Are bike helmets really needed?
In cities throughout Australia, and in some US states, it is required by law that you wear a helmet when operating a bicycle.
Now, I came across an interesting site, Helmet Freedom, which exists to fight mandatory helmet laws, (MHL). NOT helmet use, but helmet laws. Here’s a quote from their website which I think sums up their cause…
For a variety of reasons including inconvenience, perceived danger, comfort and even helmet hair, MHLs make cycling less attractive as an everyday activity. When MHLs were introduced into Australia, cycling levels dropped by more than 30%. Similar falls have been reported elsewhere whenever helmet laws are introduced. No region with MHLs has ever achieved a high or even moderate cycling modal share, just as no bike-share scheme has succeeded in cities with MHLs.
Interesting food for thought, the notion that enforcing helmet laws actually hurts cycling. I could see that; My wife would be hesitant to ride her bike if she always had to wear a helmet. Unlike myself, she has a beautiful head of hair which she likes to put time into. Helmet’s and hair, not always a match made in heaven.
Does this put her at risk? Well probably not. Her bike (before it was stolen) was a 3-spd cruiser. The Africabike by Kona. A bike which is designed for comfort and functionality vs. aerodynamics and agility. Her top speeds were maybe 20km / hr. What’s more, her upright posture that the bike gives allows her to easily stabilize herself when something is not kosher on the road. The likliness of her getting a head injury from riding her bike was very low. Fortunately in Canada, you don’t need to have a bike helmet if you are over 18 and even then I don’t feel like it’s a law that is enforced by our local police, (unless they have one of their blitz’s).
Laws aside, I know that a lot of people who I talk cycling with ask if I wear a helmet. When I say not always, people have responded with comments to the tune of “well that doesn’t seem safe…” The stigma of cycling being a dangerous activity exists, and people feel that it’s necessary to ride with a helmet.
Now when I talk about not wearing a helmet, it’s usually in the context of just going for a low-speed, low-risk ride. Mountain biking, or going for a serious road ride with speeds exceeding 30km/hr, it’s certainly in your best interest to have a helmet on your head.
Anyhow… I was thinking about the whole helmet thing today as I was doing a delivery for our courier service. Appropriately, I decided not to wear my helmet either.
I completed the delivery, and as I usually do when i’m not on delivery, I leisurely cruised back to base, simply enjoying the mild weather and light traffic. You know the speed… lactic acid free, just lightly keeping the pedals rotating. Riding down some busy streets at my comfortable pace, it started to dawn on me that the whole thing that makes cycling dangerous is the fact that there are cars on the road. Most people don’t travel at break-neck speeds on their bikes. The majority of the population that ride a bike do so at a safe speed and if they do have an isolated spill, it’s most likely to cause injuries which helmet use won’t prevent. There are even more facts on the Helmet Freedom website which I feel well illustrates the importance of making helmet use optional for cyclists. My favourite essentially being that if you have less hoops for cyclists to jump through to use their bikes on the road, you will naturally get more cyclists on the road. More cyclists means safety in numbers, less cars and ideally smarter motorists.
In the meantime though, I’m happy that our government doesn’t deem it mandatory for adults to wear a helmet while riding. It’s a personal choice and hopefully when Sarnia’s cycling infrastructure is finally improved, the stigma of cycling being dangerous will slowly disappear. For now though, as cyclists share the road with cars, helmets probably aren’t a bad idea.