Monday, July 18, 2011

Bicycle Safety: My Perspective

Stop
Every so often I am asked to state my views on safety with respect to transportation cycling*. Though reluctant to raise this topic in the past, after more than two years I feel ready to share my perspective. So here it goes, and I ask in advance that you help me keep any ensuing discussion civil:

When it comes to bicycle safety, I draw a categorical distinction between two facets that are often mushed together, but for me are entirely independent: (1) safe behaviour, and (2) protective gear. I believe that safe behaviour is essential and a matter of social responsibility. I believe that protective gear is secondary and a matter of personal choice. This distinction and prioritisation governs (i.e. biases) the views on transportational cycling that are expressed throughout this blog.

To clarify what I mean by "safe behaviour" on a bicycle, here are the points I consider crucial:

Riding a bicycle that is functional and road-ready
Taking reasonable steps to ensure one's bicycle will not fail on the road. This includes making certain that the wheels are secured and that the brakes, lights, and other crucial components are functional. Riding a bike with known mechanical problems, insufficient braking capacity, or any unusual features that make it intentionally difficult to operate, can have disastrous consequences in traffic.

Being in possession of basic bike handling skills
This includes being able to start and stop without faltering, to maintain a line of travel without weaving, to reduce speed when appropriate, and to safely maneuver around obstacles. It helps to ride the type of bike one is comfortable with and in a way they are comfortable with, depending on skill level and personal preference. Those who do not yet possess adequate handling skills should practice on trails and quiet side streets before mixing with traffic.

Adhering to traffic laws
Knowing and following local traffic laws, as they pertain to bicyclists. This includes respecting lane directionality, street lights, stop signs and right of way, signaling turns and intentions to merge, and in general behaving predictably.

Knowing safety maneuvers
Awareness of various crucial safety maneuvers and the ability to execute them. For instance: not positioning oneself in the blind spot of a car that could turn into one's line of travel, not cycling in the door zone of parked cars, and not passing other cyclists on the right.

Being visible
Having sufficient lighting on one's bicycle, so as to be clearly visible to others on the roads in the dark and in inclement weather.

Being vigilant
Paying attention while cycling; being cautious and attentive to what goes on in one's peripheral vision while resisting distractions. This includes not being engrossed in conversation with fellow cyclists, not chatting on one's mobile phone or texting, and otherwise not engaging in activities that detract from an awareness of one's surroundings.

You might not agree with me on some aspects of these points, but I believe in them and try to adhere to them to the best of my ability. In my view, this makes me a conservative and safe cyclist.

As for protective gear (helmets, knee pads, steel-toed boots, padded vests, pre-emptive neck and back braces, etc), these things are simply not relevant to the safe operation of a bicycle. We all have the right to expect safe behaviour from each other, when the behaviour impacts other road users. But we do not have the right to decide what each other's personal comfort levels ought to be, when this comfort has no effect on us.

In addition, I think that protective gear - whether we believe it to be useful or not - is secondary to safe behaviour to such an extent, that to stress it above the other stuff (as I feel is routinely done in safety campaigns) is misguided and even, dare I say, dangerous. As I write this, out of the window I can see a helmeted cyclist making a left turn onto a one way street against traffic, riding a bicycle with no handbrakes and no lights. I think this sort of thing is a direct result of promoting protective gear instead of safe behaviour, and I think it's evidence that we have our priorities backwards. I do not find that my views on this matter are radical, although sometimes I am made to feel as if they are. Whether you agree or not is entirely up to you.

--
*a small group of us (Dave from Portlandize, Matt from Bicycles, Books and Bowties, and myself) are working on a transportation cycling brochure, where the topic of safety will be covered. However, I am not the person who is writing that particular section, and the opinions expressed here - though congruent with those in the brochure - are my own.

158 comments:

  1. I agree with you up to a point - I do not support the idea of legislation to force cyclists to wear helmets; I think that is a personal choice.

    I will concede though that to my mind a serious cyclist is one who is wearing a helmet, and make value judgements accordingly.

