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To Encourage Biking, Lose the Helmets 1651

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the so-hot-you-can-fry-brains-on-the-pavement dept.
Hugh Pickens writes in about the detrimental effects of mandatory helmet laws (at least as applied to adults): "Elisabeth Rosenthal writes that in the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as pretty near God's truth but many European health experts have taken a very different view. 'Yes, there are studies that show that if you fall off a bicycle at a certain speed and hit your head, a helmet can reduce your risk of serious head injury,' writes Rosenthal. 'But such falls off bikes are rare — exceedingly so in mature urban cycling systems.' On the other hand, many researchers say, if you force people to wear helmets, you discourage them from riding bicycles causing more health problems like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Bicycling advocates say that the problem with pushing helmets isn't practicality but that helmets make a basically safe activity seem really dangerous, which makes it harder to develop a safe bicycling network like the one in New York City, where a bike-sharing program is to open next year. The safest biking cities are places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where middle-aged commuters are mainstay riders and the fraction of adults in helmets is minuscule. 'Pushing helmets really kills cycling and bike-sharing in particular because it promotes a sense of danger that just isn't justified — in fact, cycling has many health benefits,' says Piet de Jong. '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.'"
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To Encourage Biking, Lose the Helmets

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  • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:01AM (#41522733)

    The real problem is that I'm an adult and I can decide for myself whether or not I will wear a helmet. The government doesn't need to make this decision for me.

    • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:12AM (#41522785)
      No, the real problem is cyclists are small and drivers aren't given enough experience when learning to drive to identify small targets; They learn that pedestrian-sized obstacles are on pavements.

      Cyclists should wear helmets because it can save their life if hit by a car, not to stop a bruise when they fall over at traffic lights because their fancy shoes didn't unclip.
      • by dingen (958134) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:17AM (#41522813)

        You realize that is just a temporary problem which doesn't need a permanent fix? If you ditch the need for helmets, more people would start cycling, which will make motorists more aware of them. It might take a generation to get fully adjusted, but there are lots of European countries where drivers are fully used to having to watch out for people riding bicycles (and small scooters by the way).

        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:31AM (#41522913)

          It might take a generation to get fully adjusted

          Great, so we only have to deal with tens of thousands of people with brain injuries until everyone is adjusted. I have a better idea. Wear helmets, train (and punish if necessary) drivers, and build bike paths at the same time. And by the time everyone is fully adjusted, bike helmets will be the norm and the added safety margin from helmets will remain.

          • by dingen (958134) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:47AM (#41522987)

            Cycling will never become mainstream while helmet laws are enforced. In none of the countries where cycling is common it is required to where helmets and in every country where helmets are mandatory, cycling isn't very popular.

            So lose the helmets and learn to drive. It's the only way.

            I do agree with the bike lanes, but that's really an added extra, not a substitute for the above.

            And why is it such a problem to have to sit through a generation to profoundly improve something? The lack of long term solutions is exactly what is wrong with the world. Everyone wants everything now and that's just not feasible. The reality is that short term solutions generally make things worse in the long term, not better.

            • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:35AM (#41523221)

              there's also an element of risk compensation.

              http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/articles/archive/overtaking110906.html [bath.ac.uk]

              Drivers percieve cyclists wearing helmets as less fragile and drive closer to them and take more risks when overtaking. this of course means that they're more likely to hit and kill them.

              As always the problem can be summed up as:"Bad Drivers"

              • by dollar99 (922389) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @08:19AM (#41524595) Homepage
                Drivers who hit and kill cyclists never saw them in the first place, helmet or not. I had this debate with an anti-helmet buddy of mine who two weeks later was hit by a car and suffered a major concussion. The driver thought she hit a squirrel. He still has problems concentrating. I don't agree with helmet laws forcing people to not be stupid, but I know as many bikers who've been hit as I do that haven't.
                • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @08:57AM (#41525039)

                  Drivers who hit and kill cyclists never saw them in the first place, helmet or not. I had this debate with an anti-helmet buddy of mine who two weeks later was hit by a car and suffered a major concussion. The driver thought she hit a squirrel. He still has problems concentrating.
                  I don't agree with helmet laws forcing people to not be stupid, but I know as many bikers who've been hit as I do that haven't.

