Why We Shouldn’t Bike with a Helmet
The starkest example is probably New Zealand, where the trend in cyclist head injury rates remained unchanged through a massive increase in helmet use from under 50% to nearly 100% in a single year, following passage of a helmet law. If you look at the injury trends for cyclists and pedestrians, you cannot tell which is which, and you certainly can't tell which year brought a law which promised to prevent 85% of cyclist head injuries.
If they shatter, maybe you could send them back to the manufacturer for a refund instead of hanging them on a wall.
Think I'll keep riding with helmets.
Both are fallacious; cycling is not dangerous, and helmets do not make it safer.
However, it is a meme that is very hard to shift, and is endlessly reinforced. I wrote an article about this some time ago:
One bit of research Mikael didn't share were the studies that show on a national level, local level, and even down to single intersections that increases in the rate of cycling reduce the rate of cycling accidents and death. There is safety in numbers and you are discouraging potential cyclists. I'm sure you don't mean to endanger yourself and other cyclists in this way but there it is.
I was in a serious cycling accident this August during a 1000K endurance race when I was hit from behind by a distracted motorist. I did not see him coming and in the crash broke 24 of my bones. Luckily none of them was my skull, although my head did shatter the car's windshield. Four surgeries and six weeks of hospitalization later, I am walking and will ride again. The helmet saved my life - I'm convinced of that. Am I important? Should I have been sacrificed to the greater good of fear-free cycling? I don't know - ask my kids.
CYCLING IS DANGEROUS! This is not a statement to scare away potential cyclists, it's the truth. I'm a committed ultra-distance racer, but anyone knows that cars weigh several tons and it takes NOTHING for a one to drift into the shoulder and kill or seriously injure someone on a bike. Extremely experienced cyclists are killed all the time. Helmets do not make a difference in all crashes, but a helmet not only saved my life, it likely prevented me from sustaining a traumatic brain injury. Have you ever spent time on a traumatic brain injury rehabilitation ward? I suggest anyone thinking that helmets are not necessary should at least pop in and see what those folks are dealing with. What's the risk in wearing a helmet? Looking like a dork? Making people afraid of cycling? In my experience, more cyclists SHOULD be afraid of what the dangers are than they seem to be. Have you been in Manhattan lately?
Urban cycling with dedicated lanes, large numbers of cyclists, and clearly enforced rules, like those I observed in Munich this summer, are so different from areas where cyclists are not separated by sidewalks, buffers, etc. from cars. These statistics are nonsense. Helmets clearly save lives and protect riders from traumatic brain injury in many cases. Do they work in all cases? Of course not. Do they promote fear? Not necessarily, but a little fear is not a bad thing.
Let me ask you this, if your wife was hit by a car while cycling and landed on her head, would you want her to have a helmet on just in case or does your faith in statistics lead you to say, no- I'll just take what I get. You know what's fallacious? Thinking that experience on a bike protects you from serious injury.
Your argument is despicable, really.
So does this mean people shouldn't wear helmets when they ride their bikes? Should we make it even safer by removing brakes as well? No. Having an accident while wearing a helmet could be safer than having an accident not wearing a helmet, but wearing a helmet is not going to make it any worse. Just like with car insurance I'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. When I have car insurance I'm not looking to have my car stolen or get in an accident, but if I do I know it's there.
I agree that there is a problem with helmets, but it's not the helmet that is the problem, rather what lies inside it. The campaign shouldn't be just to wear a helmet, but when you do wear a helmet ride safe. Don't think that because you have a helmet that you have an invincibility star. Safer riding while wearing helmets should be the main goal, not getting rid of helmets altogether.
"Fewer cyclists means that our hospitals will be busier than ever. Treating heart disease, certain forms of cancer, diabetes, obesity. Illnesses that daily cycling can prevent..."
I can recommend the website of the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation: http://cyclehelmets.org. They have an ocean of science, including an article on the "A Helmet Saved My Life!" claims. There is a link to it from the main page.
And remember campers! A walking helmet is a good helmet! And motorist helmets HAVE been invented. Get shopping!
Here is an interview with the Dutch Cyclists Federation - Fietsersbond - on the subject: http://www.copenhagenize.com/2008/08/helmets-clever-dutch-and-arrogant-danes.html
Here is a link to the helmet policy of the French FUBICY (bicycle users org) in English: http://www.fubicy.org/spip.php?article191
And the British cyclists org CTC: http://www.ctc.org.uk/DesktopDefault.aspx?TabID=4688
Your complete disregard of the effects on helmet laws and fearmongering to society is quite typical. The question is:
Would you rather have your wife being hit by a car while cycling and wearing a helmet, possibly suffering spinal cord injury, or not being hit by a car at all? In countries with most cyclists (which, by the way, have the lowest helmet rates), accidents are far less likely because car drivers are used to them. I live in a country where there aren't many bikes on the streets, and motorists are between ignorant/inexperienced and arrogant when dealing with bicyclists.
A helmet may change the outcome of an accident, but helmet campaigns and laws indirectly cause accidents, cardiovascular diseases and strokes. Have you seen the effects of strokes? Not different from TBI.
* The EU publication "Cycling the way ahead for towns and cities", published in 1999 by the European Directorate General Environment (etc) available in pdf through your favourite search engine.
This EU publication ( although not an official policy document in the strictest sense) punches holes in several safety myths about cycling.
