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Effects of Bicycle Helmet Laws on Children's Injuries
February 27, 2013 5:15 AM   Subscribe

Abstract: Cycling is popular among children, but results in thousands of injuries annually. In recent years, many states and localities have enacted bicycle helmet laws. We examine direct and indirect effects of these laws on injuries. Using hospital-level panel data and triple difference models, we find helmet laws are associated with reductions in bicycle-related head injuries among children. However, laws also are associated with decreases in non-head cycling injuries, as well as increases in head injuries from other wheeled sports. Thus, the observed reduction in bicycle-related head injuries may be due to reductions in bicycle riding induced by the laws. [FULL TEXT PDF]
Fear of cycling, an essay by sociologist Dave Horton
Fear of Cycling - Part 01 - Introduction
Fear of Cycling - Part 02 - Constructing Fear of Cycling / Road Safety 'Education'
Fear of Cycling - Part 03 - Helmet Promotion Campaigns
Fear of Cycling - Part 04 - New Cycling Spaces
Fear of Cycling - Part 05 - Making Cycling Strange
What is wrong with bicycle helmets, and The Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation, previously.
posted by Blasdelb (157 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
This conversation is so complex and unbearably loaded that I can't have it with anyone anymore. I've had to put my flattened hand over the recent series of letters that have been appearing in my national newspaper "debating" the question of mandatory helmet laws, in case I accidentally read any of them.
posted by distorte at 5:22 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


If we want to increase both safety AND ridership, why not build paths and lanes? Or just eliminate cars, inside towns anyway, and stick to bikes for local personal transport and busses/trains for group.
posted by DU at 5:27 AM on February 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Fear of cycling really is an excellent read, for anyone willing to look beyond the "OMG WTF a helmet saved my life!" rhetoric of helmet advocates.

This conversation is so complex and unbearably loaded that I can't have it with anyone anymore.

The only reason I wear a helmet. I haven't the energy any more.
posted by normy at 5:31 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


DU, I'm a bit of a cycling activist myself. I'd love to see more bike paths and fewer cars. I wouldn't argue for zero cars though, unless you want seniors, the disabled, and the injured to dismiss your ideas outright.
posted by vasi at 5:32 AM on February 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


A bike helmet is good for attaching a light to. I suppose a strap would do that also, though. Oh, it's also kind of useful when I ride through overgrown trails and have to duck branches.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:37 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


If we want to increase both safety AND ridership, why not build paths and lanes?

I don't get it. What corporate interests would that serve?
posted by goethean at 5:38 AM on February 27, 2013 [30 favorites]


I was once asked by a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly to do some preliminary research on the introduction of a mandatory helmet law. It was quite important to him, and my first instinct was that this was great - an uncontroversial measure that would easily improve public safety and at very little cost. We even thought about public subsidies for helmets.

Then I did some research and had to have a very uncomfortable discussion with him about how complex the issue was and how if we wanted to push ahead with it we would need to be doing it alongside a vast array of broader road safety measures, such as a huge increase in cycle lanes, driver education, and even shared space initiatives.

I left shortly after this, but as far as I know they haven't gone ahead with it yet.
posted by knapah at 5:38 AM on February 27, 2013


Pro-helmet researchers always come to pro-helmet conclusions. Anti-helmet researchers always come to anti-helmet conclusions. Few minds are changed.
posted by humanfont at 5:39 AM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ugh, people, this is why you don't write your papers in Microsoft Word. Look at those formulas.
posted by hoyland at 5:40 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can we at least distinguish between the positions:

"Helmets are reasonable, and people ought to wear them" and
"Laws should fine or otherwise punish people riding helmet-less"?

They're kind of different, and unlike humanfont's depressing and tribal summary, I have some hope that evidence might change minds between these two positions at least.
posted by anthill at 5:48 AM on February 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


From the abstract:

Thus, the observed reduction in bicycle-related head injuries may be due to
reductions in bicycle riding induced by the laws.


Does anyone else find this language odd for an abstract? I'm more used to seeing something like, "we also present evidence that suggests that these laws reduce bicycle riding." The "may be due" is extremely vague and looks like it was written to be cherry picked from the abstract itself.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:59 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't understand....aren't we wearing seatbelts and don't states have motorcycle helmet laws because of lobbying by insurance companies? I mean, I have the right to kill myself, but I don't have to right to cost big insurance/society a ton of money doing it, isn't that the argument? How is this not merely an extension of that? Because you don't need to license a child to ride a bike?
posted by nevercalm at 6:00 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's such an argument of modernity. "Fear of cycling" is a totally reasonable thing - it's an activity with elevated risk. It only seems stupid when we've surrounded ourselves with a context of even greater risks from motor vehicles. But when cycles were introduced they certainly met with plenty of legitimate fear, and for good reason - a new kind of accident was created.

Does anyone else find this language odd for an abstract?

Not really, no. As for "cherrypicking," an abstract is supposed to tell you succinctly what you're going to find in the full argument.
posted by Miko at 6:01 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Does anyone else find this language odd for an abstract? I'm more used to seeing something like, "we also present evidence that suggests that these laws reduce bicycle riding." The "may be due" is extremely vague and looks like it was written to be cherry picked from the abstract itself.

I thought it odd, too. I'd expect "We conclude X" or "We present evidence that X" or even "We investigate X", but I thought it might just be that economists write weird abstracts. If you read the paper, they actually conclude that helmet laws lead to a net reduction in both head and total injury (across the board, not in cycling, if I understood them correctly). It's not huge, but it's a reduction. But "Helmet laws reduce injuries a bit, but we're not quite sure why." doesn't make for a good headline.
posted by hoyland at 6:05 AM on February 27, 2013


Helmet laws and riding restrictions really have been a stunning success as a way of reducing the demand for casual cycling facilites such as segregated lanes, dedicated pathways and even bike racks.

Cycling enthusiasts themselves have, with what few legal recourses for cycling available to them, done a further great job alienating both casual riders, pedestrians and drivers with outlandish, unsafe behaviour as well as their clown-like attire and bizarro equipment fetishes.

Who the hell wants to just "get on your bikes and ride" when the pervasive mental image of a bicyclist these days is some spandex-clad jackass with a face-hugger on his head riding at 40 klicks down the edge of a road inches from being crushed between a bus and the opening door of a parked car and always half a second from simply plowing over someone's grandma with her arms full of groceries.

Everyone hates cyclists & no one wants to "be that guy" because he's a tool, and either you wear the gear to be "safe" or more likely in compliance with the law and now you have branded yourself a cyclist and people hate you, or you don't wear the gear and people yell at you that you're not being safe and you should have a helmet on.

It requires an investment of ego to ride a bike now, you have to Be A Cyclist.

You can't just be a person on a bicycle.

Once upon a time, people just rode bikes to get around or fuck around. It was easy and accessible and moderately safe, and streets had people walking and cycling and driving and that was okay.

It would be nice to have that again.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:08 AM on February 27, 2013 [82 favorites]


I am now having fun browsing Google Books from 1850-1900 about bicycle safety. One big concern was the danger of bicycles frightening horses - who then trampled things and overturned carriages. Yikes. Then there are cases in courts and civic discussions in towns about the dangers to pedestrians and the frequency of accidents. I guess it's never really not been an issue. Too bad they only cite a sociologist and not a historian too.
posted by Miko at 6:10 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the PDF:

The results are striking in that the helmet laws
are associated with an increase in injuries
from wheeled sports and the laws that pertain
specifically to wheeled sports have no effects on
these injuries. These results are notable give
that the estimates are net of national trends and net
of trends for children of similar ages in non-law
states. The results for the bicycle helmet law
could be interpreted as reflecting a substitution
effect away from bicycle riding towards the other
wheeled sports in response to the laws.

posted by Obscure Reference at 6:10 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


aren't we wearing seatbelts and don't states have motorcycle helmet laws because of lobbying by insurance companies

Going on the stats I remember here, which may not be perfect...

There are ~1500 bike deaths per year and 90% of those are over 16 years old. So yes, 150 kids die each year from riding a bike, which sucks a lot. Of those, an unknown number could have been saved by a helmet.

Whatever that number of kids who could have been saved by helmets, it's an absolute drop in the bucket compared to the number of people who die each year because they don't lead active lives. If helmet laws deter people from riding, *many* more people could die of sloth than would have died of head injuries.

Cars kill tens of thousands per year. Motorcycles are, per mile driven, about 30-40 times more dangerous than cars. There's zero downside in making people wear motorcycle helmets and wear downside. So no, it's not just an extension of that.

In cases where the effect of a law is unclear, it's usually best to err on the side of under-regulation, IMO.
posted by pjaust at 6:13 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


s. The results for the bicycle helmet law
could be interpreted as reflecting a substitution
effect away from bicycle riding towards the other
wheeled sports in response to the laws.


But can you draw a line between law and other sports becoming more popular than cycling? I'm not so sure we can say that the rise of skateboarding in popularity has anything much to do with the perceived risks of cycling.

There's a social factor, as well, in that cycling (can) take kids far away. When I was a kid of 11 or 12 we routinely rode 25-mile roundtrips to the beach or other towns. Today parents generally don't allow kids that degree of freedom, which also results in less overall time on a bike, but which doesn't have much directly to do with the impact of a specific law, more the general 'culture of fear' and increasing protections on children.
posted by Miko at 6:14 AM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yes, helmet laws are bad public policy because of the risk compensation effect and because of the lessening of the safety in numbers effect.

But that doesn't give an adult who is informed about the risk compensation effect an excuse to not wear a helmet. What is bad public policy is good personal policy. Just consciously adjust your risk threshold and choose to ride more safely when you are wearing a helmet. You'd think all these no helmet folks have no free will at all, or they just barely like riding bicycles and just barely suffer it at all. Sex with a condom is still sex. Do I even have to say that sex with a condom is still AWESOME?

About closing towns and cities to cars and how that would affect people with disabilities: That's what busses and accessible group transportation are for. But, people are irrationally attached to their cars so I see how that could be a non-starter in most of the US right now. Nevertheless, I see way more wheelchairs navigating poor infrastructure and street shoulders than we should suffer as a society.
posted by Skwirl at 6:15 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


: That's what busses and accessible group transportation are for.

Sounds like someone who isn't old yet and has never had to get around with a physical disability. Public transport should be excellent, for everybody, but it still represents a compromise. Having to go out of your way/adjust your schedule/give up your independence and rely on strangers for it because you have no other choices and the society has decided that the hardships they've added to your day are good enough for you is not a complete solution.
posted by Miko at 6:18 AM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


"There are ~1500 bike deaths per year and 90% of those are over 16 years old. So yes, 150 kids die each year from riding a bike, which sucks a lot. Of those, an unknown number could have been saved by a helmet."

