESULTS:

160 bicyclists with mean age of 34.4 years (range 10 to 89 years) were surveyed. Among them, 80 percent were male and 30.6 percent were non-residents. ...snip.. Not wearing a helmet, being hit by a motor vehicle and age were significantly associated with higher injury severity scores, after adjusting for several potential confounding factors.
posted by overhauser at 11:57 AM on September 30, 2012


A lot of drowning deaths would actually be prevented by people learning how to swim.

Even accomplished swimmers have limited endurance; they can be sucked out to sea by currents, panic, and drown. Admittedly, the risk is low, but when your life is at stake, why would you take even that small risk instead of wearing a life jacket?
posted by Pyry at 12:04 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have no doubt that strictly enforced helmet laws would result in discouraging bicycle use. Considering the (lack of) risks, it would be a step in the wrong direction.

The proximity of bicycle traffic with motor vehicle traffic doesn't seem to me as relevant as might be assumed. Serious bike-related head injuries do not rely on a collision with a motor vehicle. I find it silly to argue that going without a helmet in Amsterdam is OK. Apparently, people there don't fall off their bikes. If a helmet is a good idea to avoid a serious head injury, it doesn't matter exactly how one gets that head injury.

Fashionable helmets seem to be a growing sector. I find it odd that around here, BMX helmets seem to be regarded as less dorky. However, they also seem to offer less ventilation, which is a deal breaker for me. Woe be fashion.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:04 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


overhauser: "Basically, just like global warming deniers, you can pick and choose a couple of things you like from the avalanche of information that you don't like. It still doesn't change the fact that the overwhelming majority of actual scientific information points to a large and reproducible protective effect against traumatic brain injuries."

Oo. Nice rhetoric there.

Lets not get into all the (perfectly reasonable) criticisms of many of these papers. If helmets are so effective, why did the head injury rate per mile travelled increase when Australia brought in a mandatory helmet law? There was a step change helmet wearing: on the road studies very clearly showed that the level of helmet wearing increased very significantly, yet no corresponding step change in head injuries is observed in the data.

This is a pattern that has been seen over and over again: individual studies of helmet effectiveness make very strong claims, which simply don't show up in the epidemiological studies.

overhauser: "Here's a direct link to the full paper abstract."

You cannot conclude from this paper that helmets have a protective effect. It's obvious from the figures quoted in the abstract that the two populations (injured helmet wearers and inured helmet non-wearers) are *completely different*. Those without any head injuries at all have far more severe injuries in the non-wearer population than the helmet wearing one. Now, either you're suggesting that wearing a helmet protects the rest of you by some polystyrene magic or else you have to accept that these two populations are different in other ways which is radically changing the level of injury. (cyclehelmets.org also claims that the two populations have completely different sex ratios, presumably based on reading the full paper.)

This is *exactly* the kind of thing that helmet skeptics get annoyed about: people cherry picking individual research results and making grand claims about them which are completely unsupported by the data.
posted by pharm at 12:05 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


anotherpanacea: You could say the same thing about the IPCC. I don't know how to say this any clearer: being pro-helmet-law given the available evidence is the equivalent of being a climate change denier.

Well, first of all, I'm not pro-helmet-law, I'm pro-helmet. I generally disagree with helmet laws on the basis that I dislike excessive government control of personal freedoms, which includes excessive safety legislation. However, I do severely look down on riders without helmets, considering them to be noobs at best and suicidal morons at worst.

The problem with your sources is that so many of them have confounding social factors. For instance, you say "People who wear helmets get in more accidents, for one thing." Well, who wears helmets nearly all of the time? Serious road and mountain cyclists. Who often doesn't wear helmets? People piddling around the greenbelt at 8 mph. Of course people who wear helmets get in more accidents.

Actually, the site you linked to addresses this, but then it goes into some seriously reaching arguments centered around individual risk management that basically boil down to 'Well, if there weren't helmets, maybe people would stop cycle racing and mountain biking. Then, they'd be safer!' Which is possibly true but also completely misses the point.

It's that sort of thing that makes me distrust the site.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:07 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


So what, instead of looking at peer-reviewed meta-analyses of multiple papers you think I should do my own meta-analysis of all of them in realtime during a thread and if I don't my opinion isn't valid?

No, but since I supplied the needed meta-study, it seems like you might want to read it.

You've got Singapore, I've got Germany:

RESULTS:
A total of 3395 head trauma patients were enrolled in this evaluation, 337 (10%) of them suffered a bicycle traffic accident. Other types of trauma mechanisms were related to leisure time (36%), housework (28%), business (15%) and non-bicycle traffic accidents (11%). The bicycle accident patients had a significantly higher rate of mid-level head trauma (GCS 9-12) than with other accident mechanisms, which reveals this type of injury is related to bicycle traffic accidents in a specific way. 89% of the cyclist were not wearing helmets. There was no significant difference concerning the level of head-trauma due to bicycle accident between cyclists wearing a helmet and others.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:07 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow. I thought everyone understood the risks involved in not wearing a helmet and fully assumed those risks when they rode without. But this is different. This must have been how the old school anti-smoking/pro-smoking arguments raged back in the day.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:08 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Helmet laws are ridiculous. Yes, a helmet will protect you in certain circumstances, but so what? Is injury illegal? Is risking injury illegal? Should we legislate helmets in the tub? Outlaw tree climbing? Life has rough edges and comes with consequences. Live it how you want. If that's inside a cocoon of bubble wrap, so be it. But please stop passing laws that make me live that way.
posted by JWright at 12:09 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


TwelveTwo: Interestingly, the research here is reversed. It was the epidemiology that did for smoking. Here, it's the epidemiology that doesn't show the expected effect.
posted by pharm at 12:12 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even accomplished swimmers have limited endurance; they can be sucked out to sea by currents, panic, and drown. Admittedly, the risk is low, but when your life is at stake, why would you take even that small risk instead of wearing a life jacket?

Because a life jacket actively interferes with proper swimming technique. And because we have trained lifeguards at public beaches and swimming areas. Despite what many might claim, wearing a helmet will not interfere with your ability to ride a bike. But you're not seriously arguing that, are you?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:12 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


then it goes into some seriously reaching arguments centered around individual risk management that basically boil down to 'Well, if there weren't helmets, maybe people would stop cycle racing and mountain biking. Then, they'd be safer!' Which is possibly true but also completely misses the point.

First, here's what they say about risk management:
"Although the desire to take heightened risk probably comes before the decision to wear a helmet, it is likely that the act of wearing a helmet reinforces the acceptability of taking risks, leading to the taking of even greater risks. In professional sport, people may use helmets, their skill in bike handling and the protection from immediately available specialist medical care in order to facilitate the highest levels of risk taking.

Sports cyclists wear helmets in an attempt to limit the consequences of the risks they want to take. However, the much greater representation of these cyclists in the hospital statistics suggests that their attempts to limit risks are inadequate for the risks involved. Indeed, putting their faith in 'technical fixes' such as cycle helmets may encourage many people to take greater risks than they should. In cycle sport internationally, the number of deaths in races has increased markedly since helmet use became mandatory."
That's a bit different from what you've ascribed to them. And indeed, as risk-management techniques for head injuries have become more viscerally secure, we've seen higher levels of head injuries.

It's the same argument for helmets and football: helmets make football seem safe, but it's not. So lots of moms send their kids off the play football, where the helmets mean more, harder hits. They get more TBIs. Did the helmets make the kids safe?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:13 PM on September 30, 2012


anotherpanacea: There was no significant difference concerning the level of head-trauma due to bicycle accident between cyclists wearing a helmet and others.

With only 11% of the 3395 study participants wearing helmets, it is possible that there were not enough of them to reach statistical significance, even if a large effect existed. This is particularly true considering that the study participants did not all have head injuries; how many helmet-wearing participants with head injuries were there? You can do things like calculate the minimum detectable effect and such, but I don't know if such a thing was done in this case.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:16 PM on September 30, 2012


I always wonder why cyclists bother wearing helmets at all, given so many of them (the vast vast vast majority of them where I live in San Diego) don't bother ever stopping at stop signs and often even ignore red lights (guaranteed when making right turns).

For example, I often will catch a family out for a bike ride, and they approach a busy 4-way-intersection and one helmeted parent runs the stop sign, then the other helmeted parent on another bike does, and the second bike has a trailer attached with helmeted tyke in it, and all three of these people sail right through a busy 4-way-stop intersection without a care in the world. What are they thinking, that wearing helmets gives you a free license to ignore traffic laws?

Now, hang on a sec as I go pull out the lawn chair, grab a few cold ones, and settle in to listen to reasons why running stop signs and red lights, usually at full speed, usually without even looking left or right, and often while wearing headphones (another no-no) is actually the safest thing cyclists can do. Actually, go ahead without me, I've heard all the excuses before.
posted by brianstorms at 12:17 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wear a helmet. I an see the point hat the epidemiologist was making in the article. We should be encouraging a cycling culture in North America, and if non-mandatory helmets helps that, then I'm in onboard. More concerned about the lack of dedicated cycling lanes and educating drivers about how to drive safely on mixed usage roads.
posted by arcticseal at 12:20 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've noticed round here that those bikers who wear lycra and speed about on fancy bikes tend to wear helmets. Those bikers just nipping down to the shop or coming back from work don't. It's the latter we need to encourage, and if they're not wearing helmets of their own choosing, I don't see how forcing them to will do any good. Given that the latter may have the bike as their only kind of transport, it's twice as harmful.
posted by Jehan at 12:20 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


In cycle sport internationally, the number of deaths in races has increased markedly since helmet use became mandatory.

In international cycle sport, mandatory helmet use also coincides with the development of lighter, faster bicycles, the design of more difficult parcours for major races, the use of team radios, and resulting changes in tactics. I'm not sure if you can assign the causality for cycling deaths resulting from crashes entirely to helmet use.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:20 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Sports cyclists wear helmets in an attempt to limit the consequences of the risks they want to take. However, the much greater representation of these cyclists in the hospital statistics suggests that their attempts to limit risks are inadequate for the risks involved."

It doesn't actually suggest that. Mountain bikers know what they are doing is more dangerous than simply riding down to the corner store. It's simply a more dangerous sport. Maybe helmets make it safer and maybe they don't - it's going to have more serious injuries than regular utility cycling in either case.

Indeed, putting their faith in 'technical fixes' such as cycle helmets may encourage many people to take greater risks than they should. In cycle sport internationally, the number of deaths in races has increased markedly since helmet use became mandatory."

How much has international cycle sport changed since the majority of competitors started to wear helmets? It's been a long time, certainly; I suspect entire fields such as downhill mountain bike racing and cyclocross have come into existence since then. It definitely isn't comparable.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:22 PM on September 30, 2012


Now, hang on a sec as I go pull out the lawn chair, grab a few cold ones, and settle in to listen to reasons why running stop signs and red lights, usually at full speed, usually without even looking left or right, and often while wearing headphones (another no-no) is actually the safest thing cyclists can do.


Your strawman should probably be wearing a helmet- you know, in case of derail.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:22 PM on September 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


Mitrovarr: "With only 11% of the 3395 study participants wearing helmets, it is possible that there were not enough of them to reach statistical significance, even if a large effect existed."

Ah, cognitive bias in action :) It's nice to see such an obvious example.

You made no such criticism of the paper posted by Overhauser Mitrovarr, despite that fact that it had smaller numbers than the 11% of 3395 in that paper. Consider why that might be perhaps? Maybe one told you what you "already knew to be true" and therefore didn't need to be pulled down, whilst the other went against your pre-conceptions, so you needed to find something to criticise.
posted by pharm at 12:22 PM on September 30, 2012


pharm: You made no such criticism of the paper posted by Overhauser Mitrovarr, despite that fact that it had smaller numbers than the 11% of 3395 in that paper. Consider why that might be perhaps? Maybe one told you what you "already knew to be true" and therefore didn't need to be pulled down, whilst the other went against your pre-conceptions, so you needed to find something to criticise.

Or, maybe I am devoting my attention to debating a different person, and thus did not even look at it? But really, we don't actually know which sample size is smaller, at least without reading the paper. The sample set within the paper I was discussing isn't 11% of 3395, it's whatever proportion of that 11% had a serious head impact. It's certainly less than the total number.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:31 PM on September 30, 2012


When all the do gooders start wearing helmets while in their automobiles, I will start wearing my helmet when I ride my bicycle.

And I suspect wearing helmets in cars would spare a lot more brain damage than helmets on bikers.
posted by notreally at 12:34 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Pharm: You are absolutely right. I skimmed too fast. This fight is more comparable to smokers debating the merits of filters.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:35 PM on September 30, 2012


Yeah, bike helmets don't really do much.

However, I would still recommend wearing one (in the U.S.) whenever you are interacting with automobiles. If you are hit by an automobile, a helmet may not help you much, BUT it is a critical piece of evidence if you have to sue the driver/passenger. Coming from experience, EVERYONE along the way of the legal process (and juries in particular) will look more favorably on a cyclist if she or he was wearing a helmet the accident happened.

Like it or not, wearing a helmet automatically reduces your liability in any accident because you LOOK like a responsible cyclist.

As for not having a helmet: they cost $10 at my local Canadian Tire.

And that's a clue for how much protection they actually provide. It's mostly window dressing.

Even on MetaFilter, the only two real arguments people make in not wearing helmets are "helmets are gay", and "helmets are for pussies".

I wear a helmet, mostly because when I was hit by a car, it probably netted me an extra $250K, but I have plenty of arguments against wearing one.

- Helmets provide a false sense of security - I will automatically bike more safely if I'm not wearing one.

- Helmets inhibit your vision and hearing. No, not much, but enough to be annoying.

- Helmets mess up your hair. I'm bald, so no biggie, but I can understand if that's a reason for someone.

- Helmets are just one more thing to have to carry around. Why not require knee pads, elbow pads, and hip pads.

When I was in my very bad accident, any of those pads would have helped me more than a helmet. The fixation on helmets borders on the ridiculous.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:36 PM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Because a life jacket actively interferes with proper swimming technique. [...] wearing a helmet will not interfere with your ability to ride a bike.