* A news item from The Institute of Transport Economics (Transportøkonomisk institutt, TØI), Norway : http://samferdsel.toi.no/article27673-1153.html Transaltion of a few sentences : "In the revised edition of our Handbook of road Safety Measures, the conclusion is that the effect of helmet compulsion is most uncertain. This is based on a systematic review of all known research within the theme." [To which must be added, that one must conclude that official bodies, and other "responsible parties" should be very wary about scaremongering people into wearing helmets ]
* http://en.wikipeida.org/Bicycle_helmet The wikipedia has a thorough and well-referenced article on helmets, and specifically about compulsion (and by extension staunch promotion) The article in English has its smaller siblings in several other languages. The good thing about the Wikipedia is you are reminded that all sources should be treated with a sound dose of scepticism. And not least, if you can provide references, you can contribute to and improve the text. There is also a discussions tab for each article.
* Tim Gil : "Cycling and children and Young People", by the National Childrens' Bureau contains a sizeable appendix about helmet science and concludes against good evidence for efficiency on a societal level
* "Kids on the move" from the EU DG Environment, published in 2002, underwritten by Margot Wallström, points to the folly of victim blaming when it comes to childrens' cycling and specifically mentions helmets.
All these can be found on the web. I __might__ verify the URLs ( again ) later and paste.
@Alex Plumb, @Foo, @Stefan Jones
I doubt somewhat that I will be able to persuade you, but there is a reply to the standard "My helmet saved me" line of argument here : http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1019.html
My husband was in an accident with a driver who did not see him and is about to have his sixth surgery, six months later, but the helmet saved him from having irriversible brain trauma.
I do like the focus on the car industry's role here - but I don't agree that it works to belittle wearing a helmet especially considering that our urban environments and dependence on cars won't be changing anytime soon.
When the NZ law was seen to be blatantly failing the Government tried to blame the bicyclists themselves with the "Never ride with a wobbly helmet" campaign. The two slogans of that campaign were "A wobbly helmet can be more dangerous than no helmet" and "Up to 95% of bicyclists have wobbly helmets". For some strange reason they didn't combine these two into "Up to 95% of bicyclists are worse off due to the helmet law".
Various other attempts have been made to explain the failure while defending the law itself (explaining the failure without defending the law is easy of course), ranging from the barely to completely implausible. One I had to laugh at was the claim that NZ bicyclists at the moment the law was introduced instantaneously all choose to ride on far more dangerous roads and nullified the benefit precisely... when your adherence to the law is religious you come up with these amazing explanations!
To the general public the Government, apart from a few exceptions, still maintain the line that the helmet law is fantastic and the rest of the world, not only in not following us but in using us as the example not to follow, are stupid.
When talking to a more informed/professional audience the Government long ago switched to the argument that while the law may not work it also causes no harm, and admitting the failure would cause harm due to the negative impact on the population opinion and acceptance of the Government's overall road safety strategies.
Off-the-record when talking to the informed/professionals they admit it has done harm. Once exception to this usual impenetrable wall of backside-covering was an admission in a public meeting that they had "shot themselves in the foot" with the helmet campaign and law and that they could never again run a campaign like it due to the negative consequences. Unfortunately the admission got little coverage and has been buried.
It is easy to believe it is, a lot of effort has gone into promoting that view.
People also often believe that a bicycle helmet has saved them when in reality it probably hasn't - its a placebo effect, give someone and easily damaged hat and tell them it will protect them, and then in an accident when the easily damaged hat is damaged people believe they have been protected. It has been suggested, though I don't think the research has been done, that far more people believe they've been saved from injury/death by their helmet post-law than were ever injured/killed pre-law...
As Mikael pointed out more pedestrians get killed than bicyclists. Motorists are rather good at killing, and though they do kill pedestrians and bicyclists they kill far more of each other (and their fellow car occupants). Do you garden? Turns out that is rather dangerous as well. Play sport? Etc. Etc. So while of course people do get injured and killed while cycling, in the scheme of things it is "safe". It also has the added health benefits - even allowing for any deaths cyclists on average live longer and are sick less (cyclists are better employees for that reason as some businesses realize through providing free bikes!)
And if you're persuaded by the argument that one should take precautions when they are reasonable, so wearing a bicycle helmet makes sense, then think again. Do you wear a helmet in your car? It makes at least as much sense as wearing one on a bike. If not then you are inconsistent, which as an individual is fine - variety is the spice of life after all :-) However to base policy and laws on such inconsistencies is both hypocritical and discriminatory. Here in NZ the Government acknowledge that motorists should wear helmets, but state that the wearing rate is too low for compulsion to be considered. However they then *choose* not to wear helmets themselves voluntarily - they believe they theory, impose it on bicyclists, and choose to leave their own heads unprotected? Believe they're telling the truth about the helmet?
The safest nation to cycle in the Netherlands (fatalities per km) has less than 1% helmet usage(Source below). Safety is a multi dimensional issue so people focusing on one item(helmets) as a panacea shows a lack of understanding. Read some research.
I know that cycling accidents are scary. But even when a helmet is damaged, it's very difficult, if not impossible to be certain what would have happened if the cyclist hadn't been wearing a helmet. So, unless there's a major advance in crash-test dummy technology, or we start experimenting on twins, we will not know.
Re cycling is 20X safer, I found this:
"Health benefits of bicycling outweigh risks by 20 times" Reference: British Medical Association, Cycling towards Health & Safety, 1992, Oxford U. Press.
This is exactly what I was referring to in the talk. People scared of cycling, of snow, of every damn thing.