These days around one in six kids is affected by childhood obesity and its associated conditions, which nearly doubles their risk of premature death, I wonder how many of them could be saved by a bike.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:21 AM on February 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


Where are the studies about how many injuries/deaths could be prevented by laws requiring the wearing of helmets in automobiles?
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:26 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Obscure Reference, the bit where they don't reach a conclusion is the last two paragraphs:
The mechanism aside, perhaps what is most important is an estimate of the total effect on injuries associated with the helmet laws. Considering the different offsetting results, we run our preferred specification on injury counts for 1) all head injuries and 2) total (all head and body) injuries arising from cycling and wheeled sports. The net effects of the helmet laws are small and are not statistically different from zero. However, they do point to a net reduction, be they imprecisely estimated, with a 6 percent reduction in all head injuries and a 2 percent reduction in total injuries (results not shown).

The findings from this paper indicate that while bicycle helmet laws are widespread and thought to be effective, the net effect of these laws on health outcomes is actually not straightforward. It is clear that there are offsetting behaviors and unintended consequences of these 21 laws, and these effects need to be considered by policymakers.
posted by hoyland at 6:31 AM on February 27, 2013


Everyone knows the studies are flawed, and that helmets don't really work. The only reason our politicians have enacted helmet laws is because of constant lobbying by Big Helmet.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:32 AM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


About closing towns and cities to cars and how that would affect people with disabilities: That's what busses and accessible group transportation are for. But, people are irrationally attached to their cars so I see how that could be a non-starter in most of the US right now.

My disabled mom finds the bus difficult to ride. The seats are uncomfortable and the walk from the bus stop to her destination can be challenging. In the winter, walking to the stop is particularly difficult and dangerous even if people have been good about shovelling and putting down salt. Also, she doesn't have the autonomy that cyclists, drivers, or walkers have. Her attachment to her car is not irrational. When she stops being able to drive, she will be much less able to leave her house to work, engage in hobbies, and visit friends.
posted by Area Man at 6:33 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sorry for the quasi-derail, but I guess this is a good a place to spill my guts on something that I've been holding in for too long:

I would wear a helmet all the time, but the only reason I don't is because I get more looks from the ladies this way.

There, I said it.
posted by bitteroldman at 6:33 AM on February 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Anthill: The spectrum really seems to go more like:
1. "Helmets make people ride more dangerously, plus they're just a smokescreen to prevent the building of bike-safe cities. Why are we even talking about helmets?"
2. "Helmets are fine, but only a minor part of overall bike safety. Not wearing them is a reasonable choice."
3. "Helmets save lives. People ought to wear them."
4. "Helmets are essential and people who opt not to wear them are so bad at risk-assessment that they need to be protected from themselves."
My real hope is that people in either the first or last group will be pulled somewhere closer to the middle. This is the most measured conversation of the subject I have yet seen on metafilter, so I hold out hope.
posted by 256 at 6:36 AM on February 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Pedestrian helmets will be a thing someday.
posted by Artw at 6:36 AM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Helmets are for wussies or Germans.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:39 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I feel safer wearing a bike helmet because it helps me avoid the pain of a lecture from my wife. $15.00 well-spent. There is also a local bicyclist/environmentalist organization that arranges discounts and freebies to businesses if you show their organization sticker on your bike helmet to prove you biked there instead of drove. So that $15 paid for itself. Also, I hate head injuries.
posted by Cookiebastard at 6:42 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Somewhat related, Morning Edition had this piece this morning, second in a series about childhood obesity and parents' attitudes towards raising healthy children. This piece is specifically about providing children with opportunities for exercise, and both parents they speak to talk about bicycling.

For the short attention spans, the summary is thus:

LA Parent: "We drive all over the place because roads are scary and there's a homeless guy nearby."

Portland Parents: "Load up the bakfiets!"
posted by backseatpilot at 6:44 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, she doesn't have the autonomy that cyclists, drivers, or walkers have. Her attachment to her car is not irrational. When she stops being able to drive, she will be much less able to leave her house to work, engage in hobbies, and visit friends.

Sure... but most people aren't your mother.

Some of your objections apply to driving for many people, as well. For example, the ridiculously icy stretch of sidewalk I had to walk down yesterday morning on my way to the bus? Same stretch of sidewalk someone going to their car had to walk down--almost no one in this neighbourhood has off-street parking and almost no one can park right in front of their door or even on their block. (It wasn't even a particularly bad shovelling job. Enough snow melted the day before to turn that stretch of sidewalk into a giant puddle, which froze over night.)
posted by hoyland at 6:46 AM on February 27, 2013


I Do Not Kill Idiot cyclists daily.

They need paths or not-car spaces.
And to obey the road rules.

But I have to stop killing people wandering into car spaces by ignoring the road rules (and where I drive that is about 30-50%) almost daily.

They all wear helmets, and spandex. Many have helmet-mounted cameras.

Will helmets hurt them?
No?
They should suck it up.
posted by Mezentian at 6:50 AM on February 27, 2013


"Cycling enthusiasts themselves have, with what few legal recourses for cycling available to them, done a further great job alienating both casual riders, pedestrians and drivers with outlandish, unsafe behaviour as well as their clown-like attire and bizarro equipment fetishes.

Who the hell wants to just "get on your bikes and ride" when the pervasive mental image of a bicyclist these days is some spandex-clad jackass with a face-hugger on his head riding at 40 klicks down the edge of a road inches from being crushed between a bus and the opening door of a parked car and always half a second from simply plowing over someone's grandma with her arms full of groceries.
"

You know its funny, in Flanders where I live, its only the tall handsome cycling enthusiasts with their spandex clad toned asses, giant calves, and equipment that they have very strong opinions about who wear helmets at all. They are also seen as the only people helmets are even vaguely appropriate for; being, for the most part, the only people who have the kinds of crashes helmets are even designed to partially mitigate. Neither they nor ordinary people on bikes are in much danger of hitting grandma as she knows to watch out on the red brick or in much danger of getting hit by cars as the red brick is nearly always fully segregated from traffic or when it isn't still designed to never have traffic cross it in weird ways. Even the drunk students who have for the most part never even learned to drive sober in my university town can wobble around in quite reasonable safety having been set up to not fail with thoughtful infrastructure.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:50 AM on February 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


> It requires an investment of ego to ride a bike now, you have to Be A Cyclist.

I disagree! While spandex-clad, carbon fiber monstrosity riding doofuses have indeed given cycling a bad rep, it's perfectly ok to be a normal dude who happens to be on a bike. About the only special clothes needed are the right underwear.

I ride a lot, and am seeing more people who shun the silly clothes and haughty attitude and just enjoy being outside and riding hard. The notion that you have to be a "serious cyclist" just to go out still has a lot of truck with people, but I think the current is shifting in the cycling world to allow for more casual types. Witness the rise of the "hybrid" bike.

Just Ride is a great little book to help reinforce some sensible notions of ordinary biking.

Biking saved my life in many ways. My resting heart rate is now below 60! Don't let the pinheaded Serious Cyclists put you off from the excellent joys of riding.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:51 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


These days around one in six kids is affected by childhood obesity and its associated conditions, which nearly doubles their risk of premature death, I wonder how many of them could be saved by a bike.

I thought you were going to say, "I wonder how many of them could be saved by wearing a helmet."
posted by Brak at 6:51 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


These days around one in six kids is affected by childhood obesity and its associated conditions, which nearly doubles their risk of premature death, I wonder how many of them could be saved by a bike.

All that pain, all that enforcement, all that fucking hoorah bullshit about helmet laws, and all we get is 150 kids.... and even ignoring the huge systemic costs in required gear purchases (keeping poor kids off bikes), and in enforcement (a cop writing a helmet ticket isn't doing something more productive) and in sentencing (a judge fining you isn't dealing with real criminals) .... how many tens of thousands of kids stay fat and unhealthy because buying all the 'correct gear' is such a pain in the goddamn ass?

And the next person who says "if we can save even ONE CHILD".... I will fucking cut you.
posted by Malor at 6:54 AM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Crap. Helmet's not going to defend against that.
posted by Brak at 6:56 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's all worth it, if we can save even ONE CHILD.

Come at me, bro, I'm wearing a helmet.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:59 AM on February 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


why not...just eliminate cars, inside towns anyway

Oh, yes, why not, indeed. So simple, I'm glad you brought it up. No one's thought of that before.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:59 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


The choice is not between mandatory helmet laws and having fat kids because they feel discouraged from riding their bike.

Its like some people in this thread think that not being on a bike leads directly to childhood obesity.
posted by ged at 7:01 AM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


These days around one in six kids is affected by childhood obesity and its associated conditions, which nearly doubles their risk of premature death, I wonder how many of them could be saved by a bike.

How many of them remain inactive solely because they think they look dorky in a helmet?
posted by Garm at 7:06 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fear of cycling really is an excellent read, for anyone willing to look beyond the "OMG WTF a helmet saved my life!" rhetoric of helmet advocates.

Is it still rhetoric if you know someone whose life has been saved by a helmet?

All those saying "you only need a helmet if you're going fast", the thing about accidents is you never know how they are going to happen. A stick can still get caught in the spokes and throw you off your bike even at low speeds.

And what's with all the lycra hate? Have you ever tried riding long distance in normal pants?

posted by Joe Chip at 7:08 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


> They need paths or not-car spaces.

We were here before cars arrived. We'll be here long after they're gone.
posted by distorte at 7:09 AM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Another controversy stirred up by big-helmet.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:10 AM on February 27, 2013


I wrote a big post but then decided that I'd simply observe that I was a fat kid who rode my bike a lot. It's worth remembering that biking has lots of health benefits (and regular exercise mitigates a LOT of health problems that come along with being significantly fat so it is absolutely worth it and a good idea) but it doesn't mean that if you bike you will be thin, and it doesn't mean that if you're fat you aren't biking.

In fact, I am fairly fat for a cyclist even today in a fat midwestern state. I'd say I'm a small fat person - don't need an extra-strong frame, can wear the Very Largest Regular Gear - and the only other fat folks on bikes I ever see are other fat queer people and the working class people who ride bikes for real to get around town. (Which is what I do, but I'd say I'm sort of suspended between 'working' and 'middle', class-wise.)
posted by Frowner at 7:10 AM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


[I have this crazy idea that if people could either talk, or not, about the specific content of the links and skip the part where they fall into whatever their existing "HERE IS MY OPINION ABOUT BIKERS / DRIVERS / HELMETS / ETC" pattern of argument or snark on this subject, then this thread might not turn into the same tired yay-bikes boo-bikes thing every damn one of these seems to. If you all could like sincerely make that effort, that'd be wonderful.]
posted by cortex at 7:10 AM on February 27, 2013 [15 favorites]


how many tens of thousands of kids stay fat and unhealthy because buying all the 'correct gear' is such a pain in the goddamn ass?

