Helmets - for whom? Cyclists or Motorists?


A few days a go we ran a post about a Dutch mother transporting her kids on a bicycle. As anticipated, we had a flurry of comments, wondering why the riders weren't wearing helmets. This question raises many others that are rarely asked. Like why don't motorists ride buses, instead of driving cars? Because buses are 25 times less likely to cause a motor vehicle death than cars. And if in 2004, there were 37,142 driver/occupant US road fatalities, compared to 725 pedacyclist deaths, why it is that cyclists should wear helmets and not motorists? (and it can't be because there are less bicycles out there, 'coz we already know that bike sales exceed cars.) It might be illegal, in some jurisdictions, to ride a bike without a helmet, but when cancer is the second greatest cause of death, in the USA for example, it's perfectly legal to smoke cigarettes, a known cause of cancer. Another report suggests that while deaths and injuries did fall in Australia after it was made compulsory for cyclists to wear helmets, that the number of cyclists also fell, by 40%. An issue noted by the British Medical Association, who holds the "long-held view that compulsion could discourage cycling, which would have a negative overall effect on public health. It has always maintained that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks." And has rejected the idea that cycle helmets should be compulsory. Let's not lose sight of the bigger picture here. Designing cities to include cycleways as legitimate public thoroughfares, not some tack-on to existing roadways will save many more lives (from increased exercise, and from less direct contact with automobiles). Bikes helmets are not preventative medicine, they are merely bandaids. (Some guidelines for safe city cycling can be found at bicyclesafe.)

Personally I survived cycling for 20 years before helmets became law in Australia. Conversely, a hardshell helmet saved from me from what couldn't been a very nasty encounter with a pothole. I'm neither for, nor against, helmets, but I am P.O'd that cars dominate so much of our city planning, when they cause such obvious and disproportionate harm, in all it's various guises. So let's not spend too much time worrying about who is or isn't wearing a helmet, when there are bigger fish to fry.