A few weeks ago I watched a short TEDxCopenhagen presentation by Mikael Colville-Anderson, in which he talks about how bicycle helmet safety laws and pressure are tools in a fear campaign to keep cars dominant. I was ready to agree with him, but found his presentation to be less than interesting and poorly argued. (I do think I agree with his thesis but not really any of the data or arguments he presented)
In any case, I began reflecting on the 'helmet debate' and here are my thoughts from the past few weeks
1: mandatory helmet laws are not the best way to increase bike safety.
2: wearing or not wearing a helmet is a personal choice. (and should be respected)
3: helmets are not the most important part of bicycle safety.
4: People in cars and on bikes must cooperate to improve safety for everyone.
5: both personal safety techniques and policy improve safety for road users.
I have become a bit frustrated with how helmet issues are debated as well. I think the debate needs to continue but more civilly and more carefully.
Here are a few tips when dealing with heated helmet debates:
1:don't take it personally
All cyclists want to ride safely and have fun, and just because someone disagrees with you about helmets doesn't mean you're not pushing in the same direction.
2: read the argument carefully and identify the point.
This one can be tough because most helmet discussions I've seen are ambiguous about this. Realize that statistics, scientific studies and even personal experiences are all flawed in representing 'the one truth' about bike helmets. There are almost innumerable angles from which to observe helmet safety, and just as many ways to misconstrue data. For example: A study may conclude that just as many accident fatalities wore helmets as didn't, so helmets don't increase your chances of surviving a crash. A good question to ask would be 'of the fatalities how many died of head injuries?' Realize that a study that shows that helmets don't improve survival rates, says nothing whatsoever about minor collisions or solo accidents involving train tracks or bike malfunction. Wearing a helmet in a head on collision with a car traveling 100mph won't save your life, but it may save you from a concussion if you get a stick caught in your wheels or if you eat it on a corner in the rain.
3:attempting to refute statistics by citing your personal 'thank god I had a helmet' story is not productive (and neither is disregarding personal experience when looking at statistics)
A study that says wearing a helmet increases your risk of injury while cycling is not refuted by the fact that you once were in a terrible accident and 'thanks to the helmet' made it out alive. Your experience is important, and often is worth mentioning in a discussion, but be aware that you don't necessarily know the parameters of the study or what the researchers were looking for. Were they studying only head injuries? All injuries? Deaths? Vehicular collisions only? etc.
4: remember that a bicycle helmet is no substitute for safe riding techniques.
It doesn't matter how safe your equipment is, if you ride dangerously, your chances of being injured or killed increase. Step back and look at the bigger picture here.
Taking points 2 and 3 into consideration, I think cyclists should each identify why they personally ride with or without a helmet. Do you wear a helmet so people will think you're a 'safe cyclist'? To save your life in that 'big crash' that may come any day? maybe you've had a bad experience, or know someone you trust who advocates helmet use. Regardless of your reasons, recognize the limitations of the bicycle helmet and that we are all striving for safer more livable streets.
Here are a few links to check out:
And a graph that I like: http://cyclehelmets.org/1079.html
Ride safe my friends,