I think you're wayyyyyyyy overestimating how much kids are yearning to ride bicycles.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:11 AM on February 27, 2013


Not long ago I switched from a 6 mile bike ride to and from work, to a 15 mile pickup truck drive to and from work, plus I had to use the pickup truck a lot on the job, so I couldn't really just suck it up and bike a longer commute (which would've been OK.)

I think that not being on a bike led directly to my gaining 40 pounds. And now I'm riding again just to make up for the exercise that I really didn't really realize I wasn't getting any more, and it's slow going. I'm 45 years old, my bicycle legs went away in about 6 months and I'm wheezing up hills that I used to go up, no problem, And carrying 40 extra pounds doing it.

When I was using a bike for transportation, I never had to exercise.
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:14 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


So the argument is now "helmets are bad because they lead to childhood obesity"?

Got it. And I thought rabid bike riders were ridiculous before.
posted by schwa at 7:15 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder why motoring helmets never really caught on.
posted by yaxu at 7:15 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Given that these are laws we're talking about, the situation is that the (unfortunately) small proportion of the population that rides in cities and so has an informed opinion (either way) is vastly outnumbered by citizens who do not, but to whom legislators are equally answerable.

Lets credit the uninformed with the best of intentions and consider that they are probably going to analogize to the other vehicles on the roads--cars and motorcycles--and their saftey devices--seatbelts and helmets. There was resistance to seatbelts, but they save lives. Motorcyclists resisted helmets, and there is still some resistance there, but that battle seems to be over. Athletic people might also look to skiing and snowboarding, where generations of sneering at helmets have given way to a near omnipresence, without regard to subcultural affectation.

None of these translate well to bicycling, but that's not immediately obvious (maybe not even to casual cyclists).

Now, I ride in L.A. -- not as often as I'd like anymore, since I now travel across the city for school -- and I just wouldn't feel great being out there without a helmet. I've known people who've been in crashes where the helmet helped prevent a worse injury even though it wasn't a high-speed situation. (Getting doored, for instance. It doesn't always matter that you're not a bike racer). It just seems better to me not to hit your head on the ground, or a car. No Matter What. But opinions can and do differ.

The tricky part is obviously whether or not the damper placed on recruitment of cyclists or the adoption of cycling as a primary mode of transportation by requiring the helmets is worth the safety benefit. I would tend to think that any truly useful study would have to be pretty local, as helmets are probably going to prevent more injuries in some cities than others depending on their traffic engineering, traffic laws, weather and who knows what else....
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:15 AM on February 27, 2013


And what's with all the lycra hate? Have you ever tried riding long distance in normal pants?

I ride 22 miles a day in jeans. I also have a giant toenail callus at the base of my scrotum.

Regarding helmets, I'm more likely to wear one in summer, and get negligent in winter. The winter effect is this: I'm already wearing a hat, so that "naked head" feeling that reminds me to put my helmet on is negated. Is it dangerous to ride without a helmet in winter? It probably is. But I also eat shit several times a year doing something I shouldn't be doing (like riding slicks on rutted ice lol).

I dunno. I think people should bike more. It's helped me ward off depression, lowered my blood pressure, and cut 30-odd pounds off my body. I feel great, and it's not from a smug holier-than-thou attitude. It's because I'm active and healthy.

My co-workers think I'm crazy for biking - they think 11 miles is a really long way to bike, and they think biking in general is very dangerous. Why? Because people wear helmets. When I point out that driving a car is much more dangerous, they just shrug it off.
posted by rocketman at 7:19 AM on February 27, 2013


I know my helmet saved me from injury, and I wasn't even on my bike - the guy who tried to run me off the road (and failed) drove on up ahead, got out of his car, and ran in traffic at me swinging. Pretty sure he busted his hand on the side of my helmet.
posted by notsnot at 7:23 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, you can wear the lycra underneath regular clothes, people. The rest of the world doesn't need to see a clearly described outline of your junk.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:24 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Riding a bike is not a cure for obesity. Anecdotally, I ride about 50 miles a week, but I'm still overweight due to my diet. Why not legislate for bike safety and for obesity at the same time? It's not about free will when we're all paying for everyone else's health care. Unless I get to decide how my taxes are spent?
posted by Brocktoon at 7:28 AM on February 27, 2013


Motorcyclists resisted helmets, and there is still some resistance there, but that battle seems to be over.

Sadly, no. A 21-year-old motorcyclist can travel from Philadelphia to Boise to Tucson to Little Rock without putting on a helmet. That's 14 states and 5,000 miles. And the progress is all the other way -- the increasingly psychotically worst-of-both-worlds-Tea-Party-libertarian Michigan Legislature just repealed the helmet law last year, so we're down to 19 states with universal motorcycle helmet requirements.
posted by Etrigan at 7:29 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Will helmets hurt them?
No?
They should suck it up.
"

This sentiment has always puzzled me. It is almost as if the imposition of helmets laws are some kind of appropriate collective punishment for the collective sin of cyclists. Like a Styrofoam fig leaf for the joy of controlling others.

When Americans talk about a bicycle crash we almost always zero in on weather a helmet was worn or not despite the fact that it is inherently one of the most inconsequential factors in what prevents or affects the severity of bicycle injury. It’s like our Puritan focus on personal responsibility and the just world fallacy prevents us from seeing the driver to whom it didn't occur to check for a cyclist on the road designed for that failure, or the blind intersection designed to T-bone cyclists, or the driver who sees cyclists as just assholes who could use a love tap to put them in their place, or the driver who didn't pay attention.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:35 AM on February 27, 2013 [18 favorites]


Helmets may have net public health impact that is either positive or negative. Helmet laws may tend to exaggerate those effects in one direction or another. Cycling is a very efficient form of transportation and there are many documented benefits of adoption.

As someone who advocates for cycling at the local level, I don't get think fighting helmet laws, Or fighting for them is a good use of my time or the time others who want to advance cycling. I want more DC bike share stations, bike transit routes and stronger enforcement of traffic safety laws. In Virginia this year we tried to get a law passed to make dooring cyclists a specific violation. At the local level we are trying to get bike boulevards put along Columbia Pike. Expand DC Bikeshare. Fix the nightmare spot near the merges and highway crossings Memorial Bridge. And many other initiatives. These actions will greatly enhance the experience of riders. It is much easier to quantify the impacts of these items over helmet compliance laws. So I put my time there.

The problem in standing up to the helmet lobby is that most people who are non-cyclists see helmets as a reasonable safety precaution. It is a difficult argument to win. There is also a risk as an advocate that you are seen as having fringe / alternative views. One of your strongest arguments in pushing for bike lanes and accommodations in the transit planning for cyclists is improved safety. You don't want it to play the game of: well the real problem is you people arn't wearing a helmet. Oh yeah helmets don't make safer... They want to pass a helmet law let em, but keep focused in the paths and transit planning.
posted by humanfont at 7:36 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know my helmet saved me from injury, and I wasn't even on my bike - the guy who tried to run me off the road (and failed) drove on up ahead, got out of his car, and ran in traffic at me swinging. Pretty sure he busted his hand on the side of my helmet.

Dang, what'd you do to make him so mad?
posted by resurrexit at 7:37 AM on February 27, 2013


This... This is satire right? You're not honestly blaming notnot for being run off the road and assaulted ...right?
posted by Blasdelb at 7:40 AM on February 27, 2013


I've never, never understood why helmet laws were such an issue. I cycle a fair amount (although that's gone down a bit since I got a motorcycle), grew up where helmets were mandatory until the age of 18 and wearing one just seems normal. The cheapest helmets run for $15, and some very well-rated and reviewed ones are still between $60 and $100. Not a huge investment in the long run. I could have stopped wearing on when I turned 18, but that would be ridiculous. And, as I did manage to lose control on a hill at high speed once, I'm pretty sure that my helmet saved my brain.

In the absence of a helmet law, I wouldn't push for one, but I also think that activist who expend energy on helmet laws are wasting time and energy that would be better spent on struggles over infrastructure.

Also, lycra is comfortable and human body is not offensive. I wear lycra fairly often even when I'm not exercising, because it feels good to wear. People who are scared of lycra (or more accurately, scared of the human body) need to get over that.
posted by Kurichina at 7:41 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


We were here before cars arrived. We'll be here long after they're gone.

Probably not long after...
posted by spaltavian at 7:41 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


There is no doubt that wearing a helmet can, in certain circumstances, save you from serious injury. What's difficult about this issue, though, is that if you really drill down into the statistics it is very hard to make a case that helmet laws reduce overall harms. Partially this is due to the effect of discouraging people from cycling at all, as the linked article notes (and the claim"hey, I was fat and still rode a bike" does not actually disprove the claim that having kids ride bikes is good for their overall health). More troublingly (for those who make the "why not just wear the helment anyway, if you're a responsible adult" argument) helmet wearing does seem to be associated with certain kinds of specific harm: this is not well understood, but some sort of leverage effect from the edges of the helmet catching on things in the event of a crash seems to be involved. So it actually isn't the case that "it can't do any harm" to wear a helmet.
posted by yoink at 7:54 AM on February 27, 2013


I've never, never understood why helmet laws were such an issue. I cycle a fair amount (although that's gone down a bit since I got a motorcycle), grew up where helmets were mandatory until the age of 18 and wearing one just seems normal. The cheapest helmets run for $15, and some very well-rated and reviewed ones are still between $60 and $100. Not a huge investment in the long run. I could have stopped wearing on when I turned 18, but that would be ridiculous. And, as I did manage to lose control on a hill at high speed once, I'm pretty sure that my helmet saved my brain.

I think that working class cyclists/poverty-line cyclists are largely invisible to the middle class, even though there are a lot of them. If you're barely scraping by, $15 is a lot - and if your kid needs a helmet to ride a bike, and he could lose his helmet at the park, and you then need to replace it right away before he rides...Or if your kid loses his helmet and gets a ticket coming home, then you have a ticket! And if you're poor and/or a person of color, you don't want to be dealing with something that will give the cops another excuse to hassle you, because that can get out of control so fast.

Or what if you're undocumented and you have to bike to work? (I see dudes around all the time where I suspect that they are undocumented migrants biking to lousy jobs.) You don't have a lot of money, you're super vulnerable to law enforcement...and let's say that you lose your helmet or someone takes it when you're at work either for a joke or just to steal it.