A properly fitted life jacket won't interfere with your ability to swim either. You won't be able to go underwater, of course, and it may interfere with your ability to perform technically correct strokes of various styles, but most people swimming in the ocean aren't practicing for the Olympics.

Where this argument is going is that both helmets and life jackets interfere mainly with the qualitative experience, and that a person well aware of the risks might still prefer to trade a a bit of safety for a better experience.
posted by Pyry at 12:36 PM on September 30, 2012


notreally: And I suspect wearing helmets in cars would spare a lot more brain damage than helmets on bikers.

Why? Bikes are open vehicles where being thrown from them is almost guaranteed and there is an excellent chance of hitting your head. Cars are closed vehicles where being thrown (if you are wearing a seatbelt) almost never happens and you should almost never hit your head on something, unless debris intrudes into the passenger compartment (in which case, good luck).
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:39 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Although, the argument that footgoers should wear helmets is about the same as for bikers.
posted by Jehan at 12:41 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also wear a helmet when skiing for the same reason as I wear one cycling. It doesn't make me take more risks, but it does give me a little more protection when blindsided by a third party.
posted by arcticseal at 12:42 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


2N2222: Apparently, people there don't fall off their bikes.

The NYT article also uses this phrase and I don't understand it. I've been biking regularly for 25 years. I've run into things with my bike. I've fallen with my bike. I've catapulted myself over my handlebars. Once, on an icy Wisconsin night, my bike fell out from under me and slid across the intersection while I landed standing on my feet. But I've never fallen off my bike and I wonder how such a thing would be possible.

Thankfully I've never been hit by a car, but if I were at risk from errant or aggressive drivers while climbing a ladder or stepping into the shower, I'd probably wear a helmet there too.

pharm: If helmets are so effective, why did the head injury rate per mile travelled increase when Australia brought in a mandatory helmet law? There was a step change helmet wearing: on the road studies very clearly showed that the level of helmet wearing increased very significantly, yet no corresponding step change in head injuries is observed in the data.

Helmet effectiveness and helmet law effectiveness are two different things. I've seen a lot of people wearing helmets incorrectly and I strongly suspect that bad helmet use can increase the chance of injury (too loose straps leading to torsional brain injury is what I imagine, but I have nothing to back this up.) Yet another reason why I'm pro-helmet and anti-helmet laws.

polystyrene magic

It's called physics.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:42 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I didn't read the previous bicycle-helmet thread, so I don't know if it was mentioned there or not; but I'm surprised that so far in this one nobody's mentioned a sentiment like my own: Every helmet I have ever worn (including high-dollar properly fitted ones) has been to some degree restrictive, uncomfortable, and hot. Did I put up with that and wear one while motorcycling? You bet, without hesitation. Would I wear one if I took my car to a local "track day"? Again, absolutely. But given the (so far) lack of compelling evidence that putting up with that sort of more-than-minor nuisance is worth it in the name of safety when it comes to tootling around town or suburb (and getting damned sweaty in the process) on a bicycle? No thanks, I'll pass on the aggravating headgear.

That's my choice and my own assessment of risk factors based on what I think is fair research on the subject, as well as on my life experience. And hey - my anecdata is as good as your anecdata.

On preview: Pyry has just now kind of mentioned in passing, but my post still stands.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:42 PM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Go look at the accident stats for serious injuries sustained by car passengers Mitrovarr. Head injuries make up a large proportion of them.

hydrophonic: "It's called physics."

Whereby a piece of polystyrene on your head apparently protects your legs? No, that would be magic :)
posted by pharm at 12:43 PM on September 30, 2012


The sample set within the paper I was discussing isn't 11% of 3395, it's whatever proportion of that 11% had a serious head impact. It's certainly less than the total number.

337 of them suffered a bicycle traffic accident. 89% were not wearing a helmet. So ~37 were wearing a helmet, 300 weren't.

I didn't mean for us to look at this study as evidence: it's a case control study, so it doesn't tell us about the population as a whole. For that, we need meta studies like Curnow 2003. My only point was that the case control studies go both ways, so "here's a study that agrees with me" isn't a useful method for continuing the discussion unless we're actually going to dig deeper. (And yes, there are even studies that show helmets increase head injuries, probably because of the size/weight of old-school hard helmets.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:44 PM on September 30, 2012


As for not having a helmet: they cost $10 at my local Canadian Tire.

And that's a clue for how much protection they actually provide. It's mostly window dressing.


Why should polystyrene foam and some plastic cost more than $10? Especially when the R&D for the cheap models was done years ago.

Whereby a piece of polystyrene on your head apparently protects your legs?

I thought we were talking about head injuries.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:44 PM on September 30, 2012


Whereby a piece of polystyrene on your head apparently protects your legs?

I thought we were talking about head injuries.


Not sure if you're kidding, but the point is that in some of the big studies, helmet wearers have fewer injuries to other parts of their body as well. Since this is weird, it indicates that we're not really making an apt comparison: there's some other factor than helmets to account for if we're seeing a decrease in knee injuries correlated with helmet use.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:49 PM on September 30, 2012


hydrophonic: "I thought we were talking about head injuries."

You really didn't read my post did you?

The point was that, as the authors pointed out, once you eliminated those with head injuries from the study in questoin, helmet wearers still had less serious injuries than non helmet wearers! From this we can conclude one of two things: either 1) helmets magically protect the rest of your body or 2) helmet and non-helmet wearers were different in some other way that was making the non-wearers more prone to injury.

Personally, I'd go for 2), wouldn't you? The next thought that should occur to you is: what does this mean about the results quoted for the protective effects of helmets against head injury in that paper?
posted by pharm at 12:51 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not kidding. I misread pharm's comment.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:52 PM on September 30, 2012


NB. The pro-helmet literature is riddled with these kind of confounding effects. Once you start looking for it, suddenly it's everywhere. Is it any surprise that many people are somewhat, shall we say, skeptical about the protective effects claims by some of the more enthusiastic papers?
posted by pharm at 12:55 PM on September 30, 2012


I really don't care one way or the other, but anotherpanacea, could it be possible that people wearing helmets behave differently while crashing than people who aren't wearing helmets, accounting for the different injury pattern?

For an illustration of what I mean, when I am carrying a bag of books I make no effort to avoid dropping it or falling on top of it. When carrying my child, I make a significant effort not to drop him or fall on top of him. I know a few parents who have broken wrists while falling because they purposefully put all their weight on one wrist and use the other arm to protect their child's head, whereas if they were not carrying a child they would react to a fall differently. On a large scale, a change in behavior like that could lead to a large difference in injury patterns.

Specifically, I wonder if cyclists who are wearing helmets do not protect their heads as much while they're crashing, and if that means that they injure other body parts less.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:55 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Even on MetaFilter, the only two real arguments people make in not wearing helmets are "helmets are gay", and "helmets are for pussies".

It's true. I'm actually pretty stunned at how many "helmets are gay" comments are in this thread; I would have thought the mods would have deleted them, but a quick perusal shows no less than 50 mentions of helmets being gay and 70 mentions of helmets being "for pussies". Kind of shame that this is always how it goes on mefi, but it was heroic of you to point out exactly what happened, in real reality. Thank you for elevating the discussion.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:00 PM on September 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


I would just like to note my support for same sex helmet marriage.
posted by elizardbits at 1:06 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


- Helmets inhibit your vision and hearing. No, not much, but enough to be annoying.

Err... precisely where are your eyes and ears located that this is an issue? I just checked, the only part of my helmet I can see when wearing it is the visor, which is removable, so I find it inhibiting my vision. My ears certainly don't care whether I'm wearing a helmet. I almost always cycle with a bag on my back, which does far more inhibiting of my vision than the zero my helmet does.

I'll concede that one of the reasons I don't use the bike share bikes here is that it's too weird for me to think about riding without a helmet. Other reasons would include the $5 it'd cost (unless I bought a subscription), that you have to 'dock' the bike every 30 minutes, and that the bikes are, by all reports, not that pleasant to ride because they weigh a ton.
posted by hoyland at 1:08 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll concede that one of the reasons I don't use the bike share bikes here is that it's too weird for me to think about riding without a helmet.

Oh and before someone goes "See! I told you so!" I own a bike that I carry up and down two and a half flights of stairs to ride (currently every weekday). There's relatively little reason for me to use the bike share to begin with.
posted by hoyland at 1:09 PM on September 30, 2012


Look, I'm not saying that you will die instantly if you get on a bike without a helmet. As I have stated above, I also don't think helmet use should be mandated, the same way that I don't think smoking or drinking should be banned, or that the government should make people wear hats and sunscreen when outdoors, because of cancer. I think adults should be able to mitigate risk to themselves mostly on their own.

However, telling people that wearing a helmet while cycling is actually making them less safe, or that it is somehow a barrier to the development of cycling culture in North America, is just BS.

The main barriers to the development of cycling culture and cycling infrastructure in North America are the entrenchment of car culture, and the intransigence of many local governments.

Let me tell you, the partisans of car culture couldn't care less whether or not you wear a helmet while cycling, other than where it fits into their own narratives about transportation infrastructure. If you wear a helmet, cycling is weird. If you don't, you become solely responsible for any injuries you receive, regardless of other factors involved.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:12 PM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Note- I am not in the pocket of Big Helmet.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:13 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm with TheWhiteSkull - I don't believe there should be a law mandating helmet use but I reserve the right to think you're an idiot if I see you riding bare-headed. And all of the willful misrepresentation of bike helmet safety is depressing. Exactly like the vaccine people

And the most recent retrospective article I find in the ISI:


Inj Prev 2010;16:A205 doi:10.1136/ip.2010.029215.730
Bicycle helmet and head, face and neck injuries: a case–control study based on 12 000 injured cyclists from a road trauma registry

Conclusions: The bicycle helmet protects against head and face injuries.
posted by overhauser at 1:20 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


So many other things that make one look like a cyclist have become popular fashion for people (men, in particular) around my 30-ish age. If a Chrome bag and pans that are tight around the shins are cool, why not helmet hair?
posted by intendedeffect at 1:21 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


For those of us who know or have met an accident survivor who was saved by their helmet... Kind of hard to take this seriously, fucking At. All.

I have fallen hard onto my helmet before. I would not trade any reduction in bicycle ridership for my still 100% functional brain.
posted by cbecker333 at 1:28 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, when it comes to traffic:

Amsterdam != any city I have lived in
posted by cbecker333 at 1:29 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


OrioleAdams,
I'd actually be more concerned that you were riding with headphones on, whether or not you were wearing a helmet. But seriously, you let a bunch of teenagers peer-pressure you into not wearing a helmet? I mean, I live a lot of my life according to the maxim What Would Juvenile Delinquents Do?, but I would probably rate my spouse's advice above that of a carload of random teens.


As stated in my previous post, I'd ridden for many years sans problem while wearing my original 1981-era Walkman. I never had it adjusted so loud that I couldn't hear traffic sounds, sirens or people talking to me (I used to wear the same Walkman/headphone set while walking every day at lunch time and I could hear conversation directed at me). It wasn't just the taunts of the teens, it was the fact that my usual route was a series of quiet neighborhood streets where cars cruised at 25 mph. Plus, I recall when shopping for helmets that I was advised that the cheapest ones (i.e. the $10 Canadian Tire models) didn't offer enough protection - you needed the much more expensive model. Etc, etc. Not to mention the fact that bike helmets seem designed to protect the top of the head only, in a high-speed accident. My most likely accident scenario would be being falling sideways off my bike, not flying headlong over the handlebars. In that case it seems like only an all-encompassing motorcycle helmet would provide the necessary protection.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:29 PM on September 30, 2012


Mr. De Jong, who grew up in the Netherlands, observes of Amsterdam: “Nobody wears helmets, and bicycling is regarded as a completely normal, safe activity. You never hear that ‘helmet saved my life’ thing.”

The reason that Amsterdam appears to have lower bike/brain injuries is that everyone is secretly wearing futuristic invisible fashion-y inflatable bike helmets already. Don't listen to them my fellow US's they just want to brain drain America one cyclist at a time.

A) Regarding Paris/bike helmets
B) Cool fashion on the way

Can anyone articulate the argument against bike helmets for me (I don't mean bike helmet laws, I mean a reasoning behind anti-helmet activism)?
posted by infinite intimation at 1:30 PM on September 30, 2012


I have this helmet. It looks pretty cool; I've gotten some compliments about it from strangers. Don't really know what the big deal is.
posted by silby at 1:31 PM on September 30, 2012


When wearing a seat belt was made mandatory, the conversation was a lot like this one.
posted by pracowity at 1:34 PM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Can anyone articulate the argument against bike helmets for me (I don't mean bike helmet laws, I mean a reasoning behind anti-helmet activism)?

This. Yes! Aside from, I guess citing some threat of "culture of fear" surrounding cycling, the article failed to articulate any compelling reason that these imaginary unwilling helmetophobes have for not wanting to wear a helmet. Probably because when you say something like "it will mess up may hair" or "its uncomfortable" you immediately and obviously have stated you care more about that than your skull and its vital contents.
posted by cbecker333 at 1:35 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


OrioleAdams

Sorry, that came across as a bit harsh. My apologies. I do frequently see cyclists wearing headphones who should probably be paying closer attention to the road, but then they would likely be pretty clued out without them. I also see people driving with headphones on, which infuriates me.


With regards to the Netherlands and Denmark- the reason that cycling is so safe in these countries is that there were several decades of policy decisions made that discouraged casual car use, while encouraging cycling and public transportation use, with accompanying changes to infrastructure. I doubt that the rates of helmet use among the Dutch or Danish populations ever even entered into the debate.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:36 PM on September 30, 2012


And the most recent retrospective article I find in the ISI.