                  Seconded! I will never understand the anti-helmet crowd, there are more ways to get hurt while cycling than falling off your damn bike. I've been run over by a car twice while cycling (call me unlucky but the way I see it I'm actually quite lucky, I know of several cyclists and motor-bikers who did not survive being run over by a car just once). The first time it happened it was because a driver decided that a yield sign did not apply to him and the second time I was rammed by a guy who did not feel obligated to observe a red light at a pedestrian crossing. If anybody still has doubts about the value of bicycle helmets, trust me, when you are tumbling over the hood of a moving car with your head banging into glass and metal you appreciate the value of head protection. People have died from banging their head into the windshield wipers of a slow moving car or by smashing their scull on the asphalt on landing. If you are wearing a helmet both of those are survivable. Helmets are no magic bullet, they won't protect you from suffering spinal injury for example, but they sure do help.

            • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:18AM (#41523479)

              "...in every country where helmets are mandatory, cycling isn't very popular." -- > what a ridiculous generalization! Here in NZ. biking is very popular and one hardly sees a rider without a helmet and other safety / visibility aids. Helmets make good sense. If _you_ can be dissuaded from riding a bike by the fact that helmets are mandatory, please stay the fuck off, I don't want to have to swerve to miss your unconscious corpse because of your fashion hangups.

            • by Razgorov Prikazka (1699498) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:32AM (#41523579)
              > In none of the countries where cycling is common it is required to where helmets and in every country where helmets are mandatory, cycling isn't very popular.

              This is a correlation, not necessarily a causality.
              There is (for example) also the cultural difference to take into account. In (large parts of) Yurp nearly everyone had a bicycle, long before cars were common. So drivers were (from the beginning, say the 30's onwards) used to have cyclists and little mopeds / scooters sharing their road. In the US this was different.

              Besides, I wonder if regulation alone would discourage people. Are there less people using a car since seatbelts and/or head restraints became mandatory?
              Although I must say that mandatory helmets would make me sell my bike (and I am a vivid cyclist)! FU to anyone trying to shove that down my throat!

              To grandparent:
              >> It might take a generation to get fully adjusted [...]

              I HOPE NOT!!! First of all a good driver is one who anticipates on all kind of situations. Besides, if a school is build somewhere (and there is the possibility of children darting off onto the road)... and it takes a whole generation before drivers are adjusted to the new situation in the neighbourhood... mmmnot so good!
            • by Cinder6 (894572) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @09:49AM (#41525735)

              I really question whether helmets are the main reason people don't ride (no, I did not RTFA). Many states (almost half, I believe) don't require helmet use after 18. Three other reasons seem more likely:

              1. You are more exposed to the elements (extreme heat, extreme cold, rain, etc.)
              2. You are going shopping, and need more storage space than a backpack or basket
              3. You are too damned lazy

              I've worked (and previously lived) in a university town that bills itself as the "bike capital of the world", apparently never having heard of Amsterdam. In a given day, I will pass around a dozen bicyclists while driving to work. More than half don't wear helmets. The thing I've noticed is that the people who don't wear helmets are precisely the ones that should, as they tend to act like blithering idiots.

              I cannot count the number of times I've seen a helmetless rider race through a busy intersection out-of-turn. Even more alarming, I can't count the number of times I've had to swerve to avoid a bicyclist who, at night on a street without street lights, decided it was a great idea to dart in front of my car without even a light or reflectors (my brother actually hit someone that did this; luckily, the guy wasn't hurt and didn't press charges).

              Riders that wear helmets, on the other hand, tend to be much more courteous. They wait their turn at intersections and generally follow the law better than those who don't wear them. For myself, I wear a helmet simply because I don't see a reason not to. It's like seat belts in cars. I'd rather wear a helmet and not need it than not wear one and need it.

          • by ag0ny (59629) <javi@@@lavandeira...net> on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:19AM (#41523135) Homepage

            You have no idea about what you're talking about. I live in Tokyo. Here hundreds of thousands take their bicycles everyday to go just about everywhere. If what you say was true, then thousands would die every year from bike accidents because wearing helmets is completely voluntary.

            Guess what? That isn't happening. People aren't dying left and right.

            I can't speak for others, but I can tell you that *I* wouldn't ride my bike as often if I had to carry an annoying helmet with me every time I went somewhere.

            • by LoztInSpace (593234) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:40AM (#41523639)
              WTF? You do not need to carry your helmet anywhere you don't carry your bike. I lock up my helmet with my bike. If I'm on the bike I have the helmet on. If I'm in the bar/restaurant/shopping centre/office/cinema/swimming pool/squash court/supermarket/KFC/whatever, I don't.
              Same way I don't carry my airbag with me when I park the car.
            • by FatAlb3rt (533682) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @09:55AM (#41525831) Homepage
              For me, I'm wearing the helmet. Catastrophic frame failure two months ago - the head tube separated from the top tube and down tube while riding on flat, smooth road. Knocked me unconscious briefly - I took the brunt of the fall on my left temple and it turned that side of my face into goulash.