Or what if you're just poor and you have to ride to work?

It is very easy to assume that people are biking because it's optional. It's not even optional for me, and I am a US citizen with a health-insurance-bearing job. I could not afford a car, and even the ~$1000/year for a bus pass would be a hardship for me. Biking and walking aren't just things I do for kicks.

Here in Minneapolis, the city actually had to drop a bike licensing program (not helmets, but one of those "common sense" laws) because license checks were being used by cops to hassle poor black men. I have no reason to believe that helmet laws would be any different - they'd be a revenue-generator for the cops and they'd be enforced on the backs of poor people and people of color. Honestly, I don't like wearing a helmet so I wouldn't be into a helmet law anyway - but I'd get into grin-and-bear-it mode if I didn't have a strong suspicion about how it would actually work.
posted by Frowner at 7:58 AM on February 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


Here are some actual stats on the types of serious and fatal collisions involving cyclists in London, including indicating how many were caused by left turning vehicles pulling in front of cyclists (40%), and how many were fatals were caused by HGVs and a skip or mixer lorry (40%). Scroll to the end for the numbers

My two pence; not sure a helmet would have helped when you've got a lorry parked on your chest.

Bias disclosure; I cycle 80-100 miles a week commuting in London without a helmet.
posted by fatfrank at 8:03 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


1. "Helmets make people ride more dangerously, plus they're just a smokescreen to prevent the building of bike-safe cities. Why are we even talking about helmets?"
2. "Helmets are fine, but only a minor part of overall bike safety. Not wearing them is a reasonable choice."
3. "Helmets save lives. People ought to wear them."
4. "Helmets are essential and people who opt not to wear them are so bad at risk-assessment that they need to be protected from themselves."
My real hope is that people in either the first or last group will be pulled somewhere closer to the middle. This is the most measured conversation of the subject I have yet seen on metafilter, so I hold out hope.


Shouldn't we just aim to figure out which of these views is correct? I don't want to get pulled to the middle just because it's the middle; I want to end up believing the truth regardless of which side I started on.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:04 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Incidentally, I had a bike and a helmet as a kid (they've been the law here in Australia for cyclists for ages now) and the thing that discouraged me from riding was not the helmet, but the fact I was only allowed to bike if I stayed in view of the front porch. 100m worth of cul-de-sac, in total. I could get no speed up at all in that distance, no real momentum, so I fell off a lot. It's also fairly repetitive.

I strongly suspect that contemporary kids (fat or otherwise) who have the same sort of curtailed freedom aren't going to bother with the same sort of heartless laps of whatever their parents decree is a "safe" amount of space to bike in. It's a total waste of time.

BECAUSE FAT CHILDREN is a useless argument in a world where the front yard is too hazardous to let your kids explore on their own, let alone the space required to get decent use out of a bike.
posted by Jilder at 8:05 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


(they've been the law here in Australia for cyclists for ages now)

I think I still have my trusty orange Stackhat back at my childhood home in Australia.
posted by Talez at 8:09 AM on February 27, 2013


256, as a good nerd I can't argue against more distinctions. But you're missing one argument that has totally convinced me against helmet laws: Net Health.

Helmet laws only yield a net benefit if qe > μβ , where

q is the proportion of health costs of helmet-free cycling which is due to head injuries (0..1)

e is the proportion of costs q which could be avoided if all cyclists wore helmets. (0..1)

μ represents the ratio of cycle use lost following a helmet law to cycle use retained (0..0.5, typically)

β is the ratio of the health benefits of (helmet-free) cycling relative to its risks. (between 13:1 and ~415:1)

So the left side qe represents the proportion of injury costs of (helmet-free) cycling which would be avoided if all cyclists wore helmets. (0..1) The right side μβ represents the
lost health benefits of (helmet-free cycling) as a proportion of injury costs of (helmet-free) cycling.

If the lost health benefits aren't less than the avoided injury costs, then the public's health is worse off.

It's hard to justify values of q and e that are high enough to outweigh even conservative values of μ and β. Helmet laws hurt more hearts than they save heads.
posted by anthill at 8:13 AM on February 27, 2013 [16 favorites]


1. "Helmets make people ride more dangerously, plus they're just a smokescreen to prevent the building of bike-safe cities. Why are we even talking about helmets?"
2. "Helmets are fine, but only a minor part of overall bike safety. Not wearing them is a reasonable choice."
3. "Helmets save lives. People ought to wear them."
4. "Helmets are essential and people who opt not to wear them are so bad at risk-assessment that they need to be protected from themselves."
My real hope is that people in either the first or last group will be pulled somewhere closer to the middle. This is the most measured conversation of the subject I have yet seen on metafilter, so I hold out hope.

Shouldn't we just aim to figure out which of these views is correct?


Can't be done. The fundamental difference among 2, 3 and 4 is a philosophical one: if something provides a benefit, should it be legislated? What's the acceptable threshold of lives saved by helmets vs. reduction in bicycling due to the annoyance of helmets? There is no "correct" here, there's a difference in philosophy (even with anthill's excellent breakdown of the math).
posted by Etrigan at 8:14 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not every good idea needs to be a law, people.
posted by unixrat at 8:25 AM on February 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Considering the places where most head injuries are obtained, wearing helmets should be made mandatory for people taking showers, or baths. And especially for the daredevils using stairs.
posted by ijsbrand at 8:25 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Olympic divers certainly ought to be wearing helmets!
posted by Burhanistan at 8:29 AM on February 27, 2013


The fundamental difference among 2, 3 and 4 is a philosophical one: if something provides a benefit, should it be legislated? What's the acceptable threshold of lives saved by helmets vs. reduction in bicycling due to the annoyance of helmets? There is no "correct" here, there's a difference in philosophy (even with anthill's excellent breakdown of the math).

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:33 AM on February 27, 2013


I think it's great we see more of these studies, even when it flags up uncomfortable findings. I'm pro anything that stops presenting the ridiculous idea that cycling is just a hobby or a lifestyle and treats it as a valid, sustainable method of travel that requires the same public health, engineering and planning considerations as car driving.

Two other studies that stand out: Ian Walker of Bath University's interesting study, which found that wearing a helmet appeared to encourage cars to drive closer to cyclists. The second one, which is also British, conservatively estimates that drivers are to blame for serious cycling accidents in 2/3 of cases.

Eventually the debate will move on, as it has in places like the Netherlands and Denmark. It will move on from why cyclists are their own enemy through their poor attitude or cycling skills, or what cyclists should do to be safer from two tonne pieces of machinery moving past them at speed.

It will move on because despite the inaccurate but popular images of Captain Spandex holding up traffic by owning the lane or beardy hipsters jumping lights, there is a groundswell of people out there who are both taking up cycling or, more importantly, not giving up cycling. There is a groundswell of people who want their kids to cycle and whose idea of a better place is one where the whole family can get on their bike without fear. And with that comes several tipping points.

Like the tipping point we see in London where more women, and more casual cyclists are taking to the roads on bikes, which is forcing drivers to accommodate cyclists whether they like it or not.

And, in time, the tipping point where politicians shift budget towards building a coherent cycling infrastructure as Seville has because it is popular, and sustainable, and attractive to voters and businesses. And it's less cyclists v drivers and just part of the fabric of investing in towns to make them better places.

These tipping points progress cycling from oddball lycra fetish to the basis for the kind of sustainable, healthy transport network cities crave. They progress cyclists from being a them to an us. And more fundamentally, they will move the debate on from how to protect cyclists in the event of a crash to how to remove as much risk as possible and through to how to encourage mass participation in cycling.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:36 AM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


DU: "If we want to increase both safety AND ridership, why not build paths and lanes?"

Because it isn't clear that separated infrastructure is necessarily safer than mixed-mode traffic. Specifically, cyclists on MUPs (Multi-Use Paths) appear to be more at-risk for injury than on major bike/automobile shared thoroughfares.

There are some other great observations there that we should be looking for data from elsewhere, because the effects don't seem to be universal, others have found that bike lanes don't increase safety much and there is some indication that "sharrows" increase cyclist risk.

So though it's great that we're shoveling money at the construction industry, we should probably slow down and gather some data before we open that firehose further.

Disclosure: Helmet wearer who's concerned that the mandatory helmet culture both discourages cycling, and promotes a "cyclist's fault 'cause that's a dangerous activity" attitude amongst both drivers and pedestrians.
posted by straw at 8:56 AM on February 27, 2013


Here in Minneapolis, the city actually had to drop a bike licensing program (not helmets, but one of those "common sense" laws) because license checks were being used by cops to hassle poor black men.

This is a bigger problem than helmets. Why should safety suffer because your cops are racist?

And yes, there are a lot of migrant workers who bike in my city as well. I often see them wearing helmets (though they are not required to), because they, too treasure their minds. If $15 is a barrier (and I suspect it may be in Edmonton, but to a much, much, much smaller proportion of folk than in Minneapolis), then that is not an issue of helmet laws. Poverty is a problem, no doubt.

But if we have to wait for all the worlds problems to be solved before we act on any problems, then we'd never do anything.
posted by Kurichina at 8:58 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Harris Cyclery in Newton, MA essentially refused to sell me a bicycle because I didn't want to wear a helmet while test-riding one. Note: I specifically asked if there were insurance reasons for this and they said "no, it's our policy".

I don't feel particularly strongly about helmets, but I don't like to be made to wear gear, and think you should be able to hop on a bicycle and go without unnecessary crap.

I like the net health argument against helmets that was brought up in the NYT recently.

I was surprised by the vehemence of the shopkeepers' insistence on helmets, against their own interests, and I will be buying a new bicycle (I commute to work on a bike) elsewhere.
posted by grubby at 9:02 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was surprised by the vehemence of the shopkeepers' insistence on helmets, against their own interests, and I will be buying a new bicycle (I commute to work on a bike) elsewhere.

Oh, I don't know. I kind of admire that they care more about a stranger's safety than about selling an additional bicycle. But that's just me.
posted by davejay at 9:05 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


What is bad public policy is good personal policy.
Yeah, I oppose helmet laws, but I wear one.

