A small contribution to the Great Helmet Debate

I showed my friend Andy a British Medical Journal article called “The Dangers of Helmets“, which argues against bicycle helmet laws.

The basic points are:

  1. Requiring helmets gives an impression that cycling is more dangerous than walking or driving, this scares off people who would be healthier if they cycled.
  2. If a helmet is a legal requirement, people will think that simply having one is adequate, instead of learning how to bike cautiously.
  3. Helmets don’t actually protect riders (justification provided via a cartload of what is, to my eyes, rather questionable statistical analysis.)

His response was thought provoking:

This sounds an awful lot like the arguments given against seatbelts when they were first made a legal necessity.

  • Car manufacturers didn’t like them because they gave consumers the impression that their products weren’t safe.
  • Many drivers didn’t like them because they felt confined, and actually thought the belt prevented them from being able to “bail out” in an impending crash!
  • Other lame arguments abounded, like the fact that seatbelts can break ribs and cause internal injuries in an accident. Also, the argument that people will drive less cautiously when wearing a seatbelt was used, too.

Proper safety equipment saves the lives of motorcyclists on a daily basis. Appropriate gear on a motorcycle consists of the following:

  • A good fitting DOT approved helmet
  • An armored and padded leather or kevlar riding jacket
  • Chaps or riding pants
  • Riding gloves or gauntlets
  • Appropriate footwear

What do you think your chances are of avoiding serious injury or even surviving after falling off of a motorcycle at 65 MPH, without all or most of the above?

Motorcyclists that get into high-speed accidents without safety equipment often get SEVERE injuries. We’re talking multiple compound fractures, nearly severing limbs, and flesh scraped down to the bone. Not to mention fatal head and neck injuries, severe disfiguration, etc. etc.

Obviously, falling off of a bike at 20 MPH is a little different. Neck-down injuries would more likely include contusions, road rash and lacerations, maybe a broken bone or two; relatively minor stuff. But, hitting your head on the pavement at 20 could still cause severe injury or death.

Also, motorcyclists that wear all of the correct gear (vs. a tiny helmet, jeans, and a t-shirt) are usually the ones riding the most responsibly.

So, in my opinion, arguing that helmets are ineffective or that they will cause reckless cycling is unfounded bulls**t.


There are a small number of cyclists on the road, and they sustain a small number of severe head injuries annually. Would instating and enforcing a bicycle helmet law be cost effective? Would it prevent injuries that cost the public money, or would it just cost more money in law enforcement? Or, more likely, would it just not be enforced at all, and therefore be a waste of everyone’s time?

Maybe that same money should be used to do research into the effectiveness of bike helmets, possibly improving them? Or, maybe it should be used to provide subsidies or rebates to make good helmets more affordable for those individuals riding $25 bikes that can’t afford a $40 helmet?

Or, maybe it should be used for education; try to make people *want* helmets, rather than trying to force them to wear them? After all, look at how the motorcycle helmet law has worked out; people that don’t want to wear helmets get the cheapest, tiniest little helmet they can find. They’re concerned with avoiding a ticket, not with their personal safety.

Maybe bikes should be regulated a little bit more? People should have training in safe riding technique and proper maintenance before they’re allowed to ride a bike on public streets?

In summary:

  1. [Good quality, properly-fitting] helmets obviously save lives, so stop arguing about that.
  2. There are a lot of other socio-economical issues that need to be addressed before you go making bike helmets a legal requirement.

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