That's funny, the most recent paper I find in ISI is this one from 2012, by Piet de Jong, the guy interviewed in the FPP:
In jurisdictions where cycling is safe, a helmet law is likely to have a large unintended negative health impact. In jurisdictions where cycling is relatively unsafe, helmets will do little to make it safer and a helmet law, under relatively extreme assumptions, may make a small positive contribution to net societal health. The model serves to focus the mandatory bicycle helmet law debate on overall health.
Think it's a coincidence they picked the guy with the most recent paper?
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:38 PM on September 30, 2012


Oriole Adams: Plus, I recall when shopping for helmets that I was advised that the cheapest ones (i.e. the $10 Canadian Tire models) didn't offer enough protection - you needed the much more expensive model.

Whoever was telling you that was lying through their teeth. All certified helmet (which is anything you can buy) are sufficient. Helmets are molded styrofoam - they don't have to be expensive to work. More money buys you more comfortable, lighter, and more aerodynamic helmets - but the comfort is already pretty good for cheap ones, so unless you are racing, cheap helmets are fine.

Not to mention the fact that bike helmets seem designed to protect the top of the head only, in a high-speed accident.

They look like that, but it doesn't work that way. The helmet is larger around than your head, so in a sideways crash the helmet will hit the ground before your head will. That being said, helmets won't block everything; the one serious head injury I observed while mountain biking involved a man falling flat onto his face - I believe it bypasses his helmet completely. Poor guy was out for at least 10 minutes... I wonder how well he recovered.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:38 PM on September 30, 2012


First off, oh boy, helmet thread!

Overhauser: Bike helmet skeptics and those anti-vaccine people are of a kind, IMO.

I can see your point, but at least the anti-helmet people aren't forcing it on their kids, AFAIK. When my friend Jeff rides without a helmet, he is endangering only himself. He will wear it in a bike race without complaint, as he sees that as a completely different situation.

In other helmet-related issues: When I was a kid, and my family went skiing, way back in the 70s and 80s, nobody wore a helmet on the ski slopes. Now if I got back into regularly skiing again, I would feel like an idiot for wearing a helmet, because it seems like a completely unnecessary piece of safety equipment. I know how to ski safely, and I have enough trust in my fellow slopes-goers that they wouldn't ski like an ass-hat. I don't bomb down slopes, and I am not mixing it up in the trees or making other super high risk maneuvers.

In the name of full disclosure, I do wear a helmet almost every day, but once every month or so, I go without it, but more for logistical reasons, e.g., I am dropping off the bike at the shop and I don't want to carry it with me half of the day.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:39 PM on September 30, 2012


Also, are we sure this article wasn't in the Style section? Because I think the New York Times just trolled us again.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:41 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


What makes me skeptical of the anti-helmet beliefs that seem to run quite deeply is an idea termed accidental logics (think "founder effect" in biological systems), where the "founding conditions" of an organization/institutional system will have consequences, and even define the rules and "expectations" of a system as you examine it at some point in the future... "comparisons" of European, and American realities are next to non-informative because the starting conditions are simply completely different. People have already addressed the issues (from infrastructure design, to urban and regional planning, to laws, to cultural norms, to fashion, to social pressures, to behavior while in command of massive vehicles... and probably 100 factors I am not accounting for, Europe is different from America (and America has a different logic from Canada, and San Francisco has a different logic from NY, NY, and on...)

I am reading the 2012 de Jong article, and it seems to not be accounting for the incredibly different realities and logics of the systems, it seems to just put up simplistic stats, and mathematically model them as if apples and oranges could be compared, yes, they can be compared, they are 'comparable', but they are not equivalent. The number they cite are "precise", but seem to suffer in accuracy.

They are missing many factors that go into modelling the logic of a system (road construction and design, valuation of safe spaces, other laws that go hand in hand with "helmet laws", like stronger prosecution of drivers disrespecting pedestrians and cyclists, again the list is far longer than was accounted for in the paper). Account for the logics of the systems, then I will take off the thing that goes between me and the road when I fall (I am wondering if more instances of biking runs in tandem with more "new" chances of a pretty little TBI [looking at it "purely statistically" isn't it not a "general increase of risk with more Bike-hours, but is it not like having "more doors" in the monty hall game show thing, more chances to "win" a TBI]).

Disclaimer: I also wear a hat to keep in the warmth, and the cold is pretty weak at killing my brain.
posted by infinite intimation at 1:57 PM on September 30, 2012


I have a completely smashed Giro helmet sitting on a shelf reminding me how lucky I am that I was wearing a helmet.

I went down on a country rode with zero cars anywhere in sight, when my front tire just touched the back tire of someone in front of me for a split second throwing me off balance. I went down on my right side hitting my knee, elbow and then head at a pretty good speed. I didn't even have a headache, and the road rash on my knee and elbow hurt far more. It was so quick that I barely had time to react (which was probably a good thing, since I went down without any extended limbs).

Go ahead and make your own choices, but I know that I would be seriously messed up today if I wasn't wearing one then, and I always wear one when I ride now.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 2:05 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I really think that this discussion has (for the most part) missed half of the relevant equation. Biking is inherently a fairly safe activity, but bikers are biking on roads that have cars on them. Walking is a fairly safe activity but walking around in the tiger cage at the zoo is not. We need to spend far more energy on not only better cyclist education but BETTER DRIVER EDUCATION. Drivers are the ones piloting around multi-ton steel and glass exoskeletons that can cause you blunt force trauma with a gentle bump.

Or on preview, what infinite intimation said, instead.
posted by ropeladder at 2:06 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and in NYC, the Dept. of Transportation often gives them away for free, in case people are worried that they can't find the cash for one.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 2:07 PM on September 30, 2012


Biking is inherently a fairly safe activity, but bikers are biking on roads that have cars on them.

And despite this, biking is still an inherently safe activity.

Again, it seems that the existence of motor vehicle traffic is not entirely relevant to the efficacy of bike helmet usage. Helmets offer just as much protection in a car free environment.

I have a completely smashed Giro helmet sitting on a shelf reminding me how lucky I am that I was wearing a helmet.

Is this where I get to contribute my anecdote that helmet usage has never made a bit of difference regarding the injuries I've had over the years while bicycling?
posted by 2N2222 at 2:21 PM on September 30, 2012


If you don't think it is worth it to protect your brain you probably don't need to.
posted by srboisvert at 2:23 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


"You either promote helmets and goofy reflective clothing or you promote cycling and liveable cities. You can't do both."

That is one of the silliest things I've ever read. Why can't you do both? Is there really some sort of anti-reflective clothing cyclists movement aka to the anti helmet one? And how long do they live on average?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:27 PM on September 30, 2012


I have this helmet. It looks pretty cool; I've gotten some compliments about it from strangers. Don't really know what the big deal is.

That is a cool helmet, but I can tell you that it's a helmet I wouldn't be wearing for long. BMX-type helmets simply don't offer enough ventilation. I don't think I'd be alone in that sentiment.

I do think BMX helmets offer one definite advantage: their shells are often thicker and more durable than those of road helmets. I've been waiting for the two best attributes of the different styles (durable shells and good ventilation) to be widely combined for practical helmets.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:28 PM on September 30, 2012


I can't believe people get upset about this, it's not as if they are trying to BAN bike helmets.

I have one. I wear it sometimes. I think I bike more safely when I don't wear it, because I am a little more conscious of how vulnerable I am.

People who are all super protective about your brains: tell me about the lengths that you go to to avoid BPA exposure. Surely that is a more constant threat?
posted by hermitosis at 2:33 PM on September 30, 2012


Can anyone articulate the argument against bike helmets for me (I don't mean bike helmet laws, I mean a reasoning behind anti-helmet activism)?

There is pretty much no argument being made that you (or any other individual) should not wear a helmet. The argument is that helmet laws are actually counterproductive and make society and bicyclists overall less safe.

Basically, bicyclists are safe when there are gazillions of other bicyclists on the roads. That means that car drivers become accustomed to interacting with bicycles, there is political pressure to create bike lanes and other pieces of bicycling infrastructure, and there is a huge societal benefit in terms of health (plus bicycle riders don't cause the pollution and accidents that car drivers cause, so getting people out of cars and onto bicycles creates a bunch of follow-on benefits).

Helmet laws mean that people don't bicycle, pretty much. So a given rider might have a slightly lower risk of specific head trauma, but be overall far more in danger because there are so many fewer fellow bicyclists -- so drivers don't expect bikes, there is no pressure to create bike lanes, etc. The article makes the point that when bicycling is risky (like in big US cities), it's only young men (with their high tolerance of risk, and high accident rates) who will bicycle; when you get a bunch of stodgy middle aged people bicycling, which takes not having a helmet law, everyone becomes much, much safer.

All the people talking about how their friend would have been totally ok in an accident because of a helmet are missing the point that this is about how to make things safer for everyone, and it is looking like, based on success cases like Denmark etc, that helmet laws are not part of that.
posted by Forktine at 2:37 PM on September 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


pracowity: "When wearing a seat belt was made mandatory, the conversation was a lot like this one."

Seatbelts don't cost extra money. Seatbelts don't fuck up my hair. Seatbelts don't make me look stupid. Seatbelts don't have to be carried around while doing errands. Seatbelts don't make me hot. Seatbelts don't affect my hearing. Seatbelts don't affect my vision. Seatbelts don't stop people from driving.
posted by aerotive at 2:42 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Helmet laws mean that people don't bicycle, pretty much.

There is a step in between these two things where many other things could go (such as many of the accomodations being made in some cities, towards making the roads, and spaces more friendly and safe for cyclists... why is the hangup on helmet laws, like they are the only thing between us and a healthy population of fit individuals cycling everywhere.

What I mean is;
How do you know it isn't "dangerous roads mean that people don't bicycle, pretty much."

Again, I am only in favor of very limited, protracted "laws" relating to helmets.
posted by infinite intimation at 2:42 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


2N2222: I don't think BMX helmets are better for the majority of cyclists. Those skate-type helmets have a hard shell that is good for the helmet's survival, but they don't have the collapsing foam that reduces g-forces to the brain in a hard impact. Basically, they're better if you are going to fall off the bike at low speeds many, many times and much worse if you are going to get hit by a car once.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:44 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think bike lanes are another mixed blessing.

I lived in SW London and commuted everywhere over the centre of the city (sans helmet) in a pre cycle lane era for about 15 years, but always felt hyper aware, and despite a few spills survived. Maybe because I'm older, but living in Portland OR now, I've tried wearing a helmet while being funneled along in intermittent bike lanes, and I've never completely in control and safe.

Perhaps there's a certain abdication of awareness that comes with helmets and bike lanes which makes cycling inherently more dangerous.
posted by marvin at 2:47 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been in a few accidents and flipped over hoods of cars and handlebars. All times head first. Helmets are the reason I'm not Terri Schiavo.
posted by wcfields at 2:54 PM on September 30, 2012


Seatbelts don't affect my hearing. Seatbelts don't affect my vision.

I don't know what kind of helmet you are wearing, but a properly fitting helmet should not affect your sight or your hearing. It shouldn't be low enough on your head to do that and the straps should be tight enough not to be out in your peripheral vision.

I mean, that doesn't affect your hair or how "stupid" you look, but it sounds like whatever helmets you are wearing don't fit you properly.

I think I bike more safely when I don't wear it, because I am a little more conscious of how vulnerable I am.

This might be terribly simplistic, but if you're so self-aware right now of how you drive, can't you remind yourself the next time you leave the house wearing a helmet that you are vulnerable? Conscious adults can modify their behaviour.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 2:55 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


and it is looking like, based on success cases like Denmark etc, that helmet laws are not part of that.

What others are saying is; that isn't just because they don't have helmet laws, but rather due to clusters of contributive factors. Factors already in place decades ago, decades upon decades before helmet laws were on anybodies radar. The culture of biking wasn't fought by cheap cars and gas for decades, the culture of biking has a more direct connection with the past in Denmark, there are many explanations for greater uptake of biking in Denmark "vs" the US (for example, what are the "comparable target distances needed to be travelled in a commuting situation" [are here and there "closer" in Denmark?]).

The logics of Denmark do not get to just "transfer" to everywhere. You have to work with what you have, so just saying "well drivers need to be smarter", or "cut helmet laws and obesity rates will plummet", or cut helmet laws, and people will suddenly feel safe sending their children out alone on bikes again (all factors in parental calculus around biking for children), it doesn't work to just compare as equivalent, two systems with such a different founding makeup, when you have a hundred years of "faster things rule the road", where so much more of the infrastructure is based on individual cars and vehicles, being driven over far greater distances, on much larger arteries, the scale of "driving in America" is not so easily "translated" into "Denmark doesn't have bike laws, and people bike there all the time, so if we had no helmet law, people would take up biking en masse in the USA".
posted by infinite intimation at 2:55 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


How do you know it isn't "dangerous roads mean that people don't bicycle, pretty much."

By now we have lots of data points to look at -- you can compare across cities to see whether a place with a helmet law or without gets more people to ride, while controlling for road safety, or you can compare ridership in one place before/after a helmet law change. This matters because what makes me safer as a bicyclist is having more fellow bicyclists, and so I want a regulatory environment aimed at encouraging the maximum number of riders.
posted by Forktine at 2:56 PM on September 30, 2012


I don't think BMX helmets are better for the majority of cyclists.

Nor do I, for reasons I stated. I say the reason the BMX-style hard shell is an advantage is because it's good for the helmet's survival of everyday wear and tear. I've gone through several helmets over the years. None because of a crash. All because the thinner, more fragile shell of the road bike helmet simply fell apart from age or minor impact, such as tossing it into the helmet box, where the family's helmets usually get stored.

Those skate-type helmets have a hard shell that is good for the helmet's survival, but they don't have the collapsing foam that reduces g-forces to the brain in a hard impact. Basically, they're better if you are going to fall off the bike at low speeds many, many times and much worse if you are going to get hit by a car once.


I wouldn't think BMX helmets are designed for particularly low speed crashes. I mean, have you seen BMXers do their BMX thing? Nor do I think road bike helmets are particularly designed for car impacts. I'm not aware of higher standards of safety applied to BMX vs road bike helmets. AFAIK, pretty much every helmet sold in the US meets the same industry standards.