Just consciously adjust your risk threshold and choose to ride more safely when you are wearing a helmet.
Went mountain biking with a friend of mine in another country. Hot as hell. Rocks the size of your thumb bouncing everywhere. We came to a point in the trail where he took off his helmet and shrugged.
I thought it was because he was too hot until I came to the spot he had been. Gorge to one side of the trail 600 feet down.
Beyond a certain point all dangers are equal.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:21 AM on February 27, 2013


This is really not that complicated. Helmet laws are probably a bad idea but wearing a helmet is probably a good idea.

seanmpuckett's comment is also a bit overblown. Get a coffee and sit in a cafe anywhere along Mass Ave in Cambridge on a weekday morning between 7 and 9am and you'll see hundreds of cyclists go by clad in business casual clothes on everything from carbon fiber tri bikes to rusty old clunkers. There are more of them in the warmer months but some are still out there in the winter as well.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:30 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


wolfdreams01: "The only reason our politicians have enacted helmet laws is because of constant lobbying by Big Helmet."

That's Dark Helmet to you!
posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:39 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, I don't know. I kind of admire that they care more about a stranger's safety than about selling an additional bicycle. But that's just me.

Really? What do you suppose would be the incremental reduction in my safety of not wearing a helmet while taking a 5 minute test ride?

This incident was about me doing what they think is best, pure and simple. Safety is just an excuse.
posted by grubby at 9:56 AM on February 27, 2013


Helmets can also be used as weapons.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:01 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


resurrexit: "
Dang, what'd you do to make him so mad?
"

He was pacing me and veering toward the curb (four-lane road, he was in the non-curb lane when he first encountered me), so I jumped my road bike up on to the sidewalk, gave him the finger, and stopped to let him get a light cycle ahead of me.
First time he parked and tried to assault me in the street was about a mile and a half down the way. There wasn't any traffic, so as he ran into the street I just swung wide and avoided him. He drove around on back streets, parked *again* about half a mile farther in a 7-11 parking lot, and was waiting in the street for me. I had nowhere to go and was in traffic (thankfully they swerved around) so as I slowed I screamed the query, "Do you want an assault charge?" twice. He replied, "sure," and popped the side of my helmet as I tried to dismount.

Two more blows followed as I gathered my bearings. When I tossed the bike aside and stood up, my whole 5'-9 1/2" towering over his 5'-5", he took off running to his car. I was dazed, but had the mind to run into the 7-11 and ask for someone to read his license plate (he'd parked around back of a very busy store). They complied, he drove off, and the manager called the cops.

Turns out the guy was driving his brother's car, and had driven directly to his brother's house. The cops told me that when they pulled up, he came tearing out of the house, "Where is that little fucker? I'll fuckin' kill him!" They advised him of his rights and he shut up.

Despite a history of domestic violence and substance abuse, buttressed by my testimony (my boss at the time was also a cyclist and told me to take all the time I needed), the little bastard got off with nothing more than a suspended imposition of sentence.
posted by notsnot at 10:13 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


how many tens of thousands of kids stay fat and unhealthy because buying all the 'correct gear' is such a pain in the goddamn ass?

I'm going with 'none, ever, anywhere," Alex.
posted by Mister_A at 10:22 AM on February 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Everyone hates cyclists & no one wants to "be that guy" because he's a tool, and either you wear the gear to be "safe" or more likely in compliance with the law and now you have branded yourself a cyclist and people hate you, or you don't wear the gear and people yell at you that you're not being safe and you should have a helmet on.

This is just silly. Just because someone else wears lycra, you have to too? You can't hop on a bike because there's a dude out there wearing something odd?
The "tool" in this scenario is the people who think they're only allowed to do things the same strange way as someone else they saw.
posted by anonymisc at 10:25 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was surprised by the vehemence of the shopkeepers' insistence on helmets, against their own interests, and I will be buying a new bicycle (I commute to work on a bike) elsewhere.

Oh, I don't know. I kind of admire that they care more about a stranger's safety than about selling an additional bicycle. But that's just me.


I’m pretty sure this is about insurance and lawsuits and not personal either way.

This is really not that complicated. Helmet laws are probably a bad idea but wearing a helmet is probably a good idea.

Exactly.
posted by bongo_x at 10:26 AM on February 27, 2013


This incident was about me doing what they think is best, pure and simple. Safety is just an excuse.

Do you really think that the owner of that bike shop is some petty tyrant, desperate to find something, anything, that he can control, and he latched on to "I will make anyone who wants to test one of my bicycles WEAR A HELMET!"?

Safety isn't his excuse. Just because his priorities are different from yours doesn't make him a bad person.
posted by Etrigan at 10:34 AM on February 27, 2013


This is really not that complicated. Helmet laws are probably a bad idea but wearing a helmet is probably a good idea.

My experience as a child during the transition to helmet laws was that before the law, the kids who wanted to wear helmets were extremely reluctant to because of peer pressure (kids are dumb, because they're kids), and the helmet law made it socially acceptable for these kids to wear a helmet like they wanted, while it also gave the wannabee rebels a way to show everyone that they were showing it to The Man, by riding with their helmet on their bag instead of their head.

I think the helmet law actually resulted in more freedom of choice. In the sphere of kids, pretty much everyone seemed better off afterwards.

Now, if that helmet law only applied until you were 18, and then you're an adult able to decide for yourself, then by that time your cycling habits are already set, so most of the good has been achieved and we wouldn't suffer that adult cycling shaming that people are worrying about.

This doesn't address the concern that helmet laws will prevent kids from riding in the first place, but I think this misses the mark - the things that will get kids to ride are independence, and transport. As an example just in terms of transport, if a child's choices are walk 40 minutes to school or cycle 10 minutes and be able to sleep-in for another half an hour, then no helmet on earth will be enough to going to stop them from cycling. If their choice includes sleep-in for 35 minutes and get driven to school, then no force on earth will get them onto a bike. When I was a kid, helmets just didn't figure into it one way or another.
I'm sure the world has changed since then, but I think these things still have power.
posted by anonymisc at 10:42 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


the observed reduction in bicycle-related head injuries may be due to reductions in bicycle riding induced by the laws.

There are two assertions in this statement:

1. Fewer injuries *might* have been caused by less bike-riding.

and

2. The decrease in bike-riding *was* caused by these laws.

#1 seems possible, and they did say "might." But #2 is a much bigger assertion of causality - is there supporting evidence for it?
posted by mark7570 at 10:46 AM on February 27, 2013


I lack sufficient bandwidth to upload videos at the moment, and also the road outside my house is rather busy, but as for a possible reason why a helmet may do some harm, try the following experiment:

Stand close to a wall, facing it with your toes about 25cm away, bend your head down so your hair touches the wall with a moderate pressure. Attempt to move your head up, down, left & right.

Repeat the experiment wearing a helmet, making allowance for the depth of the helmet when you stand by the wall.

Whenever I've tried this, my head didn't slide at all with the helmet on. This is a pretty big deal when you consider neck injuries and rotational head injuries are so disabling.

So that's a mechanism by which you might be better off in a crash when you're not wearing a helmet.
posted by ambrosen at 10:50 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a bigger problem than helmets. Why should safety suffer because your cops are racist?

If the public safety benefit is marginal (which it obviously is, or the research would not be so equivocal), and there's no way to reign in the cops, it's foolish to give the cops more power to harass and assault. If we do not now have a police force that can be trusted to implement public policy so that it actually helps the public (and god knows we don't), then when we implement a public policy it will not actually help the public, so there's no point. If we're too enamored of "but this policy should work if the police are not racist!" to bother fixing the police, then obviously we don't actually care about public well-being at all; we just care about point-scoring.
posted by Frowner at 11:03 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Whenever I've tried this, my head didn't slide at all with the helmet on.

Your helmet must be different than mine. But the big flaw is the idea that when your head hits the ground it will be touching the asphalt with "moderate pressure".
posted by bongo_x at 11:05 AM on February 27, 2013


A much better test would be; stand there while I hit you in the head with this baseball bat covered with coarse sandpaper, with a helmet and without.
posted by bongo_x at 11:08 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Don't forget we're also talking about kids here. They think they're invincible.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:13 AM on February 27, 2013


A much better test would be; stand there while I hit you in the head with this baseball bat covered with coarse sandpaper, with a helmet and without.

There's quite a lot of serious scientific literature out there on bike helmets and rotational head injuries. It is defintely not a cut and dried issue. There is good statistical and experimental evidence showing that helmets can aggravate injuries in certain circumstances, as well as mitigating them in others. Nothing about this issue is easy or straightforward.
posted by yoink at 11:23 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


True enough, which is why I am not a proponent of helmet laws. However, personally, I have crashed and cracked a helmet, so I wear one every day.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:39 AM on February 27, 2013


True enough, which is why I am not a proponent of helmet laws. However, personally, I have crashed and cracked a helmet, so I wear one every day.

I choose to wear one too, and used to be firmly in the "only an idiot rides without a helmet" camp. But I came across a really well-researched and solidly argued piece making the anti-helmet case and after checking out a lot of its sources I had to confess it's just not a black and white issue (unlike safety belts in cars, say, where there is overwhelming evidence of the harms they prevent). Throw in the clear inhibitory effect of helmet laws on bike use and I think it's easy to show that the laws do more harm than good.
posted by yoink at 12:05 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Despite a history of domestic violence and substance abuse, buttressed by my testimony (my boss at the time was also a cyclist and told me to take all the time I needed), the little bastard got off with nothing more than a suspended imposition of sentence.

Rotten. This is worse: http://www.mountainx.com/article/25253/Former-Asheville-firefighter-gets-4-months-for-shooting-cyclist
posted by Mr. Yuck at 12:17 PM on February 27, 2013


I don't remember seeing a lot of people wearing helmets in the Netherlands a few years back, but i suppose riding a bike is pretty safe there.

I've never worn a helmet in my life, i guess it just wasn't a thing when i was a kid and spent all day on my bike. I used to bike a lot when i lived in Norway, i haven't used my bike once in the US, partly because i never got around to buying a helmet and assumed people/cops would bust my balls about it, and mostly because i see how bad the people drive here...

Funnily enough in 3 years in Norway i never slipped on the ice, but fell of my bike plenty of times.

Also, personally, i think everyone should listen to Helmet.
posted by palbo at 12:22 PM on February 27, 2013


I don't understand this issue of the helmet at all. I grew up on a bike. I lived in a place that was rural enough it was needed to get around. I've had more scrapes and scars from tumbles on my bike than I care to recall. But never on my head. What is up with this nonsense?

Hands, elbows, knees, shins, yes, I'd have benefited greatly from protection there. But head? How the heck do you land on your head? I'll even grant you, it seems like one would. But the experience says the head is magically protected by powerful charms and spells.

Really!
posted by Goofyy at 12:30 PM on February 27, 2013


You can land on your head when impact with a car launches you dozens of feet.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:31 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Goofyy: Hands, elbows, knees, shins, yes, I'd have benefited greatly from protection there. But head? How the heck do you land on your head?