    I would also concede that I do not grant my two little girls the freedom of choice of whether or not to wear a helmet on a bicycle: they wear helmets whether they want to or not (and because they always see me wearing one they have always been quite happy to follow my example; it has never been any kind of an issue)

    I also think you casual inclusion of helmets in a set that includes such ludicrously non-road-cycling gear as preemptive neck and back braces, steel toed boots and knee guards as more than a little ingenuous. A helmet is just insurance, the same as a patch kit, tube and pump - I don't expect to need any of that when I go out for a ride; it's there just in case.

    Roff

    ReplyDelete
  2. Roff - No comment re the behaviour of minors (or rather, I think it's fair for the parent to decide what their child does up to a certain age).

    I do think it is reasonable to include the other items I listed in the same category as helmets. I realise that some will think I just did this to be provocative, but I am sincere.

    As to your view of cyclists who are or aren't wearing a helmet, it is just as you say: Your value judgment and not an actual reflection of how "serious" they are.

    Will try to write more on helmets in a separate post in a little while.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I don't know whether you will post this or not, but here goes. If you take 20 reports of accidents resulting in cyclist death you will find a huge variety of causes: in some cases the cyclist was riding unsafely, as you describe, in other cases the cyclist was doing everything right. Some of the cyclists will be children, some experienced adults. In some -- many -- cases an automobile driver will be at fault, and in other cases no car was involved. Some will be at night, some in broad daylight. And so on. But one thing you will find, on average, is that in only 1 of the 20 accidents was the cyclist wearing a helmet. One in twenty. Virtually all cyclists who die have this one thing in common -- no helmet. And that, my friend, is why we helmet advocates so tirelessly exhort cyclists to wear them. Yes, of course it is personal choice. No one is forcing you to wear one. But please look at the statistics.

    ReplyDelete
  4. knee pads, steel-toed boots, padded vests, pre-emptive neck and back braces

    Do you see people actually wearing these things for riding, or is this rhetorical? I see lots of bright and/or reflective visibility vests, but have never seen any of the rest.

    ReplyDelete
  5. “As I write this, out of the window I can see a helmeted cyclist making a left turn onto a one way street against traffic, riding a bicycle with no handbrakes and no lights.”

    Come to Portland, and you can see *buckets* of riders doing that. Some will wear helmets, some won't (probably more don't wear helmets, but that's an artifact of fixie fashion being violently anti-helmet) but in neither case does their headgear compel them to act the way they do.

    I'm not sure where the "helmet as evil poltergeist" idea comes from, but they're just hunks of expanded plastic foam, and can no more influence your behavior than wearing wool does.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "Behaviour"? This is Uh-merica. we spell it "behavior".
    other than that, true.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I agree 99%. My state requires helmets for children and I try to set an example for them when I expect them to encounter them.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hallellujah!!

    Lots of common sense and well balanced position.
    Too bad the aspect and influence of road infrastructure as it affects road behaviour was not touched upon... This impacts safety and safety behaviour as well.

    @ Roff

    Nobody can impose a vision on you and you are free to view other cyclists as you wish.
    However, you might want to take into account that to me, a non-helmet wearer, those whose wear helmets are no more than little cyling Dumbos, holding on very tight to their little feathers, hoping that it will save them in case of an accident: it will not.

    So, unpleasant thoughts about fellow cyclists can be reciproqual and, ultimately, lead nowhere.

    As in religion (helmet worship is a religion: http://www.copenhagenize.com/2008/07/cycle-helmets-and-other-religious.html), be and let be...

    Doris

    PS: I am not sure whether tons of fellow non helmet wearing dutch, danish, german etc. cyclists would appreciate being classified as "not serious" coming from a dude from a basically non-cycling country, barely making it everyday on his bike.

    Hilarious actually...

    ReplyDelete
  9. It may not be a reflection of how 'serious' they are but it is a reflection of how responsible they are....

    ReplyDelete
  10. I would argue that a "serious" cyclist is one who carefully considers their own circumstances, including the streets they ride on, the type of bike they ride, the average behavior of other road users where they live, and the way they typically ride their bike, and make an informed decision about their own safety based on all of those factors, their own comfort level, and the known, proven efficacy of different types of safety gear. Note that this means a person's decision to wear or not wear safety gear could change from time to time, ride to ride, or even mid-trip. I also make a sharp distinction here between cycling for transportational purposes, and cycling for sport or, in some cases recreation, where one is clearly riding in a more risky manner intentionally (the nature of the sport).