              Two things worked for me - I wasn't going real fast (<15 mph) and I was wearing a helmet. I shudder to think what I could have been up against had my head hit the concrete directly.

              I'll probably never have this happen again, nor am I likely to meet someone who has it happen to them (oddly, this bike had about 6000 miles on it). But the inconvenience of wearing the helmet is inconsequential when compared to the benefit.
          • by Paul Jakma (2677) <paul+slashdot@jakma.org> on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:10AM (#41523419) Homepage Journal

            Good meta-studies (i.e. a study which systematically searches the literature for primary research on a topic, and then aggregates the results - in order to cancel out biases) suggest there is no significant overall injury/death mitigation benefit to cyclists from wearing helmets. There is a benefit in terms of head trauma, however it appears to be cancelled out by increases in other trauma. See: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000145751100008X [sciencedirect.com] (and unfortunately, you need to pay to read the full text or have access to a university subscription, but you can see the blob-charts for free).

        • by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:32AM (#41523199) Homepage

          "If you ditch the need for helmets, more people would start cycling"

          I simply don't believe this.

          I don't know a single person that doesn't bike because they have to wear a helmet. And I suspect anyone that reports such is just looking for a socially acceptable reason for their lack of exercise.

          "You realize that is just a temporary problem"

          So we'll just let people get hit by cars until the cars stop being dumb?

          Great plan. I've been waiting 100 years for that to happen. Maybe Google will finally solve it.

          • by dingen (958134) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:40AM (#41523249)

            I do believe that removing unneeded hassles, people will be more inclined to do something. In countries where cycling is common (Denmark, the Netherlands, Japan) people regard riding a bicycle as common as taking a walk. Would you walk as much if you had to wear a helmet?

            And in these same countries where cycling is common, cyclists aren't hit by cars at all on a large scale. How could that be? Could it be those people are actually smarter or better at driving, or does it make more sense to assume these motorists are simply used to having cyclists on the road? And if they can become used to it, why couldn't people in other countries as well?

            • by fearofcarpet (654438) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:17AM (#41523467)

              And in these same countries where cycling is common, cyclists aren't hit by cars at all on a large scale. How could that be? Could it be those people are actually smarter or better at driving, or does it make more sense to assume these motorists are simply used to having cyclists on the road? And if they can become used to it, why couldn't people in other countries as well?

              In the Netherlands, if you see a car with a "D" on the license plate (or almost anything other than "NL"), ride defensively. The difference between Dutch drivers' awareness of cyclists and foreigners is immense, not because they are better drivers, but because they're so used to bikes (and most drivers are cyclists, too). They instinctively look to the right before making a turn, slow down to let bikes through, don't crowd, don't pass too close, and leave space for bikes when they are stopped at a light or in traffic. (Which is particularly surprising considering the total disregard cyclists seem to have for the rules.)

              Contrast that to (my experience biking in) the US where motorists angrily accelerate around you, often giving you a dirty look for inconveniencing them with your stupid bike as they narrowly miss you with their side-view mirror. And where they just suddenly veer right, into a parking spot, even if there is a bike lane (which they love to double park in) without noticing the cyclist that almost face-plants on their trunk. I've lived in a few big cities in the US, and it was a common joke that you're not really a cyclist until you've been hit by a car (I went completely through a windshield). I've also lived in a few small towns, where you'd have to be crazy to bike because everything is 20 miles apart and uphill and motorists treat you with an odd reverence.

          • by Havenwar (867124) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:53AM (#41523747)

            Now you know of one!

            Well, technically I don't have to wear a helmet. See, the law here in Sweden says it's mandatory for people up to 15 years of age to wear helmets. Since I hadn't ridden a bike since about that time I had no idea it wasn't mandatory, so for years I was thinking of all the use I could have had of a bicycle but found ways to work around it - mainly walking a lot - because it's too awkward to carry around a bicycle helmet everywhere. It's too expensive to leave on a clothes rack, too bulky to carry around easily. A real annoyance. Of course that's not the case if you ONLY ride for sport, or if you ONLY ride to and from work where you have a locker or whatnot... but if you use a bike as your main transportation you find yourself carrying a helmet with you to cafés, meetings, shops, the cinema, concerts, and so on.

            Actually I've seen a guy being refused entry to a concert because he had a bike helmet with him. Apparently the day before someone had swung one around by the straps and smashed someone's face in. So I guess they do have their uses... but really. No.

            Anyway, now that I've found out I don't need to wear a helmet, a bicycle is a much more interesting option, that would increase how far from my home I could travel, and let me get to cheaper stores further away and so on. Of course by some coincidence now I live in a place where everything is in walking distance... but if that changes, I'll be getting myself a bicycle. As long as they don't change the law.