"It's painfully easy to trick the mind into seeing things that aren't there. People often manipulate what they have experienced to create an illusion of causality"
Why don't they publish this for free on the internet? Shouldn't information like this be disseminated as widely as possible?
a thorough review of the literature:
There's a big, obvious war on the bicycle already, and it's called Car Culture. In North America, motorists are openly, violently hostile to bicycles. They shout, honk, drive aggressively, post endless rants on websites, call in to radio shows, write to the papers, rally around politicians, and show up at meetings, all to protect the supremacy of their cars. Rob Ford, the new conservative mayor of Toronto, declared last week that "the war on the car is over." In Vancouver, where I live, car-crazy citizens groups spring up to resist our new pro-bike Mayor, and the civic opposition party is hoping to re-take power with issues like that. Bike lanes slow down cars, which creates rage, which creates active bike opponents.
And you're trying to blame HELMETS for the resistance to cycling. Jeesh. It has nothing to do with helmets. Cars are big money, cars are good for lazy people, people who have to zip all over with their overbooked kids, big tough cars for women who are afraid of being car jacked, sexy cars to help men get dates, cars cars cars.
Helmet fear is to blame for car culture? Come ON! Come ON, man! Is THAT the hill you want to die on?!
I ride a bicycle in Los Angeles and ride it like a car, which is essential if you want to navigate the busy streets safely. If you cling to the right sidewalk and not expect to be hit by a car or bus, you are a dreamer. Many lanes are right turn only and traffic going straight or turning left has dedicated lanes -- removed from the right side sidewalk. A bicycle is a vehicle so you have to take the proper lane, which is what I do even when it is in tyhe middle of a street. No helmet gives me freedom to see everything around me, to be fully alert and turn my head to check oncoming traffic and adjust my riding accordingly.
I also like to ride with a sun hat - sun protection is essential in sunny Los Angeles - using a helmet would expose me to the sun, it would also blind my vision on occasion while riding. I can't tell you the amount of grief I get from people over my choice of sun protection instead of a helmet.
I have looked at helmets in the bicycle shops and will probably keep looking -- but they make no sense. How would a helmet prevent a broken neck? Looks like they would bounce a head and break a neck. Maybe that is why we never hear from helmet riders whose helmets caused them great harm by snapping the head so the neck broke. I imagine this is the case but have no data whatsoever to back it up. This is what I think when I see the helmets in the bike shops, they look like neck snappers, and no thanks.
Don't get me wrong, I take care to protect myself while riding on Los Angeles streets - I dress to make sure I am visible -- drivers in cars don't want to hit bicyclists any more than bicyclists want to be hit. Making myself visible helps the drivers see me. I wear patterned leg warmers that catch the eye of drivers, I wear visible scarf wrapped around my ponytail - and yes, I tie my hair up when i ride so I don't have it flying in front of my eyes and blocking my vision. I also don't speed (on downhill slopes) which can make the bicycle go beyond my ability to control it. LA has many hills, long ones, speed could be attained going downhill but I ride my brakes and keep at what I consider a safe speed.
Anyway, thanks for the research and the talk. Nice to know I am not alone in not wanting to wear a helmet.
I've been an advocate of helmet wearing all my adult life; I wasn't a continuous cyclist all my life, but fell in love with the sport again at the start of 2009. In June this year I almost died from a cycle accident - it was in an outdoor velodrome (concrete surface - not soft!) where I landed head first (rather like Mikael's doll in his presentation!) without any other accident participants. I lost conciousness and ended up sliding on my face - not pleasant. I suffered a TBI and was in hospital for a while, followed by a long recovery period. As I recovered from injury, I was in no doubt that the helmet I wore really saved my life, or prevented long term damage. Of course there is no way to know for sure, short of seeing a video of it and estimating what may have happened without! I agree that this isn't exactly what Mikael was talking about - he wants to talk about urban cycling. On the whole my "gut feel" makes me think that everyone should wear a helmet just in case there's an accident like mine on the road.
I agree that there's evidence that suggests in the urban environment there's less benefit to wearing a helmet. I saw that report from the Uni of Bristol showing that wearing a helmet makes you more of a target for cars (they give less space to cyclists with helmets). But one of the things I've learnt from commuting to 14 miles each way in London (which is not a cycling city in the way you see in Denmark or the Netherlands) is that it's about the way you ride. The way you project yourself on the road. Don't act unconfident. Also, I believe it's about the culture of cycling in the country where you live. Drivers who are more used to cyclists drive a lot more carefully around cyclists. In fact I've seen some great cycling jerseys where there's statements on the back, such as:
I've seen other such jerseys on the road - it's to make drivers in the UK think about the fact that there's a person on the bike, it's not an object that they're seeing!
OK, so this has been an emotional response. Now, I'm actually an engineer and scientist, so I believe in the truth of mathematics. It's this that has made me really think about the problem of whether to wear a helmet or not. I don't think I'll stop as the crushed helmet I have is testament to a moment that changed my life, but I see the statistics and I believe them - also, some of the links relate to the physics of whether a helmet helps or hinders were enlightening. I'm certainly more open to the opinion that not wearing a helmet is not irresponsible as I thought before.
Thank you for opening my mind to other possibilities. Well done for reading this far!
As an aside, I wish I was aware of your talk as I was in CPH on 1-3 Dec with my work, and I would have come a day earlier!
Nevertheless I take Mikael's main point: that there are much bigger gains to be made by getting more people to cycle than by campaigning for helmets and scaring them off. It is parallel to a similar debate over the issue of riding in the streets vs. riding on separate bicycle tracks. Most research and the best research that I have seen shows that crash and injury rates, including the rate of severe injuries, are greater when people cycle on bicycle tracks, sidewalks or other separate facilities than when they cycle in the streets. But people don't believe this in their gut, so they won't cycle. Therefore, the gains to the health and well-being of the population when you build more separate cycling facilities outweigh the increased rates of injuries. (See "Bicycle Tracks and Lanes: a Before-After Study," 7 November 2007 by Søren Underlien Jensen.)