The difference I point out is in everyday durability. I don't think either style is inherently better for low speeds, vs car impact. BMX helmets have the same foam protection as road bike helmets. In fact, they often have more. The interesting thing here under my observation is that it seems the more expensive a helmet, the less helmet there actually is, by means of increased ventilation.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:05 PM on September 30, 2012


what makes me safer as a bicyclist is having more fellow bicyclists, and so I want a regulatory environment aimed at encouraging the maximum number of riders.

Ok, I don't disagree, and that data and study sounds good, I was reacting mostly to the assertions in some links regarding specific European contexts and cities in the US.

Did I miss studies that did what you are talking about (this is definitely possible)? I only see papers relating to contexts which are not nearly so well controlled as the really specific and detailed studies you describe, I am happy to accept that helmet laws cause an inconvenience and thus restrict, on a short time scale, uptake of cycling as a mode of transport.

I guess I just saw a whole bunch of "helmets SUCK" advocates out on the wider web, and that made no sense, but I am happy to believe that people react negatively to being told to use something, and would thus avoid biking based on new laws, but I had never seen the evidence suggesting "helmets are actually dangerous", or "helmets make you less safe".

If all anyone is suggesting is that "helmet laws reduce uptake of biking habits", which "in a controlled epidemiological study using the data sets you described, means that less people bike and biking is positively correllated to good health, and helmet laws mean less bikers today, meaning less healthiness as measured today", ok, yeah, that makes sense, and I agree with this interpretation of human behaviours, I saw all the "helmets are dangerous" talk on the web and thought people might be making an argument that any given individual is "less vs more 'safe" when using a properly fitted and approved safety helmet.
posted by infinite intimation at 3:12 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can anyone articulate the argument against bike helmets for me

Other than feeble slippery slope & unnecessary intrusion arguments I don't know that you can make a strong argument against it. My gut feeling is more that I want to be spared of having to argue for or against it at all. It seems like one of those eminently reasonable things that everybody agrees on and that yields an eminently reasonable result that everybody hates (speaking for myself of course).
posted by deo rei at 3:28 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea

That's funny, the most recent paper I find in ISI is this one from 2012, by Piet de Jong, the guy interviewed in the FPP:

I took the time to RTFA instead of responding immediately.

My article was the most recent statistical retrospective of the data on bike helmet efficacy. Yours is more recent, but it's about the impact of bike helmet laws, not the safety benefit of bike helmets. And it is not a meta-analysis of lots of data, but rather the application of a model that Mr. de Jong made up, using cherry picked statistics (like a very small increase in safety when you wear a helmet as opposed to the values I cited, and the arguable conclusion that people who choose not to bike don't replace it with other forms of excercise) to make a statement about whether bike helmet laws are good or bad. I'm agnostic about his findings (and I already said I don't believe in helmet laws), but this kind of thing does smack of climate denier methods.

So, your paper is a theoretical model paper about something that I wasn't talking about. And people who ride around bare headed are still taking chances.
posted by overhauser at 3:32 PM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I saw all the "helmets are dangerous" talk on the web and thought people might be making an argument that any given individual is "less vs more 'safe" when using a properly fitted and approved safety helmet.

There are nutty anti helmet people out there who will make claims that wearing a helmet means YOU WILL DIE SCREAMING, but mostly the point being made is a lot calmer (but also counterintuitive, which is why so many people seem to be missing it) which is that helmet laws (not helmets) don't make bicyclists safer.

I am happy to believe that people react negatively to being told to use something

I think it's less that people don't want to be told to do something (I mean, the same countries that are having huge bicycling success and avoiding helmet laws are happy to have extremely strict helmet laws for motorcyclists, strict seatbelt laws, strict training requirements for getting a drivers license -- these aren't libertarian places, in other words) so much as it is that for a whole set of reasons helmet laws create barriers to riding and most of all to bike share programs. It's partly practical (one more thing to buy and carry around, it messes up your hair (and remember that a key measure of having bicycling work is for a bunch of fashionable women who work in offices to be able to bicycle to work), a bike share program would need to provide helmets and do you want to wear a random rental helmet?, etc) and partly for the impression they create of bicycling being a dangerous activity or an extreme sport.

Honestly, I want this to be a purely pragmatic decision based on the best research and case studies available. Whatever encourages the most bicycling is golden with me. Right now I'm getting the impression that the best way to do that is to not have helmet laws, and accept that there might be a few more head injuries in exchange for, on balance, much larger health and safety benefits. If it were to turn out that helmet laws are what get gazillions of people bicycling, then by all means lets have more helmet laws.
posted by Forktine at 3:35 PM on September 30, 2012


I've been in two bike accidents that totaled my helmet. One time I hit my head on the pavement the pavement and the other time my head hit a curb. Both accidents happened so fast I couldn't react to stop them. From the outside, the helmets didn't look damaged at all. But the Styrofoam innards looked like a jigsaw puzzle. I walked away both times with concussions. If I hadn't been wearing a helmet I most likely wouldn't have walked away at all.

Neither accident was affected by traffic but by pavement conditions. And the local bike store used my helmets as display models to sell helmets.
posted by dutcherino at 4:15 PM on September 30, 2012


Even accomplished swimmers have limited endurance; they can be sucked out to sea by currents, panic, and drown. Admittedly, the risk is low, but when your life is at stake, why would you take even that small risk instead of wearing a life jacket?

Wearing a life jacket significantly interferes with the activity -- many swimmers, including myself, like to dive under water and stay under water for sometime, neither of which is possible while wearing a life jacket.

But wearing a helmet does not interfere with your ability to ride a bike. There is no form of cycling - doing tricks, long-distance, toddling around the park - in which wearing a helmet makes the slightest bit of difference in your ability to perform the activity. Like wearing a life jacket while boating - something that is actually mandatory in most jurisdictions. The chances of needing a life jacket while boating are also low - I have never fallen off of a boat or capsized any boat I have ever been in. But I still wear a life jacket because a) it's safer and b) there is no good reason not to.

There is no good reason not to wear a bicycle helmet.
posted by jb at 4:25 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


scratch: "Because the people who weren't wearing helmets crashed and died from head injuries?"

I have crashed on a bike more times than I can count, yet I still manage to get through the day. Most of that was when I was a kid. Since I started riding again around 5 years ago I've only crashed once, and that was because I tried to hop a curb and failed. If you watch where you're going, it's pretty easy to not crash, and if you ride in the street like you actually belong there, motorists will probably not crash into you unless they're drunk.

Sure, accidents happen, but they're sufficiently rare that I don't feel the need to wear a helmet. I've fallen walking up my stairs more often than I've fallen on my bike. Should I wear a helmet when I go up the stairs?

As a kid, I probably should have worn a helmet, but it wasn't a thing back then. Knee and elbow pads, too.

All that said, I do wear a reflective safety vest when I'm out at night. Being visible is how you keep others from crashing into you. Being alert is how you keep from going ass over teakettle due to a pothole.

dhartung: "In the US, you still have the "crazy bicycle came out of nowhere" mindset."

That's because people ride their bike on the sidewalk where they can't be seen by drivers, and thus do appear to "come out of nowhere" when a driver is crossing the bicyclist's path.
posted by wierdo at 4:25 PM on September 30, 2012


I don't know about the USA, but in Canada all bicycle helmets must meet minimum standards. Helmets that do not meet these standards cannot be legally sold.

The difference in cost has nothing to
do with safety but with convenience (being able to adjust it to your head more quickly), how much ventilation it has, how fashionable the colours/design is, whether it has additional features such as a visor or even a rear mirror.

A $10 helmet will meet the require standards. It won't have a visor, it might only come in one colour, but it offers the standard protection.
posted by jb at 4:44 PM on September 30, 2012


pracowity: "When wearing a seat belt was made mandatory, the conversation was a lot like this one."

aerotive: "Seatbelts don't cost extra money. Seatbelts don't fuck up my hair. Seatbelts don't make me look stupid. Seatbelts don't have to be carried around while doing errands. Seatbelts don't make me hot. Seatbelts don't affect my hearing. Seatbelts don't affect my vision."


Ah, you must be quite young, because that was exactly the conversation about seat belts in the 60s and 70s. Why should I be forced to pay extra for seat belts in my car? I should be free to make my own choices about safety. Seat belt requirements are fascism. Seat belts make me uncomfortable. They cut into my waist. They cut into my neck. They restrict my movement and make me unsafe while driving. It is safer to be throw free from the car than strapped in during a rollover. Seat belts encourage reckless driving. They mess up my blouse and skirt. The cool kids don't wear seat belts. They make me look stupid. Seriously, exactly the same conversation.

"Seatbelts don't stop people from driving."

So helmets stop people from riding? You must be pining for that imaginary golden era of bicycling when cyclists dominated the streets before there were helmet laws.

"we're never going to be able to catch up as long as the predominant view in the US is cycling: OMG Extreme Sport!"

Driving is never going to catch on as long as the predominant view is: Seat belts! OMG NASCAR!
posted by JackFlash at 4:44 PM on September 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think you sound right Forktine, about changing health outcomes regarding cycling, I would maybe add another set of socio-cultural interventions into the "market", such as "less of the sweetening incentives to driving" (fuel prices aren't being so massively subsidized in many European nations, for one example, another, perhaps less so, now, would be artificially low interest rates for partial terms going towards car purchases [but that's probably a tangent]).

At the same time, if we were talking about a company doing car rentals, would we not look thrice, closely, at them if none of their cars had airbags, or some other, 'clinically proven' by modern research, safety mechanism? I get that it is complicated to have a company renting bikes out, but could it be somewhat reckless (from a liability standpoint, for that company) to rent out bikes, and not acknowledge the well proven safety values of wearing a helmet? Or to not provide at least the option of borrowing helmets? Then, once they acknowledge that borrowing helmets "makes sense" from a safety standpoint... how do we justify not including a helmet (with disposable/replaceble liners or something [hey, grocery stores changed "bag-related behavior" across much of Canada in less than a year, BYOB/Bring Your Own foldable/scrunchable helmet liners, for helmets that are disinfected in an automated system, and made of anti-bacterial plastics, or buy a liner from a dispenser for $1.30, same as in town]) with rentals? Then one might ask... so who are the dolts who refuse to wear a helmet on 'principle'?

Because I accept that under the (I think, protracted) terms of that particular set of studies, that laws influence behavior, sometimes in ways that do not further the intended consequences of the law ("total safety/health outcomes"); but as soon as we look at some other set of dependent and independent variables (like that hair-conscious man or woman, and their long term ability to earn an income, or ability to participate as able bodied members of society after some spectrum of accidents, and how that relates to their proper usage of a helmet like device... or any other individualized metric (I don't "really" like a study that allows "deaths from obesity, and sedentary lifestyles" to count in the "negative outcomes of helmet laws" column), when we are looking at this other, perhaps more important to single people, metric, then "what makes them safer", is not a cross-sectional comparative study of health outcomes on the grand scale, but rather, a very "simple" set of "inputs"; more specifically, what are the chances of any given cyclist hitting some rough pavement, a random door opening into traffic, run stop sign, potholes/road damaged by large trucks, or lack of maintenance, or a million other "random" accidents, and on the other axis, the subsequent likelihood of falling (in a specific manner, i.e. on the head/hitting the head).

I worry that the actual message of the epidemiological studies will get taken by "Helmet-phobes" to mean what many are arguing against the red herring of "helmets don't make Jake safer". When all they mean is that "if we incorporate all of the deaths from obesity, and other unhealthy (sedentary) lifestyle related deaths, that on a balance "helmet laws hurt heath outcomes, because they create a barrier to cycling, and act as one factor hindering cycling adoption" which makes cycling less commonly adopted.
posted by infinite intimation at 4:44 PM on September 30, 2012


A $10 helmet will meet the require standards. It won't have a visor, it might only come in one colour, but it offers the standard protection.

And it will be hot and uncomfortable and it will be no surprise when the owner decides not to wear it.
posted by Pyry at 4:50 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


So helmets stop people from riding? You must be pining for that imaginary golden era of bicycling when cyclists dominated the streets before there were helmet laws.
The thing is, helmet laws do stop folk from biking: bring in a helmet law, biking goes down. Where people can choose to bike or not, but not whether they can wear a helmet or not, they choose not to bike. If I had shares in public transport, I would campaign like mad for helmet laws. All those lovely new passengers!
posted by Jehan at 5:13 PM on September 30, 2012


Also, I must say as a biker that I don't wear a helmet. And that's not because I don't like them. Rather, I've never worn a bike helmet in my life, and it simply doesn't occur to me to do so. Even when at school when we had biking proficiency tests, learning how to bike safely on the road, helmets weren't mentioned.
posted by Jehan at 5:16 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some of the most ardent advocates of helmets are found among the hard-core cyclists. They'll always have a story of falling/flying off their bike, and will vouch for the worth of a helmet and why people are stupid if they don't wear one. Most of these stories have, of course, some serious speed or sport to them. They're not just people riding their bike at a leisurely pace a few kilometres in town.

Helmets make sense if you have a reasonably large chance of falling straight down and hitting your head, which is what they're designed for. So if you are engaging in sport and this is a real possibility, or you are a small child (i.e. poor balance) and this is a real possibility, then a helmet is for you.

Helmets do not make sense when they add discomfort and hassle and fear into the safe activity of biking at a low speed. In those situations they discourage people from riding, helping make cyclists more rare than they should be. Instead, every means should be undertaken to get more people riding, because when people get around by active means this is a major boost to public health and urban vitality.

When more people ride, riding is safer and more people start to ride -- and there's more pressure to build the kinds of protected spaces that can spur further cycling. Once you get to the double-digit proportion of trips made by bicycle, you start to really change the character of urban spaces and you start to change the costs of transportation (health-related, personal finance, and infrastructure). A critical part of growing cycling from 1% to 10+% entails replacing the cycling culture of sport and machismo and fear with one of leisure and urban enjoyment and effective travel.
posted by parudox at 5:18 PM on September 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


Putting a helmet on makes people feel afraid?
posted by silby at 5:22 PM on September 30, 2012


A friend of mine once took a header over his handle bars. Apart from being severely shaken up, he survived unscathed because he was wearing a helmet.