            If helmets become mandatory, I'll stick to walking and public transport. It's less inconvenient.

          • by MasterOfGoingFaster (922862) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @07:56AM (#41524343) Homepage

            I don't know a single person that doesn't bike because they have to wear a helmet.

            You don't know ANY women?

          • by Dahamma (304068) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:24PM (#41532321)

            I don't know a single person that doesn't bike because they have to wear a helmet. And I suspect anyone that reports such is just looking for a socially acceptable reason for their lack of exercise.

            I'd never bike if I had to wear a helmet! And I stopped driving once they made seat belts mandatory. In fact, I stopped walking as well after a cop told me I had to wear pants outside. Now I pretty much just sit at home doing nothing. But at least I don't have to wear pants.

        • by xenobyte (446878) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:22AM (#41523511)

          ... but there are lots of European countries where drivers are fully used to having to watch out for people riding bicycles (and small scooters by the way).

          "Watch out" is right. Here in Copenhagen the traffic is a nightmare for everybody else than the cyclists because the cyclists have zero respect for the traffic laws and the other parts of traffic. Red lights are routinely ignored by a majority (95% turn right on red and 50-60% ride straight through intersections on red) and if you're driving a car, expect cyclists from every direction in intersections, regardless of the light. People in buses routinely get hurt due to emergency braking as a result of cyclists doing suicidal stuff in front of the bus.

          Oh, and they continue to be a nuisance when parked as well because most bike riders seem deadly afraid of walking which results in huge piles of seemingly discarded bicycles packed tightly around entrances to malls, stations and similar. There will be bikes parked against almost all lamp posts, traffic signs, free-standing trees and walls.

          The police did a raid a few months ago at a major intersection. They were in uniform and had marked cars with flashing lights parked nearby, and yet they actually managed to run out of fines, writing up over 500 cyclists in less than an hour, most for running the red light or riding on the pavement or crosswalk. Some actually claimed that it used to be legal to ignore the red light, or that the traffic lights plain and simple didn't apply to bicyclists...

        • by Hadlock (143607) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:36AM (#41523617) Homepage Journal

          If you ditch the need for helmets, more people would start cycling,

          No, if Walmart, Target and Toys'R'Us would stop selling 900 variety of mountain bikes and more road/commuter bikes, more people would start cycling. The problem is that you get a crappy mountain bike with terrible fat high rolling resistance tires that roll to a stop in about 20 ft. You put up with it as a kid because hey - at least you can go more than three blocks from the house in an hour. It's not like you can drive. Americans grow up thinking that bicycles are these awful, miserable mechanical contraptions designed to wear out childen. Most Americans have never ridden a proper bicycle with smooth tires and geometry designed to go more than five miles. Walmart and Target both only sell one road bike, it's that awful yellow GMC Yukon with the grip shifters (go look at it some time, it's in every big box store in america) and occasionally, very recently they have started carrying some "fixie" bikes.
           
          Put real, rideable bikes back in big box stores and you'll see a resurgence in bicycle commters... in about 15 years. I see tons of illegal immigrants huffing and puffing around Dallas on walmart brand (Nexus, Magma) mountain bikes, simply because they can't find adult road bikes that fit their smaller stature. If you head over to your LBS you can find good road bikes, but joe average doesn't typically drop $600 on a road bike for little jimmy who is going to outgrow it anyways.

          • So wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

            by istartedi (132515) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @10:07AM (#41526005) Journal

            These box stores sell what customers want. The problem with cycling for most of us is that RACERS KILLED IT:

            1. We don't want toe clips. 2. We don't want handlebars that force you to hunch over. 3. We don't want tires that will go out of true after 200 miles on potholed roads. 4. We don't want to spend any more than $500. 5. Steel is fine. Really. Sturdiness is hella more important than saving a few blasted kg. Yes. I said kg. Not grams. 6. We want a seat you can actually sit on..

            Anyway, you see a lot of steel cruisers here with fat tires (but they are slick usually), wide handlebars, steel frames, and AFAIK most have on gear but they have handle brakes. People don't want overpricd finicky racing machines that cost as much as a car. We're not Lance Armstrong.

