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Want to Encourage Cycling? Forget about Helmets

Elizabeth Rosenthal writes in the New York Times that strongly encouraging bicyclists to wear helmets creates the false impression that bicycling is dangerous. This is a statistically unsound fear that discourages people from riding. So advocates for bicycling should stop pressuring people to wear helmets:

On the other hand, many researchers say, if you force or pressure people to wear helmets, you discourage them from riding bicycles. That means more obesity, heart disease and diabetes. And — Catch-22 — a result is fewer ordinary cyclists on the road, which makes it harder to develop a safe bicycling network. 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, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney. He studied the issue with mathematical modeling, and concludes that the benefits may outweigh the risks by 20 to 1.

He adds: “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.” The European Cyclists’ Federation says that bicyclists in its domain have the same risk of serious injury as pedestrians per mile traveled.

Link -via Althouse | Photo: ubrayj02

Anyone who has seen or been involved in a bicycle accident would immediately know that this article is irresponsible garbage. It makes as much sense as saying "encouraging people to wear seatbelts will reduce the number drivers by making driving look less safe!"
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I agree when I was in the AF living in the dorms I lived less then a mile from work and would have rode a bike except you had to wear a helmet, gloves, and reflective gear at all hours. so I ended up buying a geo metro instead
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I think the relevant stat would be the effect of helmets on the people involved in bike accidents. Not the number of injuries by bicycles compared to other activities. I had a friend who is an expert rider. She was stopped in a park and tipped over into the grass. She got to work, at a bike store, and found the helmet stoved in from a rock hidden in the grass. I for one always wear one. I mean, why the heck not? To look good?
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I used to bike every day, usually for half an hour to an hour. I resisted wearing a helmet for a very long time. I now wear one on every, albeit less frequent, ride. Why? It is much more comfortable than riding without one. Warmer in winter and cooler in summer. The protection factor is nice, but not my main reason.
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Most of they folks I know who didn't wear helmets (in SF) tended to follow the traffic laws better the the helmeted folks. I think kids always should were helmets and those with no practice or slow reflexes. I advise everyone to learn how to fall or roll because that will help just as much as a helmet. Also get bright lights and lots of them. But I can understand wearing a helmet in SoCal where jerks in trucks almost kill other motorists and scream at bicyclist. Heck people do what you feel is the safest for you and obey the traffic laws because you are a vehicle.
Also what's the deal with against traffic riders? They are just as terrible as the absent-minded motorist.
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Anyone who has ever seen the result of someone who slipped and fell in the bathtub knows how dangerous those things can potentially be. In the name of safety, I propose that bathtubs be outlawed in the entire United States!
Won't somebody please think of the children?!?
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Yes, it may encourage cycling, but what I'd hope would then happen would be people subsequently voluntarily wear a helmet. If you've ever come off a bike at speed, picked yourself off the ground and found your helmet snapped in half, you'll be grateful that it wasn't your skull that was smashed.

Living in one of the rare English cities where thousands cycle through the center every day, I'd like it to be law so that lights and helmets were required and said law was enforced. One of my students got so badly clipped that they're now off for weeks at a time on pain management courses. I'm not saying a helmet would have stopped it, but every little helps. If it involves fatal mistakes, I feel laws should be made to protect people from themselves.
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wow. I am a personal survivor of severe head trauma due a bicycling accident. I spent several days in hospital and have had re-constructive surgery. All that could have been avoided if I had worn my helmet instead of being a dumb teenager. I still ride my bike, but always ALWAYS with a helmet. It's like a seat belt. Statistically you might not ever NEED a seat belt to save your life because you'll never be in an accident, but why take the risk? So dumb.
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