Both of these questions and their resolution seem be tied up with the culture of fear. With regard to helmets, I would certainly recommend their use, but I agree that a fear mongering campaign would be counter-productive. It is much more important to encourage people to get around by bicycle in the first place, and to learn how to do that safely than it is to insist that they wear helmets.
One day though, I am going to throw the damn thing away and feel the wind in my hair again.
In this case, _you_ are asserting right off the top that helmet fear is to blame for car culture - in a roundabout way. You ask, what is it that is stopping cities from embracing the bicycle (meaning, of course, what is causing them to embrace car culture instead)? And your answer is: a culture of fear. And then you talk about helmet fear as the prime example, in this talk anyway.
I say, to answer your question, what's holding back the bike culture? Quite obviously, it's car culture, 100%. Not the other way around.
There is reason to be afraid on a bicycle, by the way: it's called cars. If a helmet won't protect you, that's a reason to be MORE afraid, not less. I've ridden in traffic, and had enough close calls, to feel real, shaking, flashbacky, hyper-ventilating FEAR. My partner was hit by a taxi on her bike last month, at a four-way stop. It was a little bonk, bent her wheel but no harm done. Except for the chill down my spine when she described it to me over the phone. Real fear, rational fear. NOT a culture of fear.
I don't like armchair-psycho-analysis politics. This "culture of fear" argument can be applied to anything - you're afraid of helmets, Mikael! You're creating a "culture of fear" about helmets!
At least he admits that he has no scientific background. Unfortunately when he makes up these idiotic statements there might actually be someone that believes him
But I always have some skepticism of people who talk about a culture of fear being the only reason for cautions we take in our societies. Whether it be the fear of fast moving steel objects, or of violence in our society, if we allow the "we live in a culture of fear and we should dismiss our fears, because they're just in our heads" arguments to silence arguments addressing the dangers that do exist in our society, then I think that's quite reckless.
The reason I am skeptical, is becuase the people who promote this position are sometimes doign it to show of what a tough, fearless person they are. When people take this position, one of the effects is to ridicule people who aren't as tough and macho as them, and to silence them and stop the existing dangers from being addresseed.
If fast moving steel objects are making people feel intimidated, that is a real problem. Just as the existence of violence in our society. If a few bashings make some people feel afraid, then telling them that they're wimps isn't going to fix the problem. it will just silence them, and prevent anything from being done about it.
I love it when he says "The scientific community has been completely split for years on the subject 50-50, down the middle." Uh no, the scientific community has never been split on the effectiveness of helmets, the closest they've ever come to any split is the idea presented by someone that a helmet law will lead to less cycling (something that is demonstrably untrue) resulting in those that give up cycling becoming obese from lack of activity because they will not substitute the cycling (that they didn't give up) with other types of exercise.
Sounds like he's fallen for the junk science and statistics from places like cyclehelmets.org, complete with Frank's "walking helmet" shtick. Sad, because if there's one way to guarantee that more helmet laws will be enacted it's fact-free presenters at public policy debates being made to look foolish by physicians, EMTs, and statisticians. Much more effective to take the approach of promoting personal freedom to accept higher levels of risk, which has already resulted in the repeal of many motorcycle helmet laws in the U.S..
@ Jeremy Hull: I agree with everything you state.
I'd also done a bit of research following my crash and came across various different arguments and counter-argument- the reason I like this talk is that Mikael tries to tie it all up and questions why we are the way we are - it's all about perception and that perception is being manipulated by the recent culture of fear - I had a very similar discussion with a friend of mine who has a 4 year old son who uses a scooter. They never insisted that he wear a helmet, but as this boy's friends all were wearing them, he felt that he should and asked his mother if he could. She let him wear one, but only as she didn't want to be perceived as "a bad mother". She told me that after a while he seemed less keen to wear one, so she stopped him.
@ Bill Lewis: yes, it is possibly true that I'm just plain lucky and it had nothing to do with wearing a helmet. My helmet didn't split in two, and has a very clear compressed area where my head (helmet) initially made impact just a few cms to the front and left of the crown. The compression would suggest some of the energy was lost on impact. It clearly can't stop the forces of decellerating from ~25mph to 0 mph in a fraction of a second on the outside of the head which means that the brain impacts the inside of the skull at that pace, but even the slightest reduction of that decelleration is going to be beneficial. Having read up a few reports, I disagree with the additional mass of the helmet adding to the injury, but do agree that having a helmet on increases the turning moment on the head and can therefore maybe make shear brain injuries worse by increasing the shear forces acting on the head and therefore brain (my TBI was a shear injury - essentially means brain cells sliding over each other in the shear plane). Not that I had a choice as it's mandatory to wear a helmet in a velodrome as theoretically you can exceed 40 km/h, but you could argue that bicycle helmets aren't designed for those speeds.
So, it's a really hard call for me to make - I still trust my gut feel that wearing a helmet is definitely better than not. I guess that the engineer in me worries that the helmet made my injury worse - using high school physics and biology, but I'd still wear a helmet on longer (more sporty) rides. In town at lesser speeds I can see that I may reconsider wearing one... not really riding at the moment due to the weather, but that will change in a couple of months...
This is turning into a forum with most people clearly sitting on one side of the fence or the other. I'm being a fence-sitter here, which is not usual for me, but I can see arguments for both sides.