        • by SternisheFan (2529412) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @07:19AM (#41523961)
          About 30 years back, long before there were helmet laws I was in a serious bicycle accident, suffered serious head injury. I've long since recovered, though the facial scars remain, and I'll always have a titanium wire keeping one piece of my skull connected to the other part. And no other vehicle was involved, on a dark road my 10 speed bikes tire got caught in a sewer grating, propelling me forward and off the bike. My head impacted with the I-beam that guard rails are comnnected to. Lost the lower 'orbit' of my right eye, that is what supports the eyeball. I was fortunate that my eye 'fell back' and I did not lose vision in that eye. A rib graft was done by the great doctor's of Manhattan Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat to replace the 'orbit'. I went through about 3 years of going to doctors and undergoing operations before I felt good enough to go back to work. And I feel that, compared to othersm I got off easy. No lasting traumatic brain injury. So I feel I am 'qualified' to comment on this topic.

          Protective gear in any sport or recreational activity is the intelligent way to go. Whether or not laws force people to protect themselves from serious injury, I say this... Wear the damn helmets people! It's better to risk looking a little 'dorky' than to risk your health and future. In my humble opinion.

      • by mwvdlee (775178) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:22AM (#41522843) Homepage

        Then perhaps US drivers should get the same type of driving instructions given in, say, Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

        • by dingen (958134)

          That would be a good idea even without the cyclists. Proper instructions are key to making roads safe. Look at Germany: no speed limits, yet because of decent training, the Autobahn is less dangerous than the roads are in a lot of other countries.

        • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:59AM (#41523049)
          I'm all for this. In fact, I think it should be mandatory to ride a moped for at least one year before you can drive a car. You can ride a moped at 16 in the UK after taking a £100 day course, meaning you could start to drive at 17 as you can now. Not only will it make you more aware of how traffic reacts to smaller vehicles, but it gives you invaluable experience of how handling changes in the wet, which isn't always obvious to a new car driver (We don't do skid-pan training here).
          Then again, I also think drivers should be retested every 10 years until their 60th birthday, then every 5 years. I see yuppies swerving in and out of traffic on the motorway daily, but a pensioner pulling out of the wrong side of a junction into oncoming traffic is something else.
      • by xaxa (988988) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:25AM (#41522871)

        Cyclists should wear helmets because it can save their life if hit by a car.

        That's exactly the kind of injury that cycle helmets aren't much use at preventing -- the speeds are too high.

        Also, some research showed that drivers overtook helmeted cyclists with less room compared to unhelmeted cyclists, i.e. the drivers take a higher risk because they assume the helmet is protecting the cyclist.

        not to stop a bruise when they fall over at traffic lights because their fancy shoes didn't unclip

        That's the kind of injury the helmet might help with, and people cycling for sport should probably wear helmets. (Just like people driving for sport wear helmets.)

        • by ISoldMyLowIdOnEbay (802697) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:33AM (#41523207)
          A car pulled out in front of me when I was doing about 15mph along an urban road. I hit the side of it and flew over the top of the windscreen, landing on the road the other side. I had a few scrapes, a torn jacket, and a broken cycle helmet. If I hadn't been wearing one, it would have been my head that hit the road and scraped along it. Having said that, wearing or not wearing a helmet shouldn't be a matter of compulsion if the evidence is not conclusive. I will continue to wear one, though.
        • by slim (1652) <john@hartnup3.14.net minus pi> on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:59AM (#41523351) Homepage

          Also, some research showed that drivers overtook helmeted cyclists with less room compared to unhelmeted cyclists, i.e. the drivers take a higher risk because they assume the helmet is protecting the cyclist.

          I get the impression that a number of car drivers are more hostile towards "serious" cyclists than "casual" cyclists (my choice of words). That is, they resent lycra-clad, helmet-wearing cyclists going fast on racing bikes, and are more accepting towards people in ordinary clothes on modest bikes. That might partially explain the result you report.

      • by Splab (574204)

        When you get hit by a car, your helmet wont do didly, unless you happen to be very lucky and fall just right.
        When you are run over by a car, you will most likely be pushed ahead and subsequently be run over - Helmets help cases like my sister, who for some reason is unable to fend off the oncoming ground with her arms and thus always lands head first (3 concussions and counting, still wont wear her helmet).

        And I believe the researchers conclusion is wrong, helmets wont make something that is basically safe

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by WillKemp (1338605)

        I've been cycling for about 40 years. Iin that time i've come off my bike about 4 times - and never come close to hitting my head. In most parts of Australia it's compulsory to wear a helmet, but i never have.

        Wearing a helmet is much more dangerous than not wearing one. No helmets ever have wide brims - for very good reasons. That means, if you wear a helmet, you have a much higher risk of getting skin cancer than you would have of getting a head injury if you didn't. I wear a wide brimmed hat.

      • by telchine (719345) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:10AM (#41523415)

        Cyclists should wear helmets because it can save their life if hit by a car

        [Citation Needed]

        There's no evidence to suggest that a helmet offers protection in a collision with a car.

