New York's Governor Cuomo Considers Helmet Mandates for Car Drivers

©. Carlton Reid

He wants data? We've got data. And if it saves just one life.....

Recently Gersh Kuntzman of Streetsblog New York asked Governor Andrew Cuomo "if he might consider helmet mandates for car drivers, given that vast numbers of car drivers who in fatal crashes die as a result of head trauma, as opposed to bicyclists, who are often killed in ways that would render a helmet useless."

“I’m thinking,” the governor said after a long pause. “I don’t know enough. I’d like to see the data.”

Helmets for drivers has been a topic on TreeHugger for a while; I wondered in an earlier post:

We know that more people get traumatic brain injuries in cars than anywhere else. And it is not just because more people drive; we know that the rate of injury and death per million hours traveled is actually higher for drivers than it is for cyclists. So why don’t drivers have to wear helmets?

Having read my earlier post on car helmets, the editor of StreetsblogNYC asked me to write a guest post about the subject. For those who don't know it, "Streetsblog connects people to information about how to reduce dependence on private automobiles and improve conditions for walking, biking, and transit... Our writing raises the profile of these issues with policy makers and turns arcane topics like parking requirements and induced traffic into accessible stories for a broad audience."

I quoted study after study about how many head injuries are caused by car crashes, noting that 1.7 million cases of Traumatic Brain Injury occur every year in the US, and...between 50-70% are the result of a motor-vehicle crash. I also mentioned studies that showed that even the simplest helmets could cut deaths and serious injuries in half. I concluded:

That’s why it is so exciting that Gov. Cuomo is willing to consider helmet mandates for car drivers. Imagine, taking action that would prevent thousands of injuries, save millions of dollars in health-care costs, reduce insurance rates, free up hospital beds and reduce congestion, all while being seen to take on a big, entrenched auto industry.
If you want data, we’ve got data.

More in Streetsblog NYC: Op-Ed: Yes, Gov. Cuomo, Car Helmets Could Save Lives

Driving helmet in box

© Carlton Reid

Over on Forbes, Carlton Reid, source of many of my quotes and owner of the car helmet in the photos, covers the story as well.

The wearing of helmets for everyday motoring might be dismissed as crazy, but getting behind the wheel of a car is perhaps the riskiest thing we do every day, yet few of us give head safety while driving a second’s thought. Individual motor journeys are not particularly risky, but they are so routine and frequent that the overall risk, over time, becomes more significant than customarily understood.

Reid complains:

Statistically, and logically, it would make sense to take every safety precaution necessary when driving, including wearing helmets—but no brain injury organizations lobby for their use, never mind their mandatory use. Unlike for cycling, there are no campaigns urging the adoption of motoring helmets because “if it saved just one life, it would be worth it.”

So why are all these active transportation advocates (like me) demanding that drivers wear helmets? Mainly in response to the weird preoccupation with cyclists. As one Australian study noted,

Despite the risk of dying from head injury per hour being similar for unhelmeted cyclists and motor-vehicle occupants, cyclists alone have been required to wear head protection... a mandatory helmet law for these road users has the potential to save 17 times as many people from death by head injury as a helmet law for cyclists without the adverse effects of discouraging a healthy and pollution free mode of transport.