Once again, thanks Mikael for opening a different side of the argument a little more for me. I've been following the various links posted by other commenters avidly.
I would like though to ask, was the idea not to wear helmets on bicycles or was it to get people out there riding? I have a feeling that this speech should be regarded as shock therapy for the masses. By reading the comments posted I ascertain that the level of intellect from our fellow commentators is rather high so perhaps they should consider Mikael's speech as a means to an end. I always say that you do what you do to get the job done and if that gets results then all the better. Bicycle Expert mentioned that 'someone might believe him', which goes to support that if people believe him and shed their fear lid then we should have more bicyclists out there, with helmets I would hope.
I, for one, certainly hope that "someone out there will believe him". Believe that rationality needs to return to society.
You say that "...anyone who rides a silly anachronistic heavy bike..." or yourself "toodling along" need not wear a helmet. Don't you realize that is exactly the kind of cycling Mikael is promoting? He is promoting cycling for transportation. It's usually done at speeds of 10-12 MPH. These are not people out to "get fit". They are not riding for exercise. They are riding leisurely from point A to point B using a convenient tool that goes 3-4 times walking speed with no more effort. Those anachronistic features of heavy steel frames, sprung seats, full fenders, upright posture, internal gear hubs, chain guards, racks, and baskets provide comfort, reliability, and utility. They all make bicycles better tools for transportation.
So don't worry about anyone promoting cycling as a form of transportation trying to sell a helmetless life style to people like you. You are not the target market for the cycling they want to promote.
See p. 16.
If not... then perhaps they should.
I live in Seattle now, where bike helmets are mandatory. This has turned me into an outlaw. I will wear a helmet when it's particularly slippery out in this rainy hill city, but other than that I refuse. Forcing helmets on cyclists is essentially blaming the victim. If penalties for negligent driving were stiffer I think we'd see a change in road culture. Door someone? $5,000 fine. Strike a cyclist while moving (and it's driver's fault)? Manslaughter. It wouldn't take long before word got out and people would "start seeing bikes." Helmets, on the other hand, have been shown to induce in both drivers and cyclists a false sense of security. If you want to wear a helmet, go ahead. Just don't penalize me if I don't go along with your nanny state program.
The point is: Once you start down that road where do you stop? Body-armor to wear in bed? There will always be some accident risk in everything, and by obsessing about it we just take the fun out of doing something worthwhile with our lives.
I should point out that the type of cycling Mikael is talking about is urban, utility cycling - getting from a to b, using bicycles in urban centres to do jobs that one might otherwise use a car for. He is not talking about mountain biking, or road racing. I ride with a helmet when I am mountain biking, because I know from experience and from the stats that mountain biking holds much higher risks than utility cycling. If I took up road racing again, I would also wear a helmet, not to protect me from cars, but from the other cyclists in the peloton.
I am a New Zealander who was at high school in 1986 when Rebecca Oaten launched her heart-felt (and sadly misguided) campaign to ensure all New Zealander cyclists would wear helmets while cycling. Her son Aaron was hit by a car which put him in a coma and left him a tetraplegic - at the time it was pointed out that there was no evidence that a helmet would have saved him or even reduced his injuries. I met Rebecca at the time as she was a customer of my fathers business and no-one could question that she did what she did because she believed it was the right thing to do. She also later admitted that it was a carthartic thing for her to do to help ease her anger at what had happened to her son.
I have also been involved as a researcher, as part of a group commissioned to find was of increasing urban utility cycling in New Zealand. The New Zealand government at the time was keen to increase utility cycling as a means to improving the health of our people and our cities. Sadly the current government is not so keen. I can't quote direct figures, I don't have that sort of brain, but I do know that based on all the evidence I have read, I agree whole-heartedly with Mikael. Cycling in cities in New Zealand is more dangerous since the passing of the mandatory helmet laws in 1994, because the numbers of cyclists has dropped. The number of cyclists seems to have dropped because cycling is seen as a lot more dangerous than it used to be. Various studies show that the best way to improve cycling safety is to increase the number of cyclists, which puts us, in NZ especially, in a Catch 22 type situation. People have been led to believe utility cycling is much more dangerous than it really is and so are afraid of cycling, yet the stats show you are much more likely to be involved in an accident while in a car.
I would suggest to anyone who is interested in this that you read Tom Vanderbilt’s book “Traffic”. It talks about the entire system of traffic and he illustrates beautifully how traffic is a non-linear system - that logic in doesn't necessarily mean logic out.
As an example: Linear argument: Wearing a helmet will make me safer; One of the non-linear realities: Wearing helmets may make you feel safer, but it makes cycling seem less safe to others, reducing the number of cyclists on the road, reducing drivers awareness or likelihood of looking out for cyclists, making it more likely that you will be hit by the driver of a car.
Thats a very simplified argument but it is essentially true. I wish we could change the mandatory cycle helmet law in NZ, I would be happy if only for the adults. The law was brought in as an emotive (fear and anger) response to a tragedy that it is unlikely it would have prevented. We desperately need to reduce our dependance on motor vehicles in cities where we can and the erroneous fear that cycling is unsafe is one of the things slowing this down.
in 1949 UK cyclists fought and failed to stop legislation requiring a red light to be fitted shining rearwards, as this immediately transferred some liability tom the driver of cyclist approaching from behind to be able to stop within the distance they could see to be clear. Driving at night in foul weather I sometimes come up behind large trucks where the electrical socket to the trailer has failed and when approached directly from behind the inly way you see them is from light reflected bcak from your headlights. So let's switch off all red rear lights on all vehicles - especially those really bright ones for use in fog. We would have a few months of carnage but that would sort out the few drivers who fail to drive appropriately and train the remainder to drive at night and in fog in such a way that they can stop before running in to something in front of them. Ban brake lights and again after a short period of acclimatisation we would no longer need to keep telling people to drive with sufficient distance to the car in front.