        AFAIK, the only credible research implicates that there may be some benefit in a low speed (aprox ~15mph) impact.

        There's a good write-up of all the issues surronding bicycle helmets here:

        http://chapmancentral.co.uk/wiki/Cycle_helmet_debate [chapmancentral.co.uk]

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:57AM (#41523785) Journal

        Cyclists should wear helmets because it can save their life if hit by a car, not to stop a bruise when they fall over at traffic lights because their fancy shoes didn't unclip.

        There was an article on Slashdot a couple of years ago that was a large study that refuted the idea that helmets increase safety. They made three conclusions:

        • If you are involved in a collision without a helmet then you are marginally (but not statistically significantly) more likely to die (there's a fairly small range of accident types where a helmet can protect your head and you won't be killed by anything else).
        • If you are involved in a collision with a helmet then you are significantly more likely to suffer spinal damage and permanent paralysis (bike helmets are badly designed and unless you are hit directly from the top typically just translate the force into a shear across the top of the spine. The amount of force required to do this is significantly less than the force required to crack a skull).
        • If you wear a helmet then you are significantly more likely to be involved in an accident.

        There are several reasons for the last point. Cyclists wearing helmets subconsciously think that they are safer and take more risks. Drivers drive closer to cyclists with helmets because they perceive them as less fragile. Helmets upset the airflow around your head and so reduce your spacial and situational awareness.

        I do see a lot of people driving at dusk without lights around here though, and there are lots of studies that show that this significantly increases your chance of being in an accident.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:12AM (#41522787)

      and then society has to pay higher hospital bills and health insurance to pay for your health care as you live the rest of your post-car-crash life as a vegetable. So yes, society does have a material interest in having you not act like an idiot.

      same goes for smoking, seat belts, and suicide. you're being selfish if you just think its only about you.

    • by CodeheadUK (2717911) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:14AM (#41522797) Homepage

      Agreed.

      I've cycled to work for over 20 years and never worn a helmet. In that time, I've been knocked off twice by stupid car drivers. A helmet would have made no difference at all on either occasion.

      However, I make my kids wear helmets because they wobble around at low speed and have no road sense. When they're old enough they can make an informed choice too.

      • by deoxyribonucleose (993319) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:28AM (#41523185)

        Agreed.

        I've cycled to work for over 20 years and never worn a helmet. In that time, I've been knocked off twice by stupid car drivers. A helmet would have made no difference at all on either occasion.

        Of course, had you hit your head, you probably wouldn't be posting this. The anthropic principle as applied to safety... or why anecdotal evidence is a contradiction in terms.

        I used to bike helmetless everywhere, but started wearing one five years ago, since I feel safer if my wife does, and don't want to be a hypocrite. It's not that high price to pay for a slightly reduced risk. Mandatory helmet laws, however, are counterproductive. I seem to recall a similar analysis a couple of years back.

      • by drooling-dog (189103) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @07:37AM (#41524125)

        I've also had a couple of biking accidents where my helmet didn't play a role, but if you get thrown from your bike it's not hard to see that your head is extremely vulnerable. My GF works with traumatic brain injury patients at a local hospital, and words can hardly describe how devastating these injuries can be, or how instantly your life can change forever. So other people can do what they want, but I'm not going out biking without the helmet. It takes all of 5 seconds.

    • by Attila the Bun (952109) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:35AM (#41523607)

      If the risk was obvious, I would agree. However I'm not sure that one's vulnerability when cycling is really appreciated - just as people didn't used to feel vulnerable when driving without seatbelts. Even a minor fall onto hard pavement can easily break bones, and if the broken bone happens to be the skull then you can be in real trouble.

      A little while ago I took a tumble when a startled animal ran into my bike. I landed on my helmet, which cracked, and was dazed enough to earn a day in hospital. Later, when a road safety group visited my workplace, I got a chance to find out roughly what kind of impact I had taken. They took the remains of my helmet and hit it with a hammer on an undamaged area until it showed damage similar to the original fall. It required quite a serious blow with a heavy hammer. They then delivered a similar blow to a force-measuring stand, which indicated that the force delivered was far more than that needed to break a skull.

      In short, even on an empty country lane an unlucky fall can kill you. Until recently I didn't know that, and I suspect lots of other people don't know it either.

  • Can't agree more (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2NO@SPAMgdargaud.net> on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:03AM (#41522741) Homepage
    If you fall by yourself off a bike (losing grip too fast in a curve, hitting the side of a sidewalk), you are more likely to injure your wrists or scrape your legs. There won't be much difference for the head. But if you get hit by a car, a cm of Styrofoam is not going to make much of a difference. And I say this as someone who wears a helmet mountain biking and takes it off on the bike lanes.