    I also completely agree with Velouria that, within the realm of transportation, safe behavior trumps protective equipment, to the extent that I feel that protective equipment *should* be basically unnecessary for any kind of transportation, if we follow rules of safe operation and not rules of get-there-the-fastest.

    In my view, safety equipment is largely mitigating the effects of us operating outside of our limits. When one is taking that risk intentionally by participating in sport or other activities in which you intentionally push your limits, that is one thing. I don't do that while I'm going to work or to the grocery store or the library.

    I don't carry a patch kit either. If I get a flat, I walk my bike to a bike shop, or home if I'm close enough, and fix it there. For the one flat per year, it's not worth it to me to carry one every time I get on a bike. It's just not.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Your view is essentially the same as mine -- I was surprised to learn it was "controversial" when I started cycling in the US, after having done my first utility cycling in Paris . . .

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi V I totally agree.

    John I

    ReplyDelete
  13. samuel wallingford of englandJuly 18, 2011 at 3:34 PM

    i would just add that it is important to maintain a calm, detached attitude and not to allow oneself to be riled by the bad behaviour of other road-users

    ReplyDelete
  14. sausend - Mostly rhetorical. But I think that it's a good idea to wear these things, following the same rationale that makes it a good idea to wear helmets. And again, I am not being snarky, totally sincere in this belief.

    Jon Webb - I disagree with you re what the "statistics" are saying. The helmet thing is not a topic I regard lightly, believe me. I promise to get up the stamina to write about helmets specifically and explain my views on that soon.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I think that your distinction between behavior, skills, and equipment that may help you avoid an accident, on the one hand, and protective gear that may (or may not) help you in the event of an accident, on the other hand, is an excellent way of framing the issue of bicycle safety. And it's also a helpful reminder (to me, at any rate) that people who disagree on the helmet issue probably do agree on most of the other safety issues described in your post.

    I don't think I buy into the "serious cyclist" concept...but I am always pleased when I see a biker riding at dusk or at night with appropriate lighting.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I often ride with an emergency room M.D. and she agrees with Jon Webb.
    The stories she tells me almost make me want to put a helmet on !!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Unfortunately, we tend to try and "engineer" our way out of safety problems, rather than make the operators safer. With cars, instead of better driver training, we install dozens of airbags to cushion the shock when (and not "if") the accident happens. (As an aside, the airbags don't help the poor pedestrian or cyclist who is being hit...)

    Promoting bicycle helmets as the first and only factor in cycling safety comes from the same mindset. I do wear a helmet (and seatbelts in cars), but I consider both as minor accessories to my safety, compared to riding/driving well and being aware of one's surroundings.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Jon Webb: and if you take 20 instances of head trauma from people falling down stairs, not one of them was wearing a helmet, yet those instances are many many many times more frequent than head injuries to cyclists. So where is the outcry about helmets for stair climbers?

    I'm being completely serious. Where is the outcry for helmets for pedestrians, whose traffic fatalities almost always far outnumber those of cyclists? Where is the outcry for helmets for people riding in automobiles, especially children, whose number one cause of death in the U.S. is automobile crashes?

    There is an extreme cognitive dissonance for me when it comes to the level of hysteria around bicycle helmets, when there are *SO MANY* head injuries from other things that we just shrug off completely.

    The reason I imagine Velouria listed bicycle helmets in with those other objects, is that they all mitigate some risk, but the risks they mitigate are all relatively small risks, and specifically regarding transportational cycling, if you behave well on your bike and you are sure of yourself, that risk goes down even further.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Velouria said...
    "Being visible
    Having sufficient lighting on one's bicycle, so as to be clearly visible to others on the roads in the dark and in inclement weather."

    This is the point that you and I very strongly disagree.

    IMO it is the cyclist responsibility to maintain a high level of conspicuously by wearing bright vivid colors to aid the motorist in seeing the cyclist in the first place. Drivers have to pick out the cyclist from all the background they see which is hard to impossible due to a cyclist tiny silhouette.

    THIS is the achilles heel of most cyclist that wear dark (funeral) colors