One detail that few helmet disciples like to discuss is that we come equipped with a far better integral brain protection system with a couple of million years of development, which can be snappily referred to as evolution. Put simply the hunter gatherer running about at speeds of up to 30Kph and falling over or into things developed a body that bounces about pretty well at the standard operating speed for running and cycling. Figure quoted suggest that at a 30Kph flat impact the cranial cavity is only taxed to 30% of the loading required for catastrophic failure in a healthy human. The flexible multi-plate structure which is loosely bound into the cranial cavity as a young human matures also deforms to absorb impact energy and the sacrificial, self repairing cover acts to shear when a sever rotational force poses the very real risk of overloading the important flexible connection between brain and body (the C1-C5 vertebra) or a rotational force (which poses a far greater threat to the brain than any impact) when a cyclist's head makes an oblique impact with the ground. In such situations the very last thing you should be wearing is a severely enlarged head form which makes it more likely you will hit your head through the added size and weight and rotational accelerations will be magnified by the greater grip and larger radius of the moment acting to wrench the brain around inside the head.
That said we have further sops to safety which fail to address the cause of a problem at its root - big trucks sprout a veritable harvest of mirrors pointing in every direction, when some crude and simple design details are ignored - what doe the truck driver need to sit like an emperor on a massive throne - aircraft towing tugs, heavy site cranes, and the old delivery tractors all had drivers in walk-in cabs shared eye-level contact with pedestrians and cyclists, and with a very real incentive not to use their truck in a way that kills several car users annually - by driving straight over the car in a motorway crash. Of 2 recent cycle fatalities in London one had a driver whose eyesight failed the basic driving test standard, and another had a driver still drunk from the previous day and using a mobile phone. Mirrors, warning buzzers don't deal with this - what does work, and seems to be ignored completely by the safety (sales) industry is Eye contact with over half of the information we retain and process coming in through our eyes, and a massive non verbal response tool going back out that way (flutters eyelashes)
So closing on a serious message for all road users to do their best on road safety - let the only contact you make with another road user be eye contact today.and every day
I do object strongly, though, when newspaper articles describing the most recent car/bike collision make a point of mentioning whether the bicyclist was or wasn't wearing a helmet without further discussion of whether it would have made any difference in the circumstances of that particular collision. A cartoon I saw recently illustrates this: In the aftermath of a car/bike collision in which there are bicyclist body parts strewn about the road, a mother is pointing at the bicyclist's helmeted head and saying, "Look, Johnny. Not a single scratch on his head. THAT'S why you must always wear a bicycle helmet!" In my country, the problem has been and remains that motorists can kill bicyclists with impunity. Even the police say that if you want to kill someone and get away with it, use a car.
Like other posters, I have broken several helmets in falls, one on a bike path, two off-road. Based on the damage tot he helmets, I've always concluded that helmet prevented significant injury but I can't verify that. I choose not to replicate those occasions without a helmet to see. I continue to ride with a helmet, however. Similarly, I think it would be difficult or impossible to quantify the extent to which potential bicyclists might conclude that bicycling is too dangerous because they see me wearing a helmet. I don't want to be in the position of someone using homeopathic remedies, which I regard as nonsense, because, as my wife says, "I can't explain it but it works for me." I know that, as I've heard, "the plural of anecdote isn't data," and that my broken helmets may signify nothing. Perhaps it is nothing more than habit or routine for me now, or a gesture of mis-placed faith. I put on my glasses, helmet and gloves, and pedal off joyfully into my small, bicycle-friendly (by USA standards) city.
I'm seeing a lot of helmetless, newbie cyclists, who invariably ride recklessly because they are not interested in their own safety or the safety of others, and are too ignorant to even be aware of what behaviors increase safety risks (e.g. passing on blind corners, darting out in front of you, switching into your lane because there is an obstacle in theirs, etc.). Maybe they will soon take themselves out of the gene pool and leave the paths and roads safer for the rest of us. Of the four serious crashes that I and my wife have been in, two were directly caused by other, reckless cyclists, and two crashes involved head injuries that would definitely have been worse without helmets. A friend recently had his hip broken by a newbie cyclist riding dangerously.
So in that sense, compulsory bicycle safety classes would contribute much more to my safety than compulsory helmet laws. That said, while I do not think helmet-wearing should be compulsory, not wearing a helmet is just plain idiotic. Note that the cyclists who have suffered serious brain damage or death because of head injuries are underrepresented on this forum -- since they are no longer able to communicate. So just because you are an experienced cyclist who rides without a helmet and has not yet had a crash with head injuries, does not make you living proof that it cannot happen. And just because there are people in the latter group writing on this forum, while people in the former group are not, does not mean that you are statistically just as safe without a helmet.
Anyone who has not crashed on a bicycle has not ridden very much. Anyone who has not hit their head in a crash has just been lucky so far. Cycling is inherently dangerous, but so is sitting on your couch getting fat. Life is dangerous, and all of us exit the same way -- dead. So the real question is: If you're going to ride your bike, and you're going to ride it carefully to avoid accidents, are you better off wearing a helmet, or not? The notion that you can control your fall so as to prevent head injuries is just that, a notion. Sometimes you fall in such a way as to avoid hitting your head, sometimes you hit your head. And if you hit your head, you're safer with a helmet on than not. Or does someone want to try to present scientific "evidence" that _among cyclists who have crashed and hit their head_ helmets make no difference?