I've seen the helmet he was wearing at the time. Where his head hit the asphalt, it's missing a chunk of foam that's roughly the diameter of my fist. He keeps it hanging on the wall of his garage as a reminder to his grandchildren to always wear a helmet.

There's no excuse for not wearing a helmet.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:29 PM on September 30, 2012


To be clear, I support youth helmet regulations, aka laws, and so should 'you'; "rational" fully developed adults ought to be able to live free and/or die hard by their own swords... evidence appears to be in, in terms of the value of youth helmet laws.
The objective of this study was to determine whether the bicycle safety helmet legislation in California, enacted in 1994, was associated with statistically significant reductions in head injuries among bicyclists aged 17 years and under who were subjected to the law. The study used 44,069 patient discharge cases from all public hospitals in California, from 1991 through 2000, and a case-control design to make direct comparisons between those subjected to the law (Youth) and those who were not (Adult) across the pre- and post-legislation periods. An aggregate data analysis approach and a pooled disaggregate data fitting technique using multinomial logit models were applied. The legislation was found to be associated with a reduction of 18.2% (99% confidence interval: 11.5–24.3%) in the proportion of traumatic brain injuries (Head-TBI) among Youth bicyclists
Helmet laws for adults may make little or no difference (or even cause tangential "socially generated" harm), but like the training of virtue, by practice, if you practice safety as a youth, your uptake of ideas towards safe-riding will last far longer (look out for "Big-Helmet"! Out to sell you a $20 life preserver) these kids will know safe practices for life, things are changing, and the opposition to helmets comes from incomplete knowledge (of the safety value, of the comfort options, of the style options). Not having laws for youth punishes the children of uninformed, and opinionated parents unduly. Someone said above that "their friend not wearing a helmet harms no one else", but if they express their uninformed views on their children, it absolutely will hurt others unfairly.
posted by infinite intimation at 5:31 PM on September 30, 2012


Putting a helmet on makes people feel afraid?

It's dumb, but I can sort of believe it. Minneapolis just took out a lane of traffic on a major road and replaced it with a bike lane with buffers on both sides (so it's taken up the whole of what was the third lane of traffic). I discovered this on my way home yesterday and while it was super-awesome, part of me was scared I'd be hit by some moron turning into my lane at speed, not knowing it was a bike lane.

(I'm sure Minneapolis will want to say this is motivated by how much they like cyclists. However, I think they're actually hoping they can slow traffic on that road, which gets treated like a freeway. I'm not complaining though, assuming my fear is unfounded.)
posted by hoyland at 5:40 PM on September 30, 2012


Putting a helmet on makes people feel afraid?

Of course it does. It reinforces the (wrong) idea that you have a high chance of getting hurt or dying, and that you should prepare yourself for that eventuality by wearing a helmet. When you're wearing a helmet, you've internally conceded that cycling is dangerous.

Imagine if you started seeing people just walking around in your city wearing helmets. First you would think they were crazy. If half the people on foot were wearing helmets, you might think again about whether you're prepared to face the scary world of walking without a helmet or better yet, a steel cage.

Cycling in the city is not any more dangerous than walking is. Both are good things to encourage people to do, and getting more people doing both is the right direction to get us away from the really dangerous stuff -- designing our cities and roads in ways that keep us driving for every trip and subject us to the very real dangers of that transport mode.
posted by parudox at 5:48 PM on September 30, 2012


Putting a helmet on doesn't make me think I have a high chance of getting hurt or dying. It's just such a small think to do to ameliorate my tiny chance of getting hurt or dying that it hardly seems worth quibbling about.
posted by silby at 5:52 PM on September 30, 2012


The thing is, helmet laws do stop folk from biking: bring in a helmet law, biking goes down

Helmet laws increase usage of helmets and have no measurable impact on usage of biking.

There may be a short term decline, but once helmet wearing becomes the norm ridership returns to normal levels.
posted by humanfont at 5:54 PM on September 30, 2012


Imagine if you started seeing people just walking around in your city wearing helmets.
Come on, be fair: I cannot just walk around in [my] city at 25 MPH.
posted by infinite intimation at 5:57 PM on September 30, 2012


If half the people on foot were wearing helmets, you might think again about whether you're prepared to face the scary world of walking without a helmet or better yet, a steel cage.

Colour me convinced. Here I am then, prepared to tackle my front stairs.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:07 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I live in Japan. Every single person I know over the age of 5 rides a bike at least once a week. Most ride their bike almost every single day of the week. The only adults I've seen wear helmets are Mormon missionaries and bike couriers, who drive in pretty fast traffic lanes.

I know the plural of "anecdote" is not "data", but I've lived here 15 years, and I've never heard of anyone, or an acquaintance of anyone, get in a bike accident and hurt their head. I'm sure it happens, of course, but the likelihood of it happening is apparently extraordinarily low. Tripping and falling down the stairs seems a hell of a lot more likely, but I don't hear people insulting folks who live in two-story houses for not wearing helmets indoors.
posted by Bugbread at 6:16 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cycling in the city is not any more dangerous than walking is.

I'd like to see some proof of this statement. Maybe a map like this one?
posted by adamdschneider at 6:21 PM on September 30, 2012


According to National Police Agency, there were 174,000 bicycle accidents in 2004, 1.2 times the figure in 1996, and there were 2,767 bicycle accidents involving pedestrians, 4.8 times the 1996 figure. Of the 745 people who died while riding bicycles, 67.2 percent of the deaths were caused by head injuries. -preliminary google on the topic, not accounting for differences that I am unaware of in terms of how Japan "does" cycling related attitudes and norms.

It isn't zero. In one year. No one is intentionally insulting folks who make their bed with opposition to helmets, they are making their choices, and so much as it only impacts them, that is their freedom (like others I actually don't like or want to talk/debate about helmets, there have been cool links and insights in this thread, I better stop posting now).
posted by infinite intimation at 6:23 PM on September 30, 2012


I live in Japan. Every single person I know over the age of 5 rides a bike at least once a week. Most ride their bike almost every single day of the week. The only adults I've seen wear helmets are Mormon missionaries and bike couriers, who drive in pretty fast traffic lanes.

Granted, I'm basing this on a whopping 10 days in Japan, but Japanese cyclists ride on the sidewalk, which is illegal in many US cities. (Where I am now, you can ride on the sidewalk but not in a 'business district', conveniently not defined in the law, should a cop decide he hates cyclists.)
posted by hoyland at 6:29 PM on September 30, 2012


Imagine if you started seeing people just walking around in your city wearing helmets. First you would think they were crazy. If half the people on foot were wearing helmets, you might think again about whether you're prepared to face the scary world of walking without a helmet or better yet, a steel cage.

As you should.

If there are an unusual number of people walking around a city wearing helmets, there's probably a damn good reason to wear a helmet (perhaps the city is hosting a piano-movers convention?) and you'd have terrible survival instincts if you didn't consider wearing one.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:38 PM on September 30, 2012


... there were 174,000 bicycle accidents in 2004. ... Of the 745 people who died while riding bicycles, 67.2 percent of the deaths were caused by head injuries.

In other words, about 500 cyclists died of head injuries, out of 174,000 accidents. Unless my math is off, that's about 0.29% of all accidents. Less than one-third of one percent. Again, not what I consider a compelling argument for a bicycle helmet law.

If there are an unusual number of people walking around a city wearing helmets, there's probably a damn good reason to wear a helmet (perhaps the city is hosting a piano-movers convention?)

In which case there's also likely to be lots of large clear warning signs and all sorts of other safety measures in place. Perhaps you could just hold your straw man over your head for protection.

May I remind some of the shriller pro-helmet voices here that lack of an adult-helmet law does not preclude you from choosing to wear one. Sheesh.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:47 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wear a helmet biking, skiing, and on horseback. Biking is the sport I feel least compelled to wear one. Skiing I hit the deck all the time. On horseback the helmet helps with errant hooves after the fall, as much as with the fall. If I skateboarded I'd feel very compelled to wear one. I still prefer to wear a helmet on my bike. Sometimes if I can't find it and the route is OK it'll skip it.

Once I landed flat on my back and the back of my skull skiing. I felt the impact of my head hitting the ice (New England skiing) in my toes. The tingling lasted quite a while. I go back and forth wondering if the helmet made the impact worse or better. I'd like to believe better, but my head did bounce off the ground once.

My knee jerk reaction is no helmet laws, but wear the things when you can.
posted by drowsy at 7:00 PM on September 30, 2012


With or without a helmet, I would not feel safe bicycling in my congested, traffic-y, hilly, chaotic city (San Francisco). Happy that others do it, but I'm a big chicken. Somewhere else I would ride (with a helmet).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 7:54 PM on September 30, 2012


I find the most interesting comments in this discussion concern the differences between American cities and Amsterdam/Copenhagen. Two facts come to mind: 1) It costs € 26,40 per day to park a car on the street in Amsterdam. 2) Students in Dutch drivers' ed classes learn to exit from a car by opening the driver's door with the right hand, not the left, because it forces a driver to turn her body and reminds the driver to check for bikes.
posted by dubwisened at 8:12 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't think I can see anyone in this thread who has advocated for, nor even spoken to any perceived benefits of, an adult helmet law.

Who is shrill? We are talking about helmets, which I have honestly never done before in my life, ever, the questions are interesting to me, and I did not come to this with a "belief" one way or the other, it seems like some people already have hashed this all out before from many angles, and there are some deeply held positions. Just because people see things a certain way, it seems unhelpful to call "only them" shrill. It could easily go both ways, except, there is obviously sound logic behind both "pro" and "no" helmet ideas, but that would be a pretty useless and unenlightening conversation. Ur shrill, nuh, you are.

I quoted the first statistic showing that it was a non-zero number of deaths from biking, and more specifically deaths by head injuries while biking, in Japan, I only posted that because it showed that there were more than zero humans who died while they were on a bicycle, an anecdotal suggestion from a previous comment. I was not addressing, or attempting to comment on the "importance" of any of those deaths.

When people die forever because of an aesthetic issue... at my first glance, that seems a sad thing, potentially avoided, by new "air-flow" designs, or styles, or materials, there seem to be many potential avenues to making activities safer, I am slightly confused as to why this such an issue, I am open to being convinced otherwise on the matter of sadness.
posted by infinite intimation at 8:54 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


If helmet laws do indeed make people less likely to cycle, I suspect the decrease in morbidity associated with increased exercise would more than offset the relatively few injuries and deaths caused by riding a bicycle without a helmet. It's sort of like the calculated risk that leads the FAA to allow lap infants on airplanes. While it would be safer to require that children under two have their own seat, it would lead more people to drive instead of fly, thus killing more children in the end than the lap infant rule does.

Like parents are free to buy their infants their own seat, cyclists are free to wear a helmet if they choose.
posted by wierdo at 9:48 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


infinite intimation - As others have pointed out, the primary topic under discussion is helmet laws and whether they're a good idea or not. Much of the back-and-forth has been "I don't want to wear a helmet" and "you're stupid not to wear a helmet", which isn't the point. By the way, if you read carefully you'll see that while some of the personal reasons are "aesthetic issues", not all of them are.

People have been linking to studies indicating that helmet wearing does or doesn't help improve a rider's chance of avoiding serious head injuries, or that helmet laws either will or won't be good for society as a whole. You quoted the first study you came across, showing that there was a (statistically speaking) barely non-zero number of deaths from biking. What was your reason for posting that? What was it supposed to convince anyone of? Not even the most fervent non-helmet-wearer has claimed here that there were no deaths from biking - helmetless or not. It also doesn't really seem to show that casual in-town bicycling particularly needs to be made "safer", nor that wearing a helmet is the most effective method for achieving this greater safety. Again, why did you post it? At best it seems an emotional appeal rather than a rigorously scientific one, as do comments like "There's no excuse for not wearing a helmet" - which, as this thread shows, is patently false anyway; there are plenty of excuses, all of which are personal and anecdotal and ultimately just as useless as that comment. That also goes for "I know someone who's alive and whole today because they were wearing a helmet" - I'd honestly like to see hard data proving that, as well as a statistical comparison of that number against how many cyclists were killed or sustained severe brain injuries while wearing a helmet, as well as how many (or few) cyclists can say "I'm alive and whole despite not wearing a helmet when I crashed" or "I've ridden all my life and never had a crash". I repeat, personal experiences and anecdotes aren't the kind of statistically significant data that we need to be able to determine whether helmet laws are a good thing.

I think that what the non-wearers (or at least the people against enacting helmet laws) are trying to point out is that helmet wearing (a) is not a panacea, (b) has not been convincingly proven to make a difference except in a very small percentage of cases, (c) studies are conflicting on whether the alleged "greater safety" of enforced helmet wearing would outweigh the negative side-effects of such an enforcement, and (d) therefore should be left up to the (adult) individual to assess the risk and make their own individual decision rather than there being a legal mandate for everyone to always wear one while riding. Someone please tell me if you don't think that's a reasonably accurate prècis of the topic.

Nobody is telling anyone they shouldn't wear a helmet if they want. And if anyone wants to judge me for not wearing a bicycle helmet, well, it's a free country. Nobody's stopping you from doing that either. But neither will such judgement shame me into wearing a helmet. What will change my mind is a majority of compelling evidence that the worth of wearing a helmet clearly outweighs the drawbacks, which (in my opinion) has yet to appear.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:01 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


> "You either promote helmets and goofy reflective clothing or you promote cycling and liveable cities. You can't do both."

That is one of the silliest things I've ever read. Why can't you do both? Is there really some sort of anti-reflective clothing cyclists movement aka to the anti helmet one? And how long do they live on average?


You either promote bicycling as a dangerous sport that requires all kinds of arbitrary safety elements or you promote it as a simple means of transportation that's kind of like walking, but faster.

Maybe people in North America think Copenhagen is a mythical city? Because lots of people in this thread and in newspaper comment sections across the continent seem to ignore the fact that there are cities in Europe where 30-40% of trips are taken by bicycle and *gasp* no one wears helmets -- and there's no rash of brain injuries (rates of traumatic injuries -- injuries per km cycled -- are lower in cities with no helmet laws). They use simple lights at night and bike according to a traffic system that is designed with bikes (and pedestrians) in mind. Those are the real safety measures that save lives.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:16 PM on September 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


Wow, I've only just thought of this connection but... Some comments up thread mention the notion (proven?) that cars pass more closely if you are wearing a helmet. Well I almost never wear a helmet, but this summer I did for one ride, and during that ride a car brushed me.

