No Bicycle Helmet Laws, Please

helmetscience This comes as a shock to some people, seeing as you’ll never see me biking in a US city without my helmet, but I am not an advocate of helmet laws. Part of it is my Libertarian leanings that make me desire less laws out there, but part of it is science. If I get hit by a car, helmet or not, I’m in trouble, and the odds are it’s not my head that’s the problem. More likely I’m going to break my back, my neck, or my limbs if I get hit by a car. And by the way, the helmet’s really only effective if I hit the ground at 12mph.

Motorcycles go a lot faster, so do scooters, and they should wear protective gear because of the speed. But a non-racing bicyclist (i.e. a commuter) goes at about 9.5mph average, and usually along the street where there are cars and such, but no one should be speeding. There’s no magic here to tell you how fast is dangerous, and I’m sure there’s data out there to prove things one way and the other that faster and slower riding is when more accidents occur.

I’m going to make it simple. Accidents occur when mistakes are made.

We all agree to that, I’m sure. A mistake in design of the vehicle, a mistake in upkeep, a mistake in driving, a mistake in paying attention. If we were all perfect, there would be no accidents. But we’re not, and an accident will happen to you, be it walking, driving or biking.

So the real question to ask is if helmets protect you from an accident? No. They don’t. Sorry! If I get hit hard enough that I go flying off my bicycle and crack my head, I’m likely to break my neck. Look at George Reeves. He had a helmet on! So why are we wearing them at all?

The problem with all the statistics is they compare things like a motorcycle or a car seatbelt to a bicycle helmet. I don’t argue that helmets can save you from a concussion, and in fact I wear one if I’m biking in the US, mostly because I don’t trust the drivers out there. Why just this afternoon, a woman yacking on her phone cut into the bike lane to ‘turn’ on a street that had no turn. I bellowed at her, she slammed on the brakes as I swerved out of the way, and everyone was fine. But most of my danger comes from me zoning out and not paying attention and from those morons in cars who think they own the road. They’re as much a hazard to each other as to me.

The opposing factions of helmets, Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation (against) and Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (for), put up pretty good reasons why and why not, to the point that most people grab their heads and wish someone would hit them. The recent death of Natasha Richardson (a head bump while skiing) has given the pro-helmet faction a lot of ground, proving that even insubstantial bumps can cause death. In fact, it’s her death that makes me wear a helmet. I know that, if I’m hit by a car, I’m more likely to break my legs, neck, etc, but if I catch my wheel in the curb pulling up to the apartment and take a small tumble, I know I’ve got a better chance of not knocking myself silly. While a helmet might save me from a minor bump and bruise, making helmets mandatory has caused a decrease in people bicycling!

So I don’t want a law out there to advocate helmets. I want a law out there to advocate safe driving and biking.

I want to see drivers who drive in the bike lane heavily ticketed. I want to see bicyclists who recklessly endanger themselves heavily ticketed. I want the law to fairly and equally treat cars and bicycles as vehicles that share the road. The onus is on those of us on bicycles as much as those of us in cars or motorcycles to drive safely, carefully and respectfully.

Tom Vanderbilt addresses the labyrinthine arguments of helmets vs non-helmets, the science that proves both, and the statistics that prove neither, leave it clear that you need to make your own choice. For me, it boils down to the small bump that leads to accidental death and this: IF I get hit by a car and I’m wearing my helmet, the driver’s lawyer is going to have a hell of a time arguing that I’m one of those reckless cyclist scofflaws. Me? I wear a helmet.

But I understand why you may not, and I support that.

Except for motorcycles. Wear a helmet with a face guard, dude. You’ll prevent the most uncomfortable road rash ever!

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