Do I wear a helmet in a car? No, my car is designed to minimize the chance of head injuries. My bicycle does not provide engineered-in crumple zones, airbag, seatbelts, etc.
Riding a bike may be "20 times" as healthy as the avoided risks. But if riding a bike with a helmet is "25 times" as healthy, why not do it?
When I ride my motorcycle I wear my helmet, gloves, riding pants, leather jacket, and back protector. When I put on the full face helmet it reminds me that this is serious. I could get killed riding this motorcycle.
I can agree that forcing people to wear helmets will reduce ridership. Fine. Don't make it a law and let people decide what is best for them. I can live with that.
Cycle helmets save lives and prevent serious and debilitating injuries.
The World Health Organization recommends making cycle helmets mandatory by law.
I think the speaker's argument is weak and flawed. Frankly, his attitude is smug and disrespectful to all the people who have been cheated out of the "good life" as a result of an injury that might have been prevented had they worn a cycle helmet.
I love stuff like this where everyone (including the goverment) is pushing something but when you look at the research it's all fluff.
Just like "don't go into the water after you've eaten" advice. Even though all of us know this is now bogus, I guess there are a lot of people waiting one hour "just to be sure..." :)
First of all it might very well be the case that we are surrounded by fear, manipulated by helmet manufacures and so on, but just like other conspiracy supporters Colville-Andersen makes a big mistake: He presents his opinions to us with the approach that non of us would ever have dared to think this long. He is the only one who sees the truth and he is going to reveal it to us. Big mistake. Its one thing to know the "rational facts", but its not intelligent to asume that people, when they have the facts, will act rational - just like yourself. In fact any look at mankind would prove that we have a history of exactly not caring even though we have all the facts. Its a little like new world order and bilderberg conspiracies etc. A lot of people know, they just dont care. They dont care if they are surveillanced, tricked by greedy corporations or scammed every day. They just dont care - and no keynote is going to change their minds. Now thats some knowledge about humanity for ya ;)
Its no secret for drivers that automobile related deaths accur every day. People get grinded like meat, killed, sliced, chopped up and so on. Many of us have relatives or friends killed or injured in cars. It doesnt stop us from driving. There is absolutely no proof that people would drive cars less if they knew how dangerous it were. In fact the more we know about deaths on the roads, the faster good old statistics show we drive.
Thats one thing. So how about bicycling. Well first of all Colville-Andersen puts forward absolutely no proof that bicycling is benificial for the human race. This is a form of transportation where the human body is carried - and unless you consider spinning, biking is a much worse alternative to transportation than fast walking. Why would cities benifit from cycling? Because people loose the car? What if they dont have a car? What if they switch from walking to cycling - is that good?
Numbers are down in Denmark in the last couple of years after helmets were promoted. Hmm is that true? What if people rather wanted to walk, jump, take the car, the bus, the train, the ship? How can it be scientifically proved that 100% of us will ever bike? You're right it can't. Urban trends change all the time and as a so-called self-tought "urban" expert Colville-Andersen should know that.
Statistics, nobody really care about statistics. It might very well be that staticstics show that you have a greater change of injury of you ride without a helmet, but wait - lets think about your personal situation.
What if you were the type that could bicycle with a helmet and have just a great care and those without one? What if you could take even greater care. Then statistically you would have a less change of injury (like if you biked without a helmet), but in the event that you hit the concrete your head would not give in like an egg shell. So would that be 1. much better change of survival + 2. even better change of survial = Super turbo change of survial.
You see.. we dont really care about mankind, or hospital bills when we bike. Normal people care about if they die today or not. In that regard statistics comes very short. Morale could be: bike carefully and wear a helmet. that way you might not die. Or even better - loose the bike and run/walk to work. That would help your condition much more.
All the comments that claim this and that only serve to hammer home how the Culture of Fear has infected our society. So please keep them coming. Every single comment only proves me right once again.
"I came across this talk only recently, and read the comments first before watching. It struck me as I watched that the majority of comments both in favour and against Mikael's argument support his point. That is, the majority of comments that are against are emotively based (the key emotion being fear). There are others, such as the comment prior to mine that present data that seems to conflict with his point but unfortunately they are not looking at the system we know as traffic, and all the human factors associated with it, in a holistic sense."
I have no doubt that I'm safer wearing a helmet than not, but I think that a 10% increase in the number of cyclists in my community would improve my safety more than my helmet does. The more cyclists are seen on the road, the less likely it is that a cyclist will not be seen by the motorists we are advised not to be hit by. This is the reason I have campaigned for more bike lanes, even though I don't believe a white line on the ground offers me any protection at all. (I've read that US cyclists who ride on the sidewalk are about 5 times as likely to be hit as cyclists who ride in traffic & I wonder if pedestrians who walk in the middle of the street in order to be seen would be safer than on the sidewalks.) Because bike lanes on some roads make cycling more pleasant and less frightening, more people ride & that improves the safety of everyone.
I would like to add to the "culture of fear" argument that people where I live in California have actually suggested that cyclists who don't wear a helmet or use more lights than are required by law actually deserve to die! While this is clearly irrational, it does suggest to me that too much emphasis on safety equipment not only makes people more afraid to ride a bike, it paradoxically makes people LESS afraid of killing us with their gas-guzzling death machines.