I was in Halifax this August. Nova Scotia has one of those ridiculous helmet laws, and I was even stopped by the cops in Halifax on a previous trip for not wearing one. So, this trip I elected to bring the helmet along. When in Rome and all that...

I was riding in heavy slow traffic near a park where a rowing regatta was going on. A car was waiting to turn right in front of me, so I very cautiously moved left to go around it safely, or maybe just take my place in the lane if going around wasn't going to be possible. At the same time the car behind me decided to overtake me. I knew that car was there, I'd been shoulder checking very frequently all the way along. And the car knew I was there too, it very clearly moved to the left to stay outside my path and continue the overtaking manoeuvre.

So there we were, the overtaking car and I were playing a low key game of chicken. The driver didn't want me to come out for no more reason than "fuck you bicycle", because he had no way of getting past the other car waiting to turn right blocking the lane in front.

And then the holy shit moment. The cars right side mirror brushed my ass! What the fuck!

Anyway, I told the story to a few people at the time, but I never made the connection till today. Of course cars try to bully cyclists out of their rightful place on the road all the time, but that was the only time I've ever had a car actually brush me while bullying. Not only that, but it was the only time I've warn a helmet in more than a decade.
posted by Chuckles at 10:34 PM on September 30, 2012


The one thing bicycle helmets irrefutably protect against is sanctimoniously shrill safety advocates who happily make tenuous judgments about the moral character of non-helmet wearers from that one flimsy speck of evidence. That's the biggest reason by far for me to wear mine. I used to attempt reasoned discussion with such folk, but know when to admit defeat. The argument in the US has been lost to the sheer weight of numbers of the "my helmet saved my life" army. Helmets are just too powerful a tool for for victim blaming distraction so to avoid addressing the true transport dysfunctions of our cities.
posted by normy at 10:53 PM on September 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


humanfront: Helmet laws increase usage of helmets and have no measurable impact on usage of biking.

There may be a short term decline, but once helmet wearing becomes the norm ridership returns to normal levels.


Maybe you could link the full text? Your link most certainly does not itself show what you are saying. In particular, from that link:
Results Helmets were reportedly worn by [...] Following the implementation of legislation in PEI and Alberta, recreational and commuting bicycle use remained unchanged among youth and adults.

Conclusions Canadian youth and adults are significantly more likely to wear helmets as the comprehensiveness of helmet legislation increases. Helmet legislation is not associated with changes in ridership.
I think in fact cycling is going up, so steady rates of cycling in PEI and Alberta means that some potential cyclists were in fact discouraged by helmet laws. To back my claim of increasing ridership up, I'll offer Transport Canada saying bicycle commuting is increasing slowly.

Also, they make no mention at all of immediate reduction followed by a rebound effect that you state.

So anyway, full text?


Okay, okay.. Here, let me google that for me..

Here's the anti-helmet-law camps criticism of the study you linked. Oh, and another link on Alberta's under 18 law, with data on cycling rates and hospital admissions among the under 18 set.
posted by Chuckles at 11:27 PM on September 30, 2012


2) Students in Dutch drivers' ed classes learn to exit from a car by opening the driver's door with the right hand, not the left, because it forces a driver to turn her body and reminds the driver to check for bikes.

Wow. That's genius.
posted by mannequito at 11:39 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Helmet laws imply that bicycling is such an extreme, dangerous sport that ordinary people can't be trusted to make reasonable risk assessments about it.

An activity that dangerous isn't exactly going to be my first choice when I'm thinking about how I want to get to the store half a mile down the road.

You can't have it both ways: bicycling is either a good idea and a sensible way to get around, a better alternative to driving a car that promotes health and reduces traffic problems, making all of our lives better - or it's a terrifying, dangerous extreme sport which is a terrible way to run one's ordinary errands.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:54 PM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


When all the do gooders start wearing helmets while in their automobiles, I will start wearing my helmet when I ride my bicycle

What do you think side-curtain airbags are for?
posted by asterix at 12:00 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


But, to be fair, it's damned hard to fit those on a bicycle.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:16 AM on October 1, 2012


Can anyone articulate the argument against bike helmets for me

It makes you look German or worse, American.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:26 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


What do you think side-curtain airbags are for?

So you're saying you only wear a helmet in older-model cars? Makes sense, I guess.
posted by alexei at 3:13 AM on October 1, 2012


pracowity: "When wearing a seat belt was made mandatory, the conversation was a lot like this one."

Seatbelts don't cost extra money. Seatbelts don't fuck up my hair. Seatbelts don't make me look stupid. Seatbelts don't have to be carried around while doing errands. Seatbelts don't make me hot. Seatbelts don't affect my hearing. Seatbelts don't affect my vision.
posted by aerotive


What the fuck are you talking about?

You can get a helmet for $20, about 10% of the cost of the shittiest, cheapest bikes out there. You can comb or brush your hair when you get where you're going, and the structural integrity of your skull is much more important than that of the hair on top of it. If you're older than 17 and are worried about looking stupid, you are stupid. You can easily lock your helmet to you bike when you park it. Unless they're making helmets with earmuffs these days, I cannot imagine how they could impact your hearing. I cannot imagine how a helmet could possibly restrict your vision. You know the little visor things they come with come off, right?

I have biked to work 90% of the days that I have worked for my whole life. I bike for fun and for errands, and probably leave my house on my bike more often than I do on foot. I always wear my helmet, both because I broke one once in a crash and because the cost of wearing it is zero while the potential cost of going without is not.

Helmet laws are dumb though, but if you think that anything that US cyclists do on their bikes will help make the US better to bike in, I think you're wrong.
posted by Aizkolari at 3:28 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can anyone articulate the argument against bike helmets for me

The problem with arguing against bike helmets is that any argument you can make is directly countered by the "but is safer" mantra and sounds petty, but in the end the decision to wear a helmet while biking is still very much an arbitrary choice. Why go for this particular bit of safety kit while doing this particular activity but not use comparable kit for activities with the same level of risk. Or, why wear a helmet when biking when you wouldn't do it while walking? Why wear a helmet at all when you're not covering the rest of your body, like responsible motor bikers do, who wear a helmet and padded gloves and clothing, as they know that normal street clothing won't help when dropping of their bike at speed?

Why focus on just this particular bit of risk avoidance? You can't really compare it with seatbelts in cars, because there is such a clear and present danger if you're not wearing a belt and get into a serious accident. With bikes, that danger is a whole lot less, while in the most dangerous situations a helmet will only help that much...

On another note, I'm midlly narked about the whole, "but you can't compare The Netherlands/Denmark with the US as they are biking ubermenschen whose whole society is an ode to safe biking". Nu-uh. Cars are just as dangerous here, bike lanes only do so much and Amsterdam, especially the studenty/hipster part of the city, are not the whole of the Netherlands.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:59 AM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Why go for this particular bit of safety kit while doing this particular activity but not use comparable kit for activities with the same level of risk.

Including, according to the article, being a pedestrian. Wouldn't we all be safer if we were required to wear helmets while walking on sidewalks and trails? Or might a law requiring pedestrian helmets create a set of disincentives to walk?

Because really, the argument isn't that helmets are bad; it's a question of whether or not helmet laws make sense.
posted by Forktine at 6:07 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jesus Christ people, just wear a god damn helmet.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:55 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Although, the argument that footgoers should wear helmets is about the same as for bikers.

I've long tried to pitch the Pedestrian Helmet, but nobody's buying.

Perhaps I've been using the wrong terminology. Perhaps the "Footgoers' Headsafe" might fare better in elevators?

For casual bikers, 98% of the reason to wear a bike helmet is due to cars. And 90% of those reasons apply to pedestrians, plus they have extra issues of their own.

Helmets do not make sense when they add discomfort and hassle and fear into the safe activity of biking at a low speed.

That's it really. If you're going to bike: a) fast; b) in a forest or somewhere else with tall, hard, pole-like-structures and uneven roads; c) anything else where you may fly off the bike at speed and/or hit a hard, unmoving object, duh, wear a helmet.

If you're going to take your cruiser bike 5-6 blocks to a corner store, etc, good lord.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:25 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can get a helmet for $20, about 10% of the cost of the shittiest, cheapest bikes out there.

Ah, you're shopping at the wrong bike shop.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:28 AM on October 1, 2012


Having worked for four years in my twenties as a bicycle messenger, I have probably logged far more bicycle hours on city streets than have most people. I would say I wear a helmet about 80% of the time.

In all my years, I have had four bad crashes (three of them while working). In two of those cases, I hit my head. I was wearing a helmet both times. One of those two times, I ended up in the hospital with a pretty severe concussion that may well (I can't say for sure) have been much worse if I weren't wearing a helmet.

Despite that, I still choose not to wear a helmet sometimes. Every day, we are all making hundreds of little decisions that affect our safety. The belief that safety should trump all other considerations all of the time is no more reasonable than acting as though we are invincible.

Quick back-of-the-envelope calculation leads me to believe that I probably have a 1-in-5000-ish chance of an accident in any given hour of city riding. A helmet would only make a difference in a subset of those crashes, and it would save my life or save me from permanent brain damage in far fewer. And so, if it's a particularly hot day, or if I don't want to carry a helmet around all day after parking my bike, or, yes, if I am feeling particularly vain, I leave the helmet at home sometimes. I'm weighing guaranteed discomfort or annoyance and against a statistically very small chance of injury.

This doesn't make me a crazy person who doesn't care if he lives or dies. It makes me a person who is living his life day to day according to a vast array of criteria, desires, and influences.

You make the same decision when you decide to go on a road trip and risk the danger of a fatal car accident for no greater purpose than leisure.

Summary: I think helmets do make you safer, but I still think people can have good, rational reasons for choosing not to wear one. People should probably wear helmets most of the time, but it shouldn't be against the law not to.
posted by 256 at 8:35 AM on October 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm in the don't make helmet laws camp.

I bike to work about 5-10 mins up a fairly busy street, I don't wear a helmet. On my way home I take the back route, because drivers seem more careless in the evening than the morning.

If I'm biking for recreation, like mtn biking or busting out my road bike, anywhere where I'm going fast or over dangerous terrain, I wear a helmet.

I don't really like helmets. I like the wind in my hair and its one less thing to think about.
I don't have to think about:
1. locking it up.
2. carrying it around.
3. My hair
4. Breaking out from the headband.
5. It getting stolen.
6. accidentally dropping it and having to buy a new one.
7. Sweating in my head or elsewhere.

Frankly I kind of like to take risks ... Look at other sports where helmet use is creeping in, like sailing and windsurfing. Previously one learned to duck from the boom. You figured out how the boat felt when it was about to tack or gybe, now you've got an extra inch or two around your head. That's 1-2 inches less of clearance than you had before. You can't feel the wind in your hair just as its shifting or gusting. Its another expensive piece of equipment to pay for, lose, break and replace.
posted by captaincrouton at 9:06 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]



Frankly I kind of like to take risks ...


My tiny little town loses at least one person a year to quad accidents. The ones that die are almost never wearing helmets, and they all say exactly the same things.

You can only see so many smashed skulls and grieving families before you start to lean towards the safety side of the scale.

I wouldn't ride any open air vehicle without a seat belt or helmet. Quads, bikes, motorbikes, whatever. From where I sit, the objections all look really naive once you've stared the consequences in the face a few times. Head injuries are absolutely terrible, and even if you can handle the idea of brain damage or death, think about your family, friends, and the emergency personnel that have to come scrape you off a sidewalk.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:00 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Helmets are like seat belts. Maybe.

More like: Helmets are like seat belts in a 1978 Pinto.

Clarification: It'll help you from nicks, scrapes and thuds to the skull area of the body, but if an accident is something that will cause serious brain damage then it's probably also going to cause internal hemorrhaging or a significant spinal cord injury anyway. Helmets don't protect against those sorts of things.

tl;dr: They have a safety value of n>0, but not by much.

Honestly though, I'm pretty sick of the freakonomic style rationale for every little tidbit of a decision these days.
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:14 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always, always wear a helmet on my road bike. It's fast, it's wobbly, it's not super unusual to hit a tree branch or a pothole and go flying. I've never been in an accident that could cause brain damage, but I've seen a couple first-hand and I don't want that to happen to me.

But bike share bikes are the slowest, heaviest, most stable bikes there are. It's very hard for me to imagine any kind of accident on one, other than getting hit by a car. And you're biking such short distances (due to the weight) that even that is unlikely. I have no problem riding a bike share bike without a helmet.

I'm not sure if it's possible to make a law that distinguishes between the two situations though.
posted by miyabo at 10:23 AM on October 1, 2012


You can only see so many smashed skulls and grieving families before you start to lean towards the safety side of the scale.

That's a reasonable choice: just keep your personal risk-assessment criteria out of the lawbooks, and we can both be happy.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:31 AM on October 1, 2012


You can only see so many smashed skulls and grieving families before you start to lean towards the safety side of the scale.

So why not ban cycling on city streets? Surely that would reduce the number of cycling injuries more than helmets would.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:34 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stagger Lee, I understand your viewpoint; but even so conflating motorized quad bikes running off- (or even on-) road with bicycles on urban or suburban roads isn't very useful in this context.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:08 AM on October 1, 2012


it's not super unusual to hit a tree branch or a pothole and go flying

Maybe you should find a new hobby.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:18 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree, there's a significant difference in what safety equipment would be helpful at speeds of maybe 15 mph with a 20 pound vehicle and then again in excess of 30 mph with a 200 pound vehicle.

As mentioned earlier, it's simple physics really.
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:18 AM on October 1, 2012


why wear a helmet when biking when you wouldn't do it while walking?
WTF? Do you walk 40mph? Jiminy Fucking Christmas.
posted by and for no one at 11:18 AM on October 1, 2012


WTF? Do you walk 40mph? Jiminy Fucking Christmas.
No, but not everybody bikes at speeds in excess of 10mph either.