    The US is absurd: you don't have to wear a helmet on a motorbike, but you need one on a pedal bike ?!?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by elhefe38 (1250544)

      But if you get hit by a car, a cm of Styrofoam is not going to make much of a difference. And I say this as someone who wears a helmet mountain biking and takes it off on the bike lanes.

      I know at least 5 cases where this cm of styrofoam *made* a difference between a light injury and a very severe one. The latest case did not involved a car at all. I guess you will find out you are wrong the hard way, although I do not wish that to you...

    • The US is absurd: you don't have to wear a helmet on a motorbike, but you need one on a pedal bike ?!?

      I don't think that's the law; a least in my state, you have to wear a helmet until you turn 18, after which it is your choice.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:15AM (#41522807)

      And a motorcycle helmet actually illustrates your point really well. To make "being hit by a car" OK on a pedal bicycle you would need a motorcyle style helmet, but obviously no-one is going to wear one of those to ride a bike, they're heavy and awkward and expensive. So they have these smaller, lighter helmets. And they're certified, they have logos on and everything. But wait, what are they certified for?

      Well they're certified for falling off the bike and hitting your head on the ground. Low speed impact simulated by a device that thumps the helmet. No crash dummies, no tonne of steel crashing into the cyclist, just a small metal piston and a guy with a clipboard. And those sort of impacts do happen... if you're five and still learning to ride, or if you're a BMX stunt cyclist, or maybe if you're mountain biking. But does it happen on the roads? Not really. No, on the roads what happens is that cyclists get mown down by inatttentive drivers turning across their path, or they ride into a suddenly opened car door, that sort of thing and the helmet doesn't do shit. So why bother with it?

      • If you get hit by a car, you're doing it wrong. Actually, I hit a car door once, my sternum hurt for about a year, but I'm pretty sure my helmet interfaced with the cement when I bounced off and hit the ground. Now I eschew the door zone.
        If you presume homicidal intent, it is fairly easy to avoid the cars.

    • I crash on a regular enough schedule that I prefer a skater's helmet so I don't have to replace it every time. Wearing the helmet allows me to tumble (gracefully?) and save the parts of my body that aren't my head from an awful lot of hard use. (id est wrists, elbows, knees.)
      Here in the People's Republic of California, AFAIK there is a law requiring anyone under 18 years of age on anything with wheels to wear helmets, but apparently its pretty much a secret known to but a few. We have a helmet law for motor

  • Australia (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:11AM (#41522773) Journal

    Australia is an oft-cited example. Many Australian territories passed mandatory helmet laws for cycling. Off the top of my head, cycling fell by about 40% in the aftermath, and the injury rate went *up*. (Of course the injury rate may have gone up because the people who were helmet wearers in the first place, and didn't stop cycling, were higher risk takers - and removing the other 40% who were not risk takers from the cycling pool made the accident rate go up - note rate, not absolute value).

    Another experiment someone did in Britain was to fit an ultrasonic measuring system to a bicycle to measure how close cars were passing. They tried riding in various different manners, for example further from the kerb (tr.US: curb), with helmet, without helmet, dressed as a woman etc. He found that as a hemetless woman, cars gave him the greatest amount of room, and as a helmeted man, the least amount of room. http://www.drianwalker.com/overtaking/overtakingprobrief.pdf [drianwalker.com]

    There's also the theory that the more cyclists on the road, the lower the accident *rate* (absolute numbers may go up) because car drivers are just more used to seeing them. Holland has probably the highest rate of regular cycling, probably the lowest rate of helmet wearing, and probably the lowest cycle accident rate.

    In summary, I don't think helmets ever should be made mandatory, and may actually have the unintended consequence of making the remaining cyclists less safe.

    • by Chrisq (894406) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:17AM (#41522815)

      They tried riding in various different manners, for example further from the kerb (tr.US: curb), with helmet, without helmet, dressed as a woman etc. He found that as a hemetless woman, cars gave him the greatest amount of room, and as a helmeted man, the least amount of room.

      So rather than a helmet law there should be a law that cyclists should dress as women. I could go with that!

      • by thegarbz (1787294)

        So rather than a helmet law there should be a law that cyclists should dress as women. I could go with that!

        Cyclists don't need such a law for motivation.