In support of helmets, I want to point out that - partly because a leading cause of cars hitting bikes is 90 degree turns, the majority of car-bike collisions occur at less than 15 miles (24km) per hour. In places where motorists are allowed to park their cars right in the public streets, collisions with car doors happen at whatever speed the bicycle is going. All three of my collisions with moving cars were with cars making 90 degree turns at speeds my helmets were designed for & while I didn't always hit my head, it seems easier to dive over the top of a car if I don't also have to worry as much about landing on the top of my head. I doubt a helmet has saved my life, but having something on my forehead the time I landed on my face in the street may have saved one of my teeth by moving the angle of impact a bit lower on my chin.
I appreciate the comments about a culture of fear and agree with many of his points about the extremes, but bike helmets are a very poor target. Relating bike helmets to car culture is quite a stretch. I'm all for more cycling, but this argument will only undermine the credibility of those supporting increased cycling.
Kevin's right to want to see some demonstration of causality between helmet promotion and declines in cycle usage.
I'd also like to see some straight talking. When the speaker says that manufacturers only test helmets for a 20kmh (quite sensible for an urban standard) impact on the crown what I THINK he means is that this is all the standards require them to test (albeit against flat, hemispherical and angled objects). As this 5 year old article from Giro demonstrates, many of the major manufacturers do test side and other impacts - against flat, hemispherical and angled surfaces. Clearly, helmet manufacturers are only interested in making money and therefore go out of their way to test beyond the standards because, erm...
I have a theory that all the conspiracy theorists have got together to create a meta-conspiracy to make us all fear everything including, in this case, people who make us frightened... Cunning.
I, for one, would stop riding my bike so much if law started to enforce me to wear a helmet, and I am serious about this.
Thanks for this talk, it was briliant!!
What makes you think people, who wear helmets or otherwise, are afraid of cycling? Where does that come from? You're deriving motives that are not there in the research.
If indeed fear is a problem, that is simply a problem to be examined and solved solved. At any rate, there are many ways to influence cycling adoption. For instance, taxes on driving, parking, making roads narrower to accommodate bicycles, yet make driving less desirable, and so on. To say that covering up dangers of bicycling, however minimal they may be, is the only way to increase cycling is simplistic. If I have a vague uneasiness about cycling, but on the other hand it will get me to work twice as fast and save me $5 a day, then gee, I think I can work through my sense of debilitating cycling terror.
And as an individual, I don't really care what happens to society. I care what happens to me. I don't flatter myself that my individual actions, one way or the other, are going to influence society as a whole.
You're such a plasticine pseudo-intellectual butt-munch. You ooze smug. I'm calling for an international Little Mikey Smug Alert. Yeah right, the headset mike looks rrrrrrrrreeeally cool.
Readers, the choice to wear or not wear a helmet is the same choice you make about contraception just before sex: it's your choice and does not require Little Mikey's intervention or input. It's the same choice you make on whether to put on a rain coat or use an umbrella. Focus your intelligence elsewhere.
(GAWD!!! These forums are so silly.)
Provided that cyclists seriously injured or killed are usually associated with motor vehicles, promotion of using bicycles as a transport rather than sport could make the road safer by luring in current or potential motorists.
It is much the same as being constantly told to "ask an expert" or "check with your doctor." We become non-thinking individuals who can only do something if we have been advised to do so by "the authorities/experts." We are to the point where this mindless advise is now parroted even by those who have no vested interest in the activity, ie. "don't forget your helmet."
Keep up your good work!!! Oh, your websites ARE THE BEST. What a wonderful discovery. I'll do my participation here in Ft. Worth, Texas and other nearby places. Long live bicycle TRANSPORTATION.
Is it better than "The Danish are so ill-trained in critical thinking that they would rather stop riding than assault their vanity by reducing a statistically small chance of injury"?
And is there any correlation between the reduction in bicycle trips into Copenhagen's city center per year by 10,000 and the economic downturn? In the reduction in bicycle sales and the reporting period for the bicycle industry sales? Was there a dramatic increase in telecommuting or game console sales?
And while talking about FUD produced by insurance companies, automobile manufaturers and the unfortunate presence of the Societal Nannies (which I have every reason to believe exists) should it not behoove you to actually provide critical thinking points?
The talk says "the number of cyclists entering the city center of Copenhagen fell by 10,000"
This is really 10,000 individual and identifiable cyclists? Or is the statistic actually a reduction of the number of trips by bicycle into the city center? Did 10,000 cyclists stop riding into Copenhagen, that would be 40 cyclists a day for a 250 day work year, or perhaps its just 40 trips per day fewer. Is it possible that 40 cyclists started telecommuting? Perhaps their office moved to just outside the area surveyed? Perhaps the boundaries of the survey area were changed? Was there a new route that opened that wasn't included in the survey area because the didn't want to change it? Is it possible that 20 people started to brown bag their lunches instead of riding home?
Bike sales fell by 5% in 2008 in Denmark, but its a small country, is it possible that the bicycle industry reporting system in Denmark was reporting faster than the Netherlands? That is to say did Cophagen provide data for 2009 model years while Amsterdam was providing data for 2008 model years?
I wear a helmet, I do so because there is a chance it will protect me in a fall, though more often I protect it. It hasn't caused me to become more aggressive while riding and those few times I'm out without it I don't become a timid rider.
I ride the same way I drive, defensively, immediately and spitefully and I'll tell you the greatest threat to my life, though I'll continue to do it, is obeying the law...
I landed on my head and I'm f*cking glad I was. Saved from me very nasty concussion.
Remember - lots of 'anecdotes' = evidence.
And the evidence is that lots of people land on their heads, so isn't it better that they're wearing helmets?
I don't buy the woolly argument that wearing helmets makes other people think cycling is dangerous so puts them off. That's one interpretation of the stats, but not the only one...
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