Being thrown over the handlebars is the obvious one, but there are a million ways to hit your head in a bike wreck, many of which don't even require a motor vehicle to hit you.

I'll even grant you, it seems like one would. But the experience says the head is magically protected by powerful charms and spells.

Reporting bias; if you had hit your head severely in a bike accident, you wouldn't be here talking to us.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:37 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Look, hate my pro helmet rhetoric but here it is.

In 2005, May 12, to be precise. It was a sunny day, probably 11:40 in the morning, sun high overhead, no glare was impacting any driving. I was taken out on Western Avenue by a Buick leaving Central Square in Cambridge. It is a two lane road, one direction. I was in the left hand lane on the left shoulder, with intent to make a left hand turn at the next light (headed to Trader Joe's if anyone knows the area).

A van started to back out into the lane, I checked my behind, had good clearance to any overtaking vehicles and moved to the center-right of the left hand lane as an evasive maneuver. As I started back to the left, probably 15 seconds too late, I heard a vehicle coming up fast. (There are several lights which segment cars like locks in a canal as you leave central square). I looked left, the Buick was moving up at an increasing rate, ensuring that I couldn't go left safely. Likewise behind it was a semi. To the right were two other cars, not quite as fast but the lane change would take even longer. I was fucked and I knew it.

The Buick started to edge up on my tire, effectively pinning me to the center lane, then recognized what they were doing and sort of swerved left (its a pretty wide lane). I had a bit more room. At that point, they panicked with the parked cars on the left hand side and sort of whipped back more towards the center of the lane - now in the spot which I occupied.

I remember the side mirror hitting my back and being dragged along the side of the car, still standing - now running next to the car and holding my bike. I remember my head slamming backwards into the side of their car, and getting a much much better look at the semi, and just sprinting to keep upright...

The crash broke T-12 (spinal body fracture, no edema, no nerve impingement) which was about the most perfect break I could have asked for. Asides from my wits, two pieces of equipment saved my life - my frame backpack and my helmet - period. My Son and my daughter have both started learning to ride. The rule in our house is this: If you're on it, you need a helmet on you (even on the little loop we live on). Likewise, the future rule will be that if the kids want to ride far-away with their friends - that they have to be wearing helmets too. If I find my kids with their friends and the friends without helmets, then my kid (whichever one) will be loosing their bike. Period.

I'll agree, there's a metric ton of other stuff that could be / should be done for bike safety, but a helmet is a reasonable amount of personal responsibility for safety in the same way that motor cycle helmets and seat belts are.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:43 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I hit my head in a bike accident. Knocked out some teeth. Still don't remember it. No helmet. Not suggesting that the helmet would've saved my teeth, mind you.

Now I'm not in favor of legislative or judicial remedies here, but I do think that helmets are a good idea in general, on American roads (and off-road trails natch). I don't always wear mine, either, to be honest. But the shrill screeching and blaming of helmets for a perceived decline in bike ridership is sounding a little nutty, I have to tell you. Exurban sprawl and the death of a sense of community in many towns is to blame for the decrease in bicycle ridership, not helmets. People drive like maniacs and don't feel any obligation to respect common sense or speed limits when they're driving down someone else's street.
posted by Mister_A at 12:45 PM on February 27, 2013


A much better test would be; stand there while I hit you in the head with this baseball bat covered with coarse sandpaper, with a helmet and without.

a) There was no need to use the first person and second person there. It sounds aggressive.

b) The thing about a primate's head which is hitting solid things is that it's a dead sure sign that the direction the body's going is no longer under the control of that primate (in this case, the primate is a human on a bike). Therefore by far the best way to dissipate the impact would be with a sliding movement, so a baseball bat's a pretty poor model of a bike crash. I don't have any numbers nor any studies backing the model I propose, but yoink mentioned that the epidemiological data pointed in that direction, and I think the (counter-)intuition behind my model of cyclist head impact hold its ground.
posted by ambrosen at 2:01 PM on February 27, 2013


Cycling enthusiasts themselves have, with what few legal recourses for cycling available to them, done a further great job alienating both casual riders, pedestrians and drivers with outlandish, unsafe behaviour as well as their clown-like attire and bizarro equipment fetishes.

Who the hell wants to just "get on your bikes and ride" when the pervasive mental image of a bicyclist these days is some spandex-clad jackass with a face-hugger on his head riding at 40 klicks down the edge of a road inches from being crushed between a bus and the opening door of a parked car and always half a second from simply plowing over someone's grandma with her arms full of groceries.


I wear spandex when I get on my bike to exercise. When you're sweaty, or when it's rainy (as it too often where I live) being on the bike for an hour or more at a time lycra is the most comfortable thing. The frothing indictment of people who are out on their bikes to exercise makes as much sense to me as claiming runners in their short shorts and ridiculous shoes make the rest of us pedestrians look like fools every time we just want to step out onto the sidewalk to go for a pleasant stroll.

When I am riding for transportation, I eschew the spandex and wear regular clothes, just as I'm sure most runners leave the short shorts and runners at home when they are walking down to the grocery store. I think the vitriol directed at the spandex-clad stems more from how easy it is to direct the stress and frustration that driving (and for some, interacting with other human beings outside of their homes) at an easily identifiable group. Somehow, from years of commuting by bike, I've developed a suspicion and disdain for "people who drive Hyundais" as a group, but I do recognize it as ridiculous.

Strangely, despite developing more into one of those terrible cycling enthusiasts in the last few years, I feel like my views on helmets have actually softened. When riding for intense exercise (presumably faster than necessary for transportation), or racing, I think they are a very good idea. But for regular transportation, or casual riding, it seems like encouraging more people to just ride and turning more irrationally angry drivers into sometime cyclists would balance out the hopefully rare, unlucky head injuries that a helmet might help with.

Despite lacking decent infrastructure for cycling, on the whole the drivers where I live actually seem surprisingly tolerant of commuters and casual riders and even the spandex-clad, and I think a lot of that is passing a certain threshold of people who ride, or people who have close friends and family that ride. There seems to be have been a genuine cultural shift over the last decade. It's almost, just so very close to point where really aggressive driving is rare enough that I could imagine breaking the helmeted pattern of almost ten years and commuting to work with my hair in the wind.
posted by beegull at 2:10 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


No number of personal accident stories, however heroic the helmet was in the story, is a good argument in favor of helmet laws.

You'd have to be rather off your rocker not to believe that helmets save lives in some accidents. Any time this topic comes up, we hear from survivors of those accidents. And, hell, I'd be telling my story, too, if I had one like that (thank goodness I don't). But it's not additional evidence in favor of helmet laws. It's what we already know: helmets save lives in some accidents.
posted by gurple at 2:15 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hesitate to wade in when I'm not an expert, but I do work in brain research and was recently at a talk by an engineer who makes helmets for a living.

The talk showed pretty convincingly, using high-speed cameras and accelerometers, that there's a lot of ways that a typical bike helmet can actually harm you in a fall. A bike helmet is designed to crumple on impact to dissipate as much force as possible. But in a situation where a rider has a lot of horizontal velocity (such as most serious bike crashes), the way a helmet crumples can actually cause the rider's head to torque violently. And it's that torquing -- strong angular accelerations -- that are much worse for your brain than the linear accelerations that bike helmets are designed to mitigate. In this type of fall you're better off wearing a hard-shell helmet or no helmet at all.

Which isn't to say that soft shell helmets have zero protective value. But it's important to be informed about what helmets actually do in a crash. Seatbelts they ain't.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 2:17 PM on February 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


it seems like encouraging more people to just ride and turning more irrationally angry drivers into sometime cyclists would balance out the hopefully rare, unlucky head injuries that a helmet might help with

Yes. One thing I think missing in this discussion a bit is how inhibiting helmet laws are for adults who just want to use their bikes for commuting or what have you. I think there are probably quite a lot of people who would happily ride a beater-bike to and from work, but for whom the idea of having to deal with a helmet (and resultant helmet-hair etc.) just tips it over into the "too much fuss" category.
posted by yoink at 2:19 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


But it's not additional evidence in favor of helmet laws.

And it's not even, really, evidence in favor of helmets as a good individual safety practice. "I would have died in situation Y had I not done X" is not an argument for the universal adoption of X. I'm sure that in the whole history of automotive crashes there actually are a few genuine examples of people who lived because they hadn't engaged their safety belts and who would have died otherwise; that does not mean it's a good idea not to wear a safety belt.
posted by yoink at 2:24 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I started biking again as an adult, the helmet became something I had to deal with -- one more thing to figure out where to put when I went into a bar, and not to forget when I left, something to try to cram into a backpack when going from biking to walking, and of course something that turned my hair into devil horns until I figured out cycling caps.

I decided to embrace it: screw it, I'm a cyclist, here's my helmet, dealing with it is part of being a cyclist, which is something I'm internalizing as part of my identity.

So, yeah, good for me, fine. But I can see very easily why it turns tons of people off. It's a big enough pain to alter behavior in a big way.
posted by gurple at 2:25 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think it's completely nonsensical to argue that helmets are discouraging kids from riding bikes. You know what's discouraging kids? The parents who drive their children everywhere and prevent them from even walking--most suburbs today don't even have sidewalks. When I was a kid, a bike was freedom. It was roaming free throughout the neighbourhood and surrounding vicinity, tearing through ravines, going on crazy adventures behind malls, leaving the house in the morning and not coming back until late afternoon. Exactly the kind of freedom that would give most parents today heart attacks. I'd blame obesity on that, not helmets.
posted by Go Banana at 4:10 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it's completely nonsensical to argue that helmets are discouraging kids from riding bikes.

People who have actually researched the question come to a different conclusion than your gut.
posted by yoink at 4:36 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


There is good statistical and experimental evidence showing that helmets can aggravate injuries in certain circumstances, as well as mitigating them in others. Nothing about this issue is easy or straightforward.

I don’t doubt it. Few things are black and white. I was simply saying the "lean my head against the wall" test is not that convincing.

a) There was no need to use the first person and second person there. It sounds aggressive.

Ha. I’m truly sorry. It was a hypothetical situation. How about if you hypothetically hit me?
posted by bongo_x at 4:37 PM on February 27, 2013


People who have actually researched the question come to a different conclusion than your gut.