Jiminy Fucking Christmas indeed. There are other people on this planet, and not all of them behave in the manner you expect them to. Laws are not the solution for this type of non-problem.
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:28 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't care about helmet laws either way, I can see valid arguments for and against them. If more people rode bicycles, bicycling would be safer because the motorists wouldn't act so bloody surprised when they see one.

The law wouldn't affect me because I wear a helmet. I have (at least) two friends who would be probably be dead if they hadn't been wearing a helmet. Anecdata you say? This is not "something I heard", these are two people I know, good friends of mine, who _would be dead_.

My point is that a bicyclist isn't a pedestrian, and any argument conflating the two is ridiculous.

A bicycle is a vehicle capable of high speeds. If you're puddling around at 7mph and not wearing a helmet, the risk of injury from a fall isn't much higher than if you're running and trip.

If you're traveling 20 or 30 mph (or more) and you fall you will get injured. If you're not wearing a helmet the injury will be more severe.

Bicycling is dangerous, at least where I live. It's more dangerous than walking. Is it still worth doing? I think so, but I try to minimize the risks by how & where I ride and by wearing a helmet.

If you don't want to wear a helmet, I really don't care, but the arguments here against wearing one are extremely silly.
posted by and for no one at 11:44 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I ride a bike daily to work 5 miles there and back. I do not wear a helmet. I guess I would if it were law, but I'd probably forget a bunch. I don't think that the risk of riding my bike to work is worth the admittedly minor inconvenience of purchasing and using a helmet. I say this as someone who does not think he will be injured seriously while riding. I don't think that people who use helmets are overcautious, "gay" or "pussies." I just don't wear one, and I don't think I'm going to start. I also don't think I'm a "moron" for thinking this way, as was mentioned in an upthread comment.

But I guess I am just a crazed risk taker. I go 10 MPH over the speed limit frequently. I will pull a electrical plug from the wire sometimes. I accelerate towards yellow lights, and have occasionally misjudged the duration until it turned red. I light small fireworks in my hand. I won't always unplug the Christmas tree at night, and I will only look at assembly instructions if I get stuck.

I don't think I'm quite the candidate for the Darwin Awards, but I of course could live safer, and do everything I possibly could to ensure that I live as long as I possibly could... But what's the point? All the work involved, constant fear and anxiety about every little thing that I am doing or not doing that could be leading me to my inevitable death. For me, Life is, and always will be, part sheer luck. No matter what precautions I choose to take or not.
posted by Debaser626 at 11:52 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Take away that requirement, and I'd have been riding around for years by now.

That you don't own a helmet and let 4 bikes sit dormant is the worst excuse I've ever heard for not riding bike. Go get a helmet and ride. It is plain-as-day simple.
posted by dgran at 11:55 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Telling people that they should just man up and ride (or forget about looks, etc.) doesn't work. That's not how they've gotten tons of folks cycling in the Netherlands, and it's not going to help in the English speaking world. Even if "avid cyclists" don't understand why people could be so easily dissuaded from cycling.

We are easily dissuaded from most things we don't have to do. Cycling is not a way of life for most people, and if cycling is to be a major mode of transportation it has to be easy and ignorable.
posted by parudox at 12:04 PM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's fascinating to me that so many people are rabidly anti-helmet. I literally do not think about my bike helmet most days; I swing it over my head as part of the same motion as unlocking my bike. I think the helmet cost $20, but it was so long ago I don't remember.

There's a great deal of evidence from neuroscience and biomechanics that helmets help. The epidemiology is mixed, but epidemiology results are always mixed. You can't do a randomized controlled trial of helmet-wearing.

That said, I don't think there should be helmet laws for adults. I want to be able to park a mile from my destination and hop on a bike share bike to get there; I want to grab a bike share bike when I'm at a friend's house to run to the convenience store and grab some snacks. These activities are really not dangerous and requiring a helmet would needlessly get in the way. But anyone who's biking any kind of distance regularly should really get in the habit of using one.
posted by miyabo at 12:15 PM on October 1, 2012


A few people upthread say that they aim to ride safer when they forgo a helmet. I'm perplexed by this because in my experience every time I've crashed (with over 50k miles in the past 10 years I've had my share) I don't recall being unsafe. I could have been going half the speed and it probably would have been the same, so I doubt if intently riding safely has much bearing unless you are a daredevil otherwise.

To be on topic a little, I don't think this makes mandatory helmet laws the right answer. I just have unease about people thinking they are safe when the dangers are largely out of your control. About the only thing you can do to avoid accidents is to be mindful of yourself and predictable to others.
posted by dgran at 12:27 PM on October 1, 2012


Also, while I am forgiving of cyclists who choose not to wear a helmet, cyclists who ride at night without lights should be arrested by the bicycle police and thrown in jail. A special, completely dark jail, with the floor covered in sharp spikes. No punishment is too severe....
posted by miyabo at 12:41 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


cyclists who ride at night without lights should be arrested by the bicycle police and thrown in jail

Along with salmoners and sidewalk riders. It's a good reminder that the helmet debate is a giant red herring that prevents us from talking about more important safety issues.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 12:54 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can anyone articulate the argument against bike helmets for me

Cycling with a helmet is like sex with a condom: sometimes necessary, but never as good as the real thing.
posted by Chuckles at 12:55 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


The seat belt argument is really interesting to me. For one, early seat belts didn't actually protect nearly as well as advertised. A seat belt without a shoulder restraint is better left unused. Also, while I've never felt inhibited by the location of shoulder straps, I know lots of people who have a terrible time adjusting them comfortably. So where I'd say 'of course wear it' lots of others might not be so happy with them.
posted by Chuckles at 1:02 PM on October 1, 2012


The difference between seatbelt laws and helmet laws is this:

When you introduce seatbelt laws, people are substantially safer if they get into accidents. There are no secondary effects that I'm aware of other than whining.

When you introduce helmet laws, cyclists are somewhat safer if they get into accidents. There are numerous secondary effects such as reducing the number of cyclists, perceptions of bike safety, etc, that are pretty much impossible to quantize. What we have to do then is compare cities that have helmet laws to cities that don't have helmet laws, and the effect is surprising: Cities with lower helmet usage have lower injury rates.

Now, I know correlation != causation and all that. I'm not saying that instituting a helmet law necessarily makes biking more dangerous. It's just clear from the data that helmet laws are not a big factor in what makes a city safe for cyclists. The big factor is the number of cyclists on the road.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 1:19 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


WTF? Do you walk 40mph

Most people are not Lance Armstrong and rarely if ever bike faster than 15-20 kilometres an hour, if that, especially when commuting in town. 65 kilometres an hour? No way in hell, so stop exaggerating ( I told you a million times).
posted by MartinWisse at 1:49 PM on October 1, 2012


rarely if ever bike faster than 15-20 kilometres an hour

I wonder if average cycling speeds are faster in the US? I'm not a serious athlete and I average around 18 mph/30 kph. Many people I see doing city cycling are faster than me. I imagine the distances are considerably farther in the US, so people get lighter bikes and go faster, so biking is less safe... Maybe.
posted by miyabo at 2:21 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are hills where I ride, I pretty regularly exceed 30mph (~50kph), and on the big hill it's not hard to hit 40mph (~65). I've ridden downhill at speeds in excess of 45mph (~72kph) which is really too fast for me.

I'm not a competitor, I just ride for fun - I don't average anywhere near 18mph/30kph... but I regularly pedal above 15mph (~24kph) and have friends who cruise near 20mph (~32kph). Pro riders can average 25 mph (~40mph) for hours at a time, and can average 35 mph (~56kph) for an hour.

This is a much different experience than cruising the boardwalk on a beach cruiser at 6mph, but still: if you're riding regularly at a speed above 8 to 10mph (13-16kph), riding without a helmet is an unnecessary risk... and *any* bike can go pretty damn fast on a hill. Deceleration trauma is not something to take lightly.
posted by and for no one at 5:00 PM on October 1, 2012


miyabo, if you average 30km/h with stop and go conditions, you are at athlete level. More likely you cruise at 30km/h in nominal conditions (no wind to speak of, no hill to speak of, after acceleration phase). If so, you are a little above the average city cyclist.

I can't quite figure out how passing is handled in European cycling cultures myself. Presumably there are a lot of very fast Belgians after all.. How do they handle separate bike ways? Is it like Formula 1 drivers on city streets? Most of the time you just accept that traffic slows you down a lot? North American cyclists certainly don't do that :)
posted by Chuckles at 5:02 PM on October 1, 2012


Jesus...40mph on a bike? I'm getting cold sweats just imagining that. No wonder the American bikers on here are so gung-ho about helmets. I just did a short bike ride and timed myself to see my average speed. About 8.5mph. All the other folks on the road were doing about the same (it's around 9:00 am here now, so tons of folks on bikes riding to the train station to go to work), so I'm not an outlier.

Perhaps the problem is that in America, only the truly diehard folks are cyclists, but they're assuming that a society with lots of bicyclists would be a bunch of people just like them. It's like watching F1 drivers discuss car safety based on the assumption that the average car driver drives to Kroger's at 190mph, and ridiculing them for not wearing double-shoulder seatbelts.
posted by Bugbread at 5:04 PM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder if average cycling speeds are faster in the US? I'm not a serious athlete and I average around 18 mph/30 kph. Many people I see doing city cycling are faster than me. I imagine the distances are considerably farther in the US, so people get lighter bikes and go faster, so biking is less safe... Maybe.

The article makes the point that because bicycling is riskier in US cities, there is a higher predominance of young men with their high tolerance for risk; based on what I see on weekend mornings, I'd guess that (like with motorcycling) there are also going to be a bunch of middle aged guys returning for some excitement and who are also going to be overrepresented in the accident rates because of slow reaction times.

In other words, the speeds those riders are hitting don't have much of anything in common with the European-style commuter on an upright, sturdy bicycle, wearing business clothes, and cruising along at a comfortable speed.
posted by Forktine at 5:12 PM on October 1, 2012


10 to 15 mph is considerably faster than walking speed. Like, more than 5 times faster, and pedestriana don't spend even a fraction as much time interacting with vehicles as cyclists do. Have you ever heard of a pedestrian receiving a nontrivial injury from being doored? The two activities are simply not equivalent.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:13 PM on October 1, 2012


So having just mapped my trip to work, its 1.8 kms.
So if it takes me 5-10 mins that's somewhere between 10-20 kms/hr.
Jogging speed according to wikipedia is running slower than 10kms/hr
Marathon speeds are somewhere around 10 (9 min mile) to 26 km/hr (best)
Usain bolt hit 44.72 km/h according to wikipedia.

Should joggers and runners be forced wear helmets too? Bailing at 10-20 kph isn't really scraping brains off the street speed. I don't think its necessary to enforce in law what a kid running down the street might do. If I had to wear a helmet, I'd probably not bike half the time, some days I like my hair to look nice.

Offroading is a different story. I also mtn bike, and wear a rather snazzy helmet, but the risks are considerably different. There's rocks and roots and holes and squirrels and low trees and falling into the river where there are rocks.

Maybe its constructive to break down the risk factors (in no particular order):
1. Cars.
2. Pedestrians.
3. Terrain (potholes, uneven-ness, grass, trees, glass, curbs)
4. Traffic infrastructure. (so street layout, blind turns, stop signs, painted lines, dividers)
5. Other bikes, skaters etc.
6. Yourself (skills, speed, attention paid)
7. Your bike (handling, weight, top speed, brakes)

And then determine whats best for your area and situation and figure out what the best bang for buck is. If the concern is cars ... well maybe thats an added risk in your particular area. Head injuries are not the only injuries possible. And the studies linked seemed to suggest that the average benefits enjoyed by a healthier biking population outweigh the average health benefits enjoyed by a non-biking population. So if you, like me, live somewhere where healthcare is a tax-funded concern, no bike helmets work out to be cheaper.
posted by captaincrouton at 5:22 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


adamdschneider: "10 to 15 mph is considerably faster than walking speed."

Yeah, it's running speed. Do you make fun of runners for not wearing helmets?
posted by Bugbread at 5:24 PM on October 1, 2012


Yes, sorry, I average 18 mph not including stops according to my little bicycle computer gadget. I am really, really not an athlete. :)

I think that until fairly recently, it was actually hard to get an upright, sturdy bicycle in the US. It was either a department store bike that would fall apart quickly, a mountain bike (or a "hybrid" that basically was a mountain bike), or a road bike that weighs 20 lbs and only accepts skinny tires. Most commuters picked the road bike. Only recently we started getting a healthy variety of bikes including real hybrids, cruisers, road bikes with slightly fatter tires, etc.
posted by miyabo at 5:24 PM on October 1, 2012




Stagger Lee, I understand your viewpoint; but even so conflating motorized quad bikes running off- (or even on-) road with bicycles on urban or suburban roads isn't very useful in this context.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:08 AM on October 1 [+] [!]


Oh I'm not conflating them, I see the distinction. My point was intended to be that the excuses used are exactly the same.

I spend a lot of time on road bikes and mountain bikes and wouldn't touch either without a helmet. Head injuries are scary, and 5-30kph will torque your head into the ground or a tree plenty hard enough to cause serious head injuries.

I don't necessarily see an issue with this as a law. You expect the state to send the emergency personnel to come pick you up and put you on a ventilator when you crash, I don't see it as unreasonable for the state to ask you to reduce that load somewhat by wearing a helmet.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:19 PM on October 1, 2012


Yeah, it's running speed. Do you make fun of runners for not wearing helmets?

Do you want to address the rest of my argument?
posted by adamdschneider at 8:52 PM on October 1, 2012


Yes, sorry, I average 18 mph not including stops according to my little bicycle computer gadget. I am really, really not an athlete. :)

When I road over 800 miles in August 2008 I reached a little more than 26km/h on an urban route with typical distribution of stop lights hills and traffic. This July I road a little less than 500 miles, and I never even got to 25km/h average speed.

I think your computer is miscalibrated. Or, maybe your area is just so suburban that there aren't many stops....