        *ducks and runs from an angry tight licra wearing leg shaving mob*

    • Re:Australia (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Spacejock (727523) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:22AM (#41522839) Homepage
      I quit cycling and sold my bike when they introduced mandatory helmet laws in Australia. Many years (and quite a few kg) later I caved in and bought a bike, but it still seems ridiculous that I have to wear a helmet to cycle 500 metres to the local shops. On the other hand, when I'm riding 40-50km distances on my road bike I'd rather wear a helmet and gloves because I ride faster and travel on a lot of roads with traffic.
    • Off the top of my head, cycling fell by about 40% in the aftermath,

      It should perhaps be noted that approved helmets at the time looked like this [google.com.au].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:24AM (#41522865)

    I am sitting right now in the Surgical ICU of a level 1 trauma center. 3 of our 34 patients have serious intracranial hemorrhages from bicycle crashes.

  • by thsths (31372) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:26AM (#41522889)

    > "maybe we should wear helmets when we climb ladders or get into a bath"

    Of course we should wear a helmet (or better a harness and a safety rope) when climbing ladders. It is know to be one of the most dangerous activities in a normal household.

    But you also have to look at the context. Free-climbing for example is technically much more dangerous than climbing a ladder, but people are typically skilled and very concentrated when they do it. Average folk climbing a ladder are inexperienced and often distracted. This combination can make any activity dangerous.

  • Driver's education (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:27AM (#41522891)

    In The Netherlands, part of the success is in the fact that sharing the road with bicycles is considered an important part of driver education (and has been for a long time). In cities with (almost) all bicycle lanes separate from the main road, no driving exams are done (example: Almere, the 6th city of the Netherlands has no possibility to do driving exams). Any mistake where a bicyclist is not given the space and care (s)he deserves results in failing the exam, so this part is taken very seriously. In additions, drivers are always held responsible in accidents invoolving bicycles.

    As a result, car drivers are very careful around bicyclists and they need not wear helmets. Cycling is considered safe. These factors make more people want to use the bicycle.

  • by hughbar (579555) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:46AM (#41522977) Homepage
    I ride a bike in London, don't own a car and am in my 60s, to declare interest. I don't wear a helmet and am unwilling to do so.

    The arguments that I citing in the heading are summarised here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Problem_of_Social_Cost [wikipedia.org] that is, neither car nor bike is particularly 'wrong' about any of this. The best thing [that we don't really have in London] is safe bike lanes.

    However there's also more economics that probably shows that safety features make activities more unsafe by making the operators more reckless: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Peltzman [wikipedia.org] the younger bikers who run lights seem to prove this.

    Finally I like to appear as a soft, helmetless pink squishy thing with white hair, I suspect these signals make motorists more careful around me. But, for certain, the debate tends to be emotion rather than reason and statistics.
  • by dutchd00d (823703) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:21AM (#41523145) Homepage

    Yes, Amsterdam has lots of bikes, but it also has many dedicated cycle paths and car drivers who are conditioned to expect cyclists everywhere. I doubt that the relatively low number of cyclists with head injuries is due to them not wearing helmets.

    (BTW: protip, dear tourist: if you are in the Netherlands and the pavement under your feet has a reddish-brown color, you are probably standing on a cycle path. Get off unless you enjoy non-helmet wearing cyclists swearing at you).

  • by SwedishPenguin (1035756) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:20AM (#41523491)

    The keyword here is "mature urban cycling systems". I'm pretty sure no US cities can even remotely compare to Amsterdam or Copenhagen (I've biked in both and you really notice that the bike is considered the equal of the car, not an afterthought as is so common), neither can my city (Stockholm). When bikes interact with cars to such a large extent and the bike network tends to suddenly disappear, leaving cyclists to biking on roads with motorists who tend not to notice cyclists. This is a big problem in Stockholm and I recently biked in San Francisco where it seems to be an even bigger problem, a motorist completely cut me off in order to park when I was coming fast in the bike lane, I was barely able to brake in time, this is even worse than I've ever experienced in Stockholm where motorists like to use bike lanes as "temporary" parking spots, but at least look around first when driving into a bike lane. In an environment like this, I would never leave the helmet unless I knew I was not going to interact with cars at all during my trip.

  • by VorpalRodent (964940) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @07:12AM (#41523917)
    I'm just glad someone is finally remarking how silly this is. I've been saying for years that ladder helmets are necessary. My kids, before doing any dangerous activity, go to the closet and get their helmet out. Whether that be their ladder-climbing helmet, their swing set helmet, or their swimming pool slide helmet, they know that being safe is better than being dead. Anything that requires being more than standing height from the ground requires a helmet. The kids are excited about it, too - for their birthdays this year, they know they'll be getting new "going down the stairs" helmets.

Nothing will dispel enthusiasm like a small admission fee. -- Kim Hubbard

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