His wider point was that once upon a time there were more powerful forces at play. If Kids Today have so much less incentive to cycle, such that helmets can be a significant problem, then maybe consider that the bigger problem is today's loss of incentives.
posted by anonymisc at 4:50 PM on February 27, 2013


When I started biking again as an adult, the helmet became something I had to deal with -- one more thing to figure out where to put when I went into a bar

An easier way is to always lock your bike, and just lock the helmet with it.
(Yeah ok, I'll bother to take a helmet with me if a helmet cam is attached to it. :)
posted by anonymisc at 4:55 PM on February 27, 2013


If helmet laws are in fact discouraging people from cycling, then such laws are making all cyclists, including the ones who never go out without their helmets, less safe because the safety of cycling is in large part dependent on having enough cyclists on the road for drivers to have to learn how to drive in their presence, for local governments to feel compelled to adjust infrastructure and laws to accommodate cyclists, and last but not least, for the police not to be able to get away with blaming the cyclist in every accident and ignoring all crimes against cyclists no matter how blatant or heinous.
posted by jamjam at 4:56 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


An easier way is to always lock your bike, and just lock the helmet with it.

Hey! Check your non-rainy climate privilege at the door, buddy!
posted by no regrets, coyote at 5:00 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


An easier way is to always lock your bike, and just lock the helmet with it.
Or, in my rainy climate, I just clip my helmet (hard side up) to my front rack. The inside stays dry-ish, even in rain. I don't lock it.

I figure there's little overlap between people who care enough to wear helmets and people who are scumbag-y enough to be willing to steal and wear someone's hair-greasy used helmet. In 5 years of doing this I've never had a helmet stolen. Is it really a thing?
posted by anthill at 6:02 PM on February 27, 2013


I wouldn't leave my Giro helmet lying around to see if it wasn't a thing.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:06 PM on February 27, 2013


Hey! Check your non-rainy climate privilege at the door, buddy!

Seattle isn't a rainy climate?

In my experience, taking your helmet into the bar with you is not going to help you keep dry when you're cycling home in the rain. ;-)

In other news, I have unilaterally decided that the constant use of the word "privilege" to refer to "something you have that I don't have" instead of "things I have that I'm oblivious to others not having", has rendered the word counterproductive and worse than useless.
posted by anonymisc at 6:31 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just have a cheapo helmet and I leave it clipped to my frame all the time. I figure is someone is so desperate for a helmet that they'd steal an old one that didn't cost $15 new, then they're welcome to it. No takers yet.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 6:33 PM on February 27, 2013


I wouldn't leave my Giro helmet lying around to see if it wasn't a thing.

I left my Giro lying around for way too many years without issue. By the end of that time though, it was so disgusting that this doesn't say much :)
The stick-on cloth interior was gone, so it wasn't as bad as it sounds, but still, yeah, don't. :-)
posted by anonymisc at 6:34 PM on February 27, 2013


I can't imagine anyone who both knows the price of a Giro and wants to wear someone else's. Isn't this whole thread about how helmet's aren't cool? :)
posted by anonymisc at 6:37 PM on February 27, 2013


I had a totally awesome black bmx style helmet with cool stickers. Then some fucking teens tried to jump me on my way home, knocked me off my bike. I smacked my head hard, but the helmet protected me. I got up screamed at the pair trying to take my paniers. I charged one of them, blinding him with my headlamp and ultimately headbutting him. That's right the helmet provided double protection first during the crash and then during the fight. As they ran away I threw my aluminum water bottle at them, which proved to be a reasonably effective missile and deterred them from returning. From this data we can conclude that helmets make you into a goddamned ninja. Also BPH in plastic isn't the only reason to get a metal water bottle.



Ok I made that up. Still helmets are awesome.
posted by humanfont at 6:50 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


To me, there is real utility in convenience - if it's not convenient to hop on a bike, I (being weak of spirit) will probably choose to drive. And get fatter. And die young. Well, younger than is ideal. (<1000yrs)

Given that I am weak of spirit, I decide that there are easily-avoided financial risks (such as sometimes not locking a helmet) that may only offer a trivial increase in convenience, but which taken together add up to making cycling quite a bit more convenient for me. I decide to take those risks, and assume the risks will fail, my shit will get stolen, and I budget for one replacement.

So far, I'm always pleasantly surprised - I pretty much never get stuff stolen. Thieves seem so intent on only going for the stuff we know thieves always go for, and/or communities not really as thievish as they might seem, that I always end up years later replacing stuff because it's worn out, not because it was stolen.

I don't usually include "bikes" in that category. Except in certain neighborhoods where no-one would be caught dead on a bicycle, or in situations like rain in sub-zero temperatures. I've found it's pretty safe to leave my bike unlocked anywhere where in order to steal it, a thief would have to be as crazy as me :)
posted by anonymisc at 7:05 PM on February 27, 2013



Sure... but most people aren't your mother.



There are a large number of disabled people in the USA.
http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editions/cb10-ff13.html/

If things were to come the way some of you wish, I would never be able to leave my home. I cannot ride a bicycle due to my disabilities. There is one bus in this entire area, that does a couple of small trips around town. It doesn't actually come out where I live, not to mention that my chair is a bit too wide for its lift.

There goes my job, grocery shopping, doctors' appointments (which are each at least an hour away,) going to the library, hell, just having a life.
posted by SuzySmith at 7:29 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


there are probably quite a lot of people who would happily ride a beater-bike to and from work, but for whom the idea of having to deal with a helmet (and resultant helmet-hair etc.) just tips it over into the "too much fuss" category.

I don't know that I'd ride a bicycle to work - it's pretty far, twelve miles each way - but sometimes I do think about picking up a $50 craigslist beater and using it to get groceries and visit friends in the neighborhood. The helmet law is definitely one of the factors which keeps that idea stuck in the "eh, never mind, sounds like a hassle" category.

That and the law against riding on the sidewalk... though I don't know whether that is actually a law or just something that bike people like to complain about. There's no way I'm riding a bicycle fast enough to keep up with traffic, ha.

And I say this as an avid motorcyclist - I wear a helmet every day! But motorcycles are actually dangerous, and I'd want something to shield my face from the wind blast even if it were completely safe. If I'm just going to toodle around on a bicycle, wearing a helmet just sounds ridiculous.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:21 PM on February 27, 2013


Mars Saxman: I don't know that I'd ride a bicycle to work - it's pretty far, twelve miles each way - but sometimes I do think about picking up a $50 craigslist beater and using it to get groceries and visit friends in the neighborhood. The helmet law is definitely one of the factors which keeps that idea stuck in the "eh, never mind, sounds like a hassle" category.

Buying a helmet is by far the least difficult part of bicycle ownership. Every helmet sold by reputable shops is certified and pretty much equally safe. As long as you don't pick the wrong size, you basically cannot choose wrong. It requires much less effort that picking out locks, for instance, or bicycle lights.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:05 PM on February 27, 2013


There are a large number of disabled people in the USA.

Since we're calling me out... I didn't suggest there weren't. Or I wasn't trying to anyway. I was suggesting that "Some people are disabled" isn't a great counterargument to "People are irrationally attached to their cars." Equally, if you live in a rural area, you probably have good reason to own a car. I'm not saying no one has a reasonable need for car ownership and I don't think anyone has advanced that as a serious position. Does my dad need to own a car? Almost certainly not. Virtually his whole life is within walking distance of his apartment. But he owns a car for some reason. Repeat that a few million times and you have an awful lot of unnecessary cars.
posted by hoyland at 9:32 PM on February 27, 2013


People who don't wear helmets == people who don't wear seatbelts.

You don't dress for the expected ride. You dress for the unexpected crash.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:09 AM on February 28, 2013


But in a situation where a rider has a lot of horizontal velocity (such as most serious bike crashes)…

…not wearing a helmet will result in the asphslt grinding your scalp down to the bone.

Which is also why any halfway intelligent rider wears gloves. Retaining skin is good.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:17 AM on February 28, 2013


Boy, all this talk of flaying body parts and fractured skulls makes me feel like running an errand with a 10 mile/h bike ride and enjoying the guaranteed health benefits of active transportation.
posted by anthill at 5:47 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which is also why any halfway intelligent rider wears gloves. Retaining skin is good.

I didn't realize there were problems with the intelligence of the Netherlands' population. We ain't talking about fast cycling, the conversation is about low-speed cycling in the city -- exactly what something like 1/3 of all trips in the Netherlands are. They wear neither gloves nor helmets, and manage to have the lowest injury rate.

People who don't wear helmets == people who don't wear seatbelts.

There's two reasons the seatbelt and helmet comparison is flawed. First, they're different in terms of their safety benefit, as discussed earlier. But second, they're different in terms of total health outcomes, which safety devices ostensibly are about. If someone is dissuaded from driving by the need to wear a seatbelt, then their not driving is probably even better for their health than driving safely. But someone dissuaded from cycling by the need to wear a helmet is likely to either engage in less physical activity and/or drive more; both outcomes are bad for health. In addition, their not cycling will reduce safety in numbers for other cyclists, and their driving more will increase road danger for others; so there is a public health downside in addition to the individual one.
posted by parudox at 6:37 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


You don't dress for the expected ride. You dress for the unexpected crash.

I've been looking for a stylish helmet to wear while crossing the street, driving in my car, and taking a shower. What brand do you wear for those activities?
posted by no regrets, coyote at 8:08 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been looking for a stylish helmet to wear while crossing the street, driving in my car, and taking a shower.
He's not kidding.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:54 AM on February 28, 2013


When Cycling People talk about Cycling it sounds like they have a pretty intense sport over there. I imagine them all wrapped up in lycra, riding thousand-dollar carbon fiber bicycles you could lift with a pinky down rutted, potholed city streets at thirty or forty miles an hour, dodging garbage-collectors and car doors, roaring through stop signs before the cross traffic notices them, and I think: well yeah, no wonder you want to wear a helmet! You think you're on a motorcycle!

Cycling People seem to think of their bicycles as basically being like cars which happen not to have motors. To Cycling People a bicycle is another mode of transport comparable to a car or a truck. Only a Cycling Person could use a phrase like "the asphalt grinding your scalp down to the bone" because you'd have to be really seriously into Cycling in order to go fast enough that such a thing is even a possibility.

Cycling People seem to forget that this all sounds completely insane to non-cycling people, to whom a bicycle is more like a step up from a razor scooter than a step down from a CBR600, and that people who are not into Cycling as a sport in itself are simply not going to be taking the risks that Cyclists regard as normal.

There's this other kind of way to use a bicycle - let's call it "biking", as compared to big-C serious Cycling. People who are into Cycling think of a bicycle as a slower, healthier alternative to driving; people who might consider biking think of a bicycle as a faster, more comfortable alternative to walking.

When Cyclists get all hardcore about helmets and owning your lane and sharing the road and riding in traffic, it is completely foreign and alienating to people who might enjoy biking but have no interest in the extreme sport of Cycling.

