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Bicycle Helmets Don't Work

Update: Austin group fighting the mandatory helmet law is at http://www.nohelmetlaw.org/

Since the mandatory bicycle helmet law is rearing its ugly head here in Austin again thanks to the efforts of former mayor Bruce Todd, the following analysis of actual real-world results of increased bicycle helmet use in other countries is particularly relevant now.

The New York Times covered this for the USA in 2001. In short: Bicycle helmet usage went way up, but head injuries and fatalities didn't go down. This matches the observations in Australia, the UK, and many other countries.

Ride with a helmet if you want. But don't get smug about those who don't - they're NOT "organ donors", they're NOT stupid, and they're NOT irresponsible. THEY'RE actually the smart ones, given the apparent lack of benefit to wearing bicycle helmets.

And, please, stop the bullshit analogies with regards to seat belts. Nobody ever stopped driving because of seat belts, and even if they did, why would we care? Bicycle helmets are hot, uncomfortable, and inconvenient - and results in country after country show that many people simply stop cycling when their use is mandated. You don't have to carry your seat-belt around with you when you park your car; your car likely has air-conditioning; you're not actually exercising when you drive; seat belts are built in to the car; etc. Oh, and don't forget: seat belts, unlike bike helmets, actually WORK. The analogy couldn't be any worse if they tried.

If it's so damn obvious that people with "something up there to protect" would naturally choose to wear bike helmets, then why is it also not obvious that the same people would do so when driving their car? You get the same impact protection; but you're not sweating and you have an easy place to stow the helmet when you're done (inside the car itself).

Wikipedia has outstanding, heavily footnoted, coverage of bicycle helmets, if you don't like the "cyclehelmets.org" people.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Bicycle Commuting , Bicycling in Austin , I Told You So , Republicans Hate Poor People , Republicans Hate The Environment , Texas Republicans Hate Cities , Transportation

Comments

I agree -- comparing helmets to seatbelts is ridiculous and couldn't believe it when I read comments from folks on Statesman.com. In seeing how many people disagree with the purposed change to the law, including ACA (which actively encourages folks to wear helmets), I doubt that the change in the law will occur. I wear my helmet, and will continue to wear my helmet, but I don't want someone trying to legislate something that should be common sense.

BTW, most people will agree that the Tour de France has most of the best cyclists in the world. If you notice, there are certain stages where they wear helmets (time trials are one) and certain stages where they don't (mountain climbs).

Many also only wear helmets on the time trials for aerodynamic reasons.

Anyways, it's not "common sense" to wear helmets. If they don't really help, then it may be "common" but it's not "sense".

I ride bikes a lot. Sometimes I wear a helmet and sometimes I don't. Because of the thought processes I go through deciding if a ride is "helmet" or "no helment" though, I'm not going to trust any "helmets don't matter" statistics.

Basically I use the helmet to reduce the combined risk of which bike I'm riding, how fast, and where. If *anyone* else does that, there go your stats.

"Helmets don't work" is necessarily short, to counteract the emotional stuff. I used a helmet for mountain biking, so obviously it's more complicated than "they never work for anything".

But for the value of "work" most people are interested in (getting people to wear helmets on the road because they think it'll keep head injury patients out of the hospital), it's essentially true.

I think the truth a rider is going to know is that whenever you go down (same crash with/without helmet) you're better off with a helmet.

... maybe if they had good stats on what *wasn't* a mountain or bmx crash.

FWIW, I'm sure you're aware that the latest trend is brake-less fixed-gear track bikes for urban riding ... oh yeah, that's gonna help the stats:

http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,67149-0.html

odograph,

No, there are plenty of crashes when if you go down, you're no better off with a helmet than you would have been with a wooly cap, as some folks like to say. There are a few people who assert that some kinds of crashes are worse with a helmet than without. I don't consider myself one of them, but it's clear that if helmets provided a non-trivial benefit, at least one of the dozen or so countries which have tracked head injuries over time would have seen a discernible improvement as helmet usage increased.

Why didn't you approve my comment on this post?

Should I stop reading and posting here?

A short note telling me either would be polite.

Thanks.

Tommy,

As far as I know, no post of yours has been rejected or even held for moderation. I just checked the movable type comment database and saw nothing there. Please try again and I'll look for it carefully in my spam catcher (it could have been rejected due to some link or phrase which MT considers suspect).