Are bike helmets keeping people from riding?on October 1, 2012 @ 11:57 am (Updated: 1:39 pm - 10/1/12 )
Bicyclists ride in Mexico City, which recently repealed its mandatory helmet law to encourage participation in a bike share program. (AP Photo/File)
Reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal makes a compelling case for not mandating helmets in the New York Times, citing research that finds cycling is safer than many other common activities. She finds that mandating helmets discourages people from riding.
"Statistically, if we wear helmets for cycling, maybe we should wear helmets when we climb ladders or get into a bath, because there are lots more injuries during those activities," says Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney.
KIRO Radio's Luke Burbank agrees.
"There's an argument that when you tell someone you have to wear a helmet to ride a bike you are telling them in a way riding a bike is dangerous. So you almost create this sense of fear and lack of safety," says Burbank.
"We don't wear helmets for every single activity. When I was a kid, nobody wore a bike helmet. We were fine. I rode my bike across all of Seattle," Burbank says.
According to de Jong, the benefits of not mandating helmets may outweigh the risks by 20 to 1. According to Rosenthal, the European Cyclists' Federation says that bicyclists in Europe have the same risk of serious injury as pedestrians per mile traveled.
Cities including Seattle are joining the ranks of those starting bike sharing programs of their own. It has co-host Dave Ross worrying about the impact of helmet laws on their success. (While Washington doesn't have a statewide bike helmet law, a number of cities and counties including King and Pierce mandate helmets for all riders.)
"You should be free to helmet up your child if you're concerned, but the thing that's killing these bike sharing programs is the inconvenience of having to carry a helmet with you or trying to provide helmets for everybody," argues Ross.
"It's not saying you can't make your kid wear a helmet or wear one yourself if you find it convenient, but why force it on people at the expense of a successful bike program?"
Mexico City recently repealed its helmet law to generate more interest in a new bike sharing program.
The issue is sparking plenty of debate with our listeners.
Rick on Orcas Island writes in favor of helmet laws:
I have never fallen and needed my helmet. However, my wife hit a pot hole and ended up in the ER with a broken cheek bone and micro surgery to repair her face. It would have been much more serious without the helmet. My son, when he was an early teen, fell and split his helmet. He was a little dinged, but the medics said he prevented serious injury by the helmet he was wearing. He got a new freebie for his efforts! So, 50 percent of our family benefited from wearing a helmet during falls.
Stephen in Seattle also writes in support of helmets:
An old coworker never used to wear a helmet. Then his mother came into the store and we told her and she cried enough to shame him into picking one up. So he started wearing one which was great because two weeks later he was riding home at night through the University District, an SUV turned and headed the wrong way down an alley. Josh went down in a skid on his bike -- the last thing that he saw before he passed out was the tire right before it drove over his head. A bike helmet prevented his head from being smashed like a watermelon.
But plenty of people agree with Dave and Luke.
Eric in Mount Vernon writes:
I have biked to and from work every day since I was in high school. I have done this in Olympia, Chicago, Anchorage, and when I lived in Antwerp. I never wear a helmet and it has never been a problem. As a cyclist it is your responsibility to know where every car is and assume they can NEVER see you. If you do this then cycling is safe in any city even when you are biking in the middle of winter in Alaska!
Heather in Auburn agrees:
One of the main reasons I don't ride more often is because my hair is a complete disaster after just a short ride with a helmet. We're talking, I really can't go anywhere without styling my hair all over again. That's why most of my rides are early in the morning so I can take a shower when I get home.
"Think about the number of times that somebody actually crashes on a bicycle and actually hits the ground and hurts their head," says Burbank. "It's terrible when it happens but it's not like it's happening a hundred times a morning."
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