When I think about riding a bike around the neighborhood in no way do I ever imagine it as a sport. I imagine myself cruising along happy and casual, never breaking a sweat, going the same kinds of places I might walk to. I do not think about commuting to work (ha!). I do not think about riding a bicycle across town. I do not imagine reaching double-digit speeds. It just doesn't sound fun or comfortable. I can understand that if you are into those intense things you might want to wear a helmet, but a helmet is just comically unnecessary for the kind of biking I have in mind.

When hardcore Cyclists get all political and get cities to make helmet laws, they forget that not everyone is like them or wants to be like them, and that by defining bicycle use as being exclusively about their extreme sport, they are shutting out everyone who is not interested in that sport. In Amsterdam and Copenhagen and other cities where lots of people ride bicycles, it is absolutely NOT the case that everyone is into big-C serious Cycling: rather, it's a culture where casual biking is normal, where the city laws and infrastructure and expectations all support it.

In short: you people who are seriously into bicycling, and love your safety gear? Back off. You're scaring people away, and thereby making the roads more dangerous for yourselves. If you chilled out more and promoted biking as an easy, safe thing for everyone, perhaps more of us would eventually find that we enjoyed it enough to try out your more extreme style of riding. But from where I sit now, what you're doing is just not something I ever want to try.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:01 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mars Saxman: I can understand that if you are into those intense things you might want to wear a helmet, but a helmet is just comically unnecessary for the kind of biking I have in mind.

Actually, this kind of low-speed fall is what helmets are designed to help the most with, because they are low-energy enough for a helmet to make a big difference while still remaining surprisingly dangerous.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:11 AM on February 28, 2013


dude, if bicycling is so hilariously dangerous that people just randomly fall over and hurt themselves going like 8 mph, then no way do I want to get involved with it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:15 AM on February 28, 2013


> When hardcore Cyclists get all political and get cities to make helmet laws

Is it really "avid cyclists" that push for helmet laws? If true, that's pretty depressing. Here I was, thinking it was mostly car-dependent people paternalistically telling "those cyclists" what's best for them.
posted by anthill at 10:16 AM on February 28, 2013


"When hardcore Cyclists get all political and get cities to make helmet laws"

I think you might have this backwards where the Cyclists in this thread, and I suppose I should admit to being one of them but not a caricature, are arguing that helmet laws are indeed totally unnecessary for casual cyclists and if anything counter-productive to safety.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:17 AM on February 28, 2013


huh, well, maybe I'm wrong about that. I assumed that the people who get all hot and bothered about how utterly essential helmets are and how you're an idiot to ever straddle a bike without one were the same people who promoted those laws, but you're right, it could be different populations.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:24 AM on February 28, 2013


Yeah, I don’t think it’s avid cyclists pushing for the helmet laws. I will always wear a helmet, and think it’s a good idea for everyone, but I’m not sold on helmet laws. I think it’s non-cyclists who don’t really understand the ins and outs trying to do the right thing and protect kids.
posted by bongo_x at 10:26 AM on February 28, 2013


> people just randomly fall over and hurt themselves going like 8 mph

I don't have any stats, but I would presume that most of the injuries from low speed falls like that aren't head injuries, but more things like broken wrists. People have a natural, but incorrect, tendency to put their hands out to break a fall.

Anyway, I'm in no way a Serious Cyclist, but the idea of riding without sweating is almost abhorrent to me. That blast of adrenaline from beating a strong headwind and finding your power? Priceless.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:35 AM on February 28, 2013


But the experience says the head is magically protected by powerful charms and spells.

To be fair, most organs other than the brain aren't protected by a skull.

One of the things it's hard to teach people is how to fall. Just generally speaking, people try to fall to protect their head, typically their face and eyes, so you sacrifice the elbow, knee, etc. and throw out your hands.
It can be tough teaching people to roll with a fall (another reason why wrestlers tend to be good ring fighters).
Helmets are unnatural so your body has to learn how to fall with an extra thick layer of "skull" otherwise your natural instinct can mess you up.
I have no idea how it works out in terms of safety in the long run. But I don't know a lot of cyclists who practice falls. Most of the focus seems to be on speed and distance training. They seem like the group most likely to put enough power behind a fall to twist up their brainstem.
As opposed to young riders.

But that comes down to skill and preference and training. F'rinstance, on a motorcycle I don't like ABS bikes. I learned on dirt so I like leaning and I don't freak out when the rear wheel slips. For a beginner, different story. It's more likely to save their lives.

However, mandating ABS systems on all motorcycles you're probably going to see more low speed dumps and more minor injuries.

So too, with helmets, education is critical. Only time a helmet has helped me is to avoid road rash on my head because I know how to roll and relax before impact (and I don't mind dressing like a poisonous fluorescent snake on acid).

But education is harder to do than just slapping a helmet on everyone.
You wind up protecting people from the physical harm from crashes but not addressing the cause of the crash.

Tons of kids ride bicycles, but it's so rare to see a bicycle safety course. Or see one in school.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:41 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I think about riding a bike around the neighborhood in no way do I ever imagine it as a sport. I imagine myself cruising along happy and casual, never breaking a sweat, going the same kinds of places I might walk to. I do not think about commuting to work (ha!). I do not think about riding a bicycle across town. I do not imagine reaching double-digit speeds. It just doesn't sound fun or comfortable. I can understand that if you are into those intense things you might want to wear a helmet, but a helmet is just comically unnecessary for the kind of biking I have in mind.

This is kinda silly. I mean, leaving aside the question of whether or not a helmet makes you safer in an accident, the major risk factors for cycle riding don't have all that much to do with how "Serious" a rider you are. The fact that you're noodling along, not breaking a sweat, really doesn't magically prevent cars from running into you (the worst risk a cyclist faces, by far); in fact, you might be at slightly higher risk because you're probably not dressed in the high-visibility fabrics Serious cyclists tend to go for. The risk is obviously not all that high--not so high that you should shun biking as some terrible death-trap--but it's probably much the same, per mile ridden, for serious and casual cyclists.

I'm assuming you also live somewhere where there are no hills of any kind. Even an entirely casual cyclist freewheeling down a hill is easily going to get up into double-digit speeds.
posted by yoink at 2:51 PM on February 28, 2013


Squat on your kitchen counter with your arms wrapped around your knees.

Now pitch forward and land on your head.

That's about the same height & speed with which your head will hit the ground when tumbling from a bike.

Enjoy.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:56 PM on February 28, 2013


Go walking on the sidewalk.

Stop walking, keep your hands at your sides, and fall flat on your face.

That's about the speed your face would hit the ground if you tumbled while walking.

Wear a walking helmet. It saves lives.
posted by anthill at 3:10 PM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Of course the risks vary depending on how you ride. If you're a rider who is bent low over the handlebars, going very fast, not wanting to break cadence, on thin tires, the kind of accident you'll encounter and the way you'll fall (going over the handlebars or slipping sideways) is different from someone riding around the neighbourhood in a more upright and slower fashiion on a heavier dowdy bike. I don't know what freewheeling is; when I go down a hill I usually apply the brakes to avoid going at a speed I can't control. How and what you ride makes a big difference in the chances of you hitting your head or grinding your skin to the bone. Different riders make different choices for their safety.

Spandex Cyclists may not campaign for helmet laws, but they will shame people for not getting with the program. All activities have their keeners who think you need all the right gear or you should stay home.
posted by TimTypeZed at 3:10 PM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Spandex Cyclists may not campaign for helmet laws, but they will shame people for not getting with the program.

Could you give me an example of this "shaming"? I've spent an awful lot of my life cycling and the only people I've ever witnessed offering an unsolicited opinion to other cyclists on helmet wearing were their parents or partners. Do you find cyclists riding past you shouting "get a helmet, you fool!" or something?
posted by yoink at 3:18 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Guess I was partly referring to online debates, of which I've read many on this issue. Talk of Darwin Awards, predicting people's injuries with the kind of grisly certainty seen a few comments above. Also, casual riding meetup groups that enforce helmet use, or the kind of incident mentioned above, where a merchant wouldn't allow a short test ride because the buyer wouldn't wear a helmet. Maybe shaming isn't exactly the right word. It's standard public education/behaviour change tactics. If I was overweight or a smoker, perhaps I'd feel health advocates were engaging in shaming on those issues.
posted by TimTypeZed at 5:24 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Miko: Sounds like someone who isn't old yet and has never had to get around with a physical disability. Public transport should be excellent, for everybody, but it still represents a compromise. Having to go out of your way/adjust your schedule/give up your independence and rely on strangers for it because you have no other choices and the society has decided that the hardships they've added to your day are good enough for you is not a complete solution.

I understand and appreciate your wariness of ableism. The point of my comment was that I believe that car culture, on the whole, contributes to a lack of accessibility. I don't know where you live, but I've lived in some cities that are highly touted for their livability and I still daily see people with disabilities having to overcome crossing five lane highways, lack of sidewalk infrastructure and poorly funded mass transit.

And the cities that don't even bother? How can anyone who is paying attention not see how awful average American infrastructure is for people with disabilities who can not drive? The only reason why mass transit sucks is because car infrastructure is prioritized for funding and for physical public space.

I would ask you to check your own ableism with regards to the idea that people who have disabilities that are too severe to allow operating automobiles should be a lower priority than people who can drive. Everyone has to daily confront the obstacles that are inherent in automobile centered planning because everyone is a pedestrian. Not everyone is a driver.

And if we're going to bring family into it, yeah, I have family members who fall into this latter category of having a disability and they are confined to a nursing home for no good reason other than the blind corners, high speeds, lack of sidewalks and lack of public space in that neighborhood.

And everyone who is fortunate enough to live to an old age will eventually have a disability that disallows them to operate an automobile and, as it is, we will all have to overcome daily the obstacles put up by crossing five lane highways full of distracted and entitled drivers. Yeah, I'm selfish, because I plan to grow old and I plan to continue living my life to its fullest long after my eye sight and hearing and reflexes and strength have disallowed my ability to operate a vehicle. It would be nice to be able to do that without the constant harassment and threat that pedestrians face in urban centers that we currently see.
posted by Skwirl at 9:18 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Guess I was partly referring to online debates, of which I've read many on this issue.

Yeah, people online have opinions about everything under the sun, and you're pretty sure to find that out if you start arguing with them. That's not remotely the same thing as being "shamed" by evil, lycra-clad Serious Cyclists though, is it? And if you don't like the rules of a given riding group, then join or start a different group. If you don't like Serious Cyclists I'm not sure why you'd join a group dominated by them in the first place (and if they don't dominate the group, then it's clearly not Serious Cyclists who are making the fuss about helmets in that group, right?).
posted by yoink at 9:47 AM on March 1, 2013


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