(edit: technically 18mph is 29km/h)
posted by Chuckles at 8:56 PM on October 1, 2012


adamdschneider: "Do you want to address the rest of my argument?"

Er, ok.

adamdschneider: "Like, more than 5 times faster, and pedestriana don't spend even a fraction as much time interacting with vehicles as cyclists do. Have you ever heard of a pedestrian receiving a nontrivial injury from being doored? The two activities are simply not equivalent."

I agree that walking and cycling are not equivalent, which is why I didn't address this part - there's not much to say, as we're in agreement on that point. However, I'd say running is fairly equivalent, which is why I brought it up. Admittedly, I've never heard of a runner being "doored" either, but that's because this thread is the first time I've heard the word, and I've never heard of anyone getting doored before, probably because I don't live in the US.

The more I think of it, the more clear it is that the issue being discussed isn't really whether "people should wear helmets when they wear bicycles", it is whether "the average American cyclist in the average American city" should wear a helmet. Since the only time I cycled in America is when I was in elementary school, I'm not really qualified to discuss that. Here in Japan, it would be, frankly, as ridiculous as wearing a helmet to run. If, however, you're talking about a place where people ride their bikes at 20mph, where they're driving around a ton of cars, etc., where car drivers aren't used to there being bicycle riders, where there are lots of potholes, etc., then it's a completely different discussion, and, of course, may lead to completely different conclusions.
posted by Bugbread at 9:14 PM on October 1, 2012


...I don't see it as unreasonable for the state to ask you to reduce that load somewhat by wearing a helmet.

By asking me to wear a helmet, it will result in me (and many others) choosing to drive more instead. That's not a net benefit, even if helmets are all they are claimed to be. Which they are not for urban utility cycling at low speeds.

Apart from effectiveness, a crucial difference between helmets and seatbelts is that society isn't really any better off from someone getting around more by car. Most of the time we get around by car because that's what our cities are designed for. And when we have multiple options for how to get around, while we might personally benefit from doing so by car, the general public does not benefit from us contributing to more driving. So if seatbelts dissuade people from driving, it's not a problem. But when helmets dissuade people from cycling - which is not something most of us have to do - that is a problem, because shifting to cycling as a transport mode benefits the general public.
posted by parudox at 9:16 PM on October 1, 2012


TL;DR - Personal feelings about whether to wear a helmet, valid as those are, are NOT the primary point of discussion in this thread (REPEAT: NOBODY HERE HAS CLAIMED IT'S A BAD IDEA TO WEAR A BICYCLE HELMET). Whether the available research does or does not support the concept of enacting laws to enforce helmet wearing IS the point. "Individual risk assessment" and "are helmet laws a good thing" are separate subjects.

My point was intended to be that the excuses used are exactly the same.

But the activities (i.e motorized off-road quad riding vs. casual on-road cycling) are very much not the same, and your point is meaningless. Beside which, I think it's a bit condescending to automatically assume that my reasons for not wearing a bicycle helmet in certain circumstances are mere "excuses". I don't assume that you're, say, a spineless fraidy-cat for deciding to wear one while cruising to the local convenience store to pick up some milk. But if you've already dismissed me as a reckless fool then you might as well not read any further since you won't be interested in any logical arguments I try to make in the rest of this post.

You expect the state to send the emergency personnel to come pick you up and put you on a ventilator when you crash, I don't see it as unreasonable for the state to ask you to reduce that load somewhat by wearing a helmet.

People in this thread have cited seemingly credible studies claiming that helmets may only make any difference at all in a statistically very small number of cases when it comes to casual urban/suburban cycling. In which case a helmet law would essentially be overkill and enforcement would be far more expensive than it's worth given such a marginal benefit from a societal point of view.

Anecdotes and personal experiences, as momentous or tragic as they may be for the individuals telling them, are not the same thing as cold hard numbers. Legislating other people into wearing a helmet like you've chosen to do simply because you have a strong personal opinion about the topic just doesn't follow in this context, since - again, based on actual data - it doesn't appear to be a statistically significant issue in practice.

Obviously, "low" chance of head trauma is not the same as "no" chance. But neither is it the same as a "good" chance, so forcing me to wear a helmet is as pointless as me forbidding you to wear a helmet just because I've been riding bikes all my life without one and never gotten anything worse than a couple small bits of road-rash from it - that's absolutely true, and is my actual personal experience (note: I don't ride bicycles off-road or in anything other than an urban/suburban environment), but it doesn't matter any more than your personal experience does in the larger picture.

I know that a human is not a statistic, and I'll be the last person in the world to suggest that someone shouldn't wear a bicycle helmet. Each person's decision is personal and fine, but as things stand the statistically low number of traumatic/fatal head injuries in on-road bicycle accidents doesn't seem to be worth having a government body make and enforce a law mandating helmet use for all cyclists - especially given the significant possibility of negative side effects of such laws.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:35 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


miyabo, if you average 30km/h with stop and go conditions, you are at athlete level.

I'm a healthy male in my mid-30s, and although I have a car, I ride as much as possible when it comes to getting from A to B. The terrain varies between hilly and flat. Attached to my bike is an electronic thingy which keeps track of things like distance and time travelled. From this, it calculates my average speed: 13 km/hr (8 miles/hr).

...the speeds [US] riders are hitting don't have much of anything in common with the European-style commuter...

Yes, I think this is a crucial observation. I think the conversation going on here is operating from two different sets of assumptions about how people ride.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 12:22 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


(REPEAT: NOBODY HERE HAS CLAIMED IT'S A BAD IDEA TO WEAR A BICYCLE HELMET)

Well, aside from the person who claimed it interfered with their hearing of all things. Despite repeated insistence that this really an argument about helmet laws, there are a lot of people arguing that it's bad for the masses to wear helmets.
posted by hoyland at 5:36 AM on October 2, 2012


Attached to my bike is an electronic thingy which keeps track of things like distance and time travelled. From this, it calculates my average speed: 13 km/hr (8 miles/hr).

Google tells me my route to school is 3.2 miles and takes 20 minutes, which is averaging between 9 and 10 mph. I go a bit faster than that, but not significantly. My impression is that I ride a little faster than most people on the road at the same time as me (though someone blew past me yesterday up a slope where I'm usually overtaking people). In other words, Google's assumption of 9-10mph is not bad. (I don't know if Google assumes different road and bike path speeds.)

Anyway, I'm not sure the difference is that cyclists in the US are reckless lunatics. Not riding on the sidewalk (by law), not having many cycle paths (although maybe 40% of my trip to school is on a path) and having motorists who act like they've never seen a bike before seem like much bigger issues than a couple of miles per hour.
posted by hoyland at 5:47 AM on October 2, 2012


there are a lot of people arguing that it's bad for the masses to wear helmets

Good grief. No, there aren't. What you actually have is a bunch of people (and a bunch of experts quoted in the article) suggesting that helmet laws are counterproductive in that they overall lower health and safety. That's a counterintuitive claim to be sure, but that doesn't excuse misreading it as an argument against wearing helmets, rather than a discussion about requiring helmets.
posted by Forktine at 5:54 AM on October 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's fascinating to me that so many people are rabidly anti-helmet.

Not anti-helmet. Anti-helmet laws that discourage people from biking and add another tool to the police-harassment handibag.

I've already given ^^^ what I think is the best argument for wearing a helmet: if you get hit by a car and have to sue, it's worth a lot of money to be wearing a helmet.

Think about it. If there are no cars where you are biking (and again you're not biking in a forest or on dangerous rocks, etc.), there is zero reason to wear a helmet.

Well, aside from the person who claimed it interfered with their hearing of all things.

It certainly does. It affects my vision and hearing for sure. Trivial? Sure, mostly, but it happens. Worth the risk of not wearing one? See--it depends on the ride. I usually wear my helmet every day.

I don't think anyone is arguing that helmets are bad. Again, I, perhaps we, think helmet laws are stupid because they discourage biking and increase law enforcement.

The safest future for bicyclists is one with streets full of bicycles. That will keep us 1,000x safer than (existing technology) helmets.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:41 AM on October 2, 2012


If there are no cars where you are biking (and again you're not biking in a forest or on dangerous rocks, etc.), there is zero reason to wear a helmet.

There are always good reasons to wear a bicycle helmet. Whether you choose to or not is another story.
posted by and for no one at 10:26 AM on October 2, 2012


It affects my vision and hearing for sure.

How does it affect your hearing? Unless you're wearing a BMX racing helmet (which, let's be clear, isn't what we're talking about) or your ears are located somewhere strange, this is inconceivable to me.

No, there aren't. What you actually have is a bunch of people (and a bunch of experts quoted in the article) suggesting that helmet laws are counterproductive in that they overall lower health and safety. That's a counterintuitive claim to be sure, but that doesn't excuse misreading it as an argument against wearing helmets, rather than a discussion about requiring helmets.

Perhaps I'm just thick. If helmet laws deter people from cycling, this is presumably bad for public health, clear enough. But if, for instance, cars are more aggressive towards cyclists wearing helmets (as someone speculated), thus decreasing safety, I don't see how there's a difference between cyclists wearing helmets because it's suddenly become all the rage and because they've been mandated to. If that's your argument against helmet laws, I don't know how it isn't an argument against the mass uptake of helmet-wearing.
posted by hoyland at 1:23 PM on October 2, 2012


I don't see how there's a difference between cyclists wearing helmets because it's suddenly become all the rage and because they've been mandated to.

It seems pretty obvious to me: One is due to fashion trends and/or perceived safety and is a personal choice, and one is because they'd be required to. And the point of the research cited in this thread is to figure out IF there's a good reason to require people to wear them (i.e., how much actual head-trauma risk is there for bare vs. helmeted heads, and is there enough provable additional safety in wearing a helmet to make it worth requiring unconditional usage for our own greater good). That "good reason" has so far not become evident, as has been detailed up-thread.

What that research, in conjunction with my personal experience, says to me about my choices is that I don't think the risk factor is high enough to warrant putting up with the nuisance factor of wearing a helmet while doing the sort of cycling I generally do. However, my safety assessment may not be your safety assessment; some people may decide that they're willing to wear a helmet for whatever additional safety there is in it, and that's their choice. But based on the current data it doesn't appear to be necessary on a societal/regulatory scale to make everyone wear helmets, regardless of whether some people consider it personally worthwhile.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:54 PM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mrgrimm,

I'm anti-helmet law, but I don't understand your comment about helmets impairing your hearing. Can you post a link to the kind of helmet you're talking about? None of the helmets I've seen even come close to the ears, but we may be talking about different kinds of helmets.
posted by Bugbread at 2:54 PM on October 2, 2012


Bike helmet.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:31 PM on October 2, 2012


Plain old Helmet
posted by mrgrimm at 4:33 PM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Society ends up paying the cost of te resulting traumatic brain injuries, so we all get a say. The evidence cited is not overwhelming or convincing to overturn the view of most public health organizations which curretly favors helmet adoption and laws.
posted by humanfont at 4:36 PM on October 2, 2012


Bike helmet.

Is this an actual example or are you claiming that a generic bike helmet obstructs your hearing?

It seems pretty obvious to me: One is due to fashion trends and/or perceived safety and is a personal choice, and one is because they'd be required to.

My point is that people have advanced arguments that are not applicable solely to helmet laws and not mass helmet use. For instance, in the comment that I was responding to, Forktine says "... in that they overall lower health and safety". Like I said, it's pretty easy to connect the health aspect to helmet laws, but not the safety aspect. On the other hand, mrgrimm pointed out that helmet laws are perhaps just another way for police to harass cyclists, which is limited to helmet laws. The 'I don't think helmets provide enough safety benefit to justify infringing on personal choice with a helmet law' argument is also limited to helmet laws. I never said it wasn't.

I also find it slightly ironic that people point to Denmark. Denmark has no helmet law. They do, however, enforce the law requiring bells! (And reflectors and lights. But, duh.)
posted by hoyland at 7:26 PM on October 2, 2012


To be honest, I don't understand what your point is, and that post didn't help. But I've elucidated mine as well as I'm able and have nothing more to add, so I'll drop it here and move on.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:55 PM on October 2, 2012


Like I said, it's pretty easy to connect the health aspect to helmet laws, but not the safety aspect.

Safety comes from having gazillions of bicycles on the roads, which makes drivers accustomed to bicycles and also creates a huge political base for bicycle infrastructure spending. Helmet laws appear to interfere with having gazillions of casual, everyday bicyclists on the roads, which overall makes things less safe; this in no way contradicts that wearing a helmet can help in some kinds of crashes.

The comparison might be: if you wanted to discourage driving, passing a law requiring drivers to wear the same helmets that Formula One drivers wear would have a noticeable effect (and similarly, would help in some kinds of crashes). Would you really put on a full-face helmet and a five-point racing harness to drive to the store for a gallon of milk, even if those things would make you safer?

People being people, even things that should be a good idea don't always turn out that way.

I also find it slightly ironic that people point to Denmark. Denmark has no helmet law.

The ironic thing is that you are finding it ironic. The point of the article is absolutely that the places where bicycling is growing and become a normal, everyday way to get around town (as compared to a dangerous, risky, extreme fitness activity, say) don't have helmet laws, though they tend to have lots and lots and lots of other intrusive safety laws.
posted by Forktine at 7:56 PM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Helmet laws appear to interfere with having gazillions of casual, everyday bicyclists on the roads, which overall makes things less safe; this in no way contradicts that wearing a helmet can help in some kinds of crashes.

The evidence that helmet laws interfere with bicycling is not well established. There are many conflicting studies. In American cities where cycling is well established most of the cyclists appear to be wearing helmets even though no state has a universal helmet law. I see ever growing numbers of cyclists in DC and the overwhelming majority wear helmets. Anecdotally I know that having my helmet in my office has gotten at least 3 coworkers into regular riding because it started the conversation and got them to realize how much cheaper and faster their commutes would be than by car or Metro.
posted by humanfont at 8:11 PM on October 2, 2012


Study: Protected Bike Lanes Reduce Injury Risk Up to 90 Percent
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:23 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


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