Helmets a sign of failed cycling policy

A good cycling policy makes cycling so safe no-one even thinks about wearing helmets.

Holland’s there already. So is Denmark. And Japan. And parts of Germany. How long until the leaders of other so-called developed nations cotton on to this simple concept?

An objective review of research on bike helmets makes it clear they are developed simply to protect cyclists from solo accidents that don’t involve other vehicles. If you’re a racing cyclist and bullet around at high speeds it might be an idea to wear one. At lower speeds it is pretty much impossible to crash and hit your head. It’s usually your arms or legs that get hurt. And if your town does so little to protect cyclists that you are hit by a car on your bike, there’s no helmet that will protect you.

[In the NL and Denmark] instead of promoting bike helmets, we tackle the cars and the other traffic. Traffic calming, speed limit reductions. We are also promoting air bags on the outside of cars. They already exist.

If you promote bike helmets, you will have less cyclists. It’s that simple. There is so much research that shows this.

It’s about what kind of society you want to live in.  [link]


4 thoughts on “Helmets a sign of failed cycling policy

  1. Love your blog.

    I looked at Swedish hospital data. Only 20% of Swedish cyclists wore helmets during the period studied, so the data gives a good representation of the risks. It seems cyclists actually do hit their head if they fall. But the injuries are superficial. 30% of hospitalised cyclists in Sweden have a concussion as their main diagnosis. And these cyclists are discharged the next day, so no big deal. Of course it’s a matter of perspective: this “common” injury actually only happens once every two million kilometres cycled. If you cycle an hour a day, it takes 274 years to cycle two million kilometres. And this is not due to helmet-wearing. There was no information on speed at the time of the incident, so I can’t comment on wether speed changes the way you fall.

    Unfortunately for motorists, when they come to the hospital for skull fractures, they stay over twice as long in the hospital as cyclists, ten days compared to four. Clearly the forces involved in a car crash are much more severe. See text and sources (sorry only in Swedish):
    Ecoprofile: Cyklister får kortaste vårdtiden

    • Logical I suppose. You do far more harm to your head hitting it against glass at several dozen miles an hour than the rare occurrence of falling off your bike.

      Thank you, Erik. 🙂

  2. Unfortunately, Denmark has had hardcore, propaganda-like helmet promotion for the past couple of years. While helmet levels are still low, there is still a lot of emotional blackmail.

    The main problem is that the cyclist NGO here actually supports the promotion, in contrast to most other European countries where cyclists orgs are against promotion and legislation.

    There is no little science in the debate here. Actually, there is no little debate here. The citizens are getting the wool helmets pulled over their eyes.

    • Yes, I’ve been noticing this more and more.

      The pro-helmet crowd play with two things: 1) the strong emotions attached to losing a loved one (psychologically convincing, but rationally dubious) and 2) widely critiqued ‘scientific’ papers and cherry-picked ‘statistics’ about how ‘dangerous’ bicycles are and how incredibly ‘safe’ helmets can make you.

      Like selling a business idea: define the problem you see (risk of death or disability), envision a desirable future (‘safe’ cycling), and propose your product/service (helmets!) as the bridge to get there.

      The pro-choice or anti-helmet crowd try to persuade people with the more nuanced bigger picture. It’s more rationally convincing, but only after you take the time to understand the complexity of the arguments, the limitations of helmets, basic social psychological factors, and the dozens of confounders in a fall or crash that may lead to less than ideal-world outcomes.

      Maybe pro-choice/anti-helmet folks need to get into selling: define the problem you see (lack of safe cycleways and dangerous driving), envision a desirable future (safe, easy, direct, healthful cycling), and propose your product/service as the bridge to get there (world-class infrastructure and an easy-to-use feedback system to continually let government know the not-so-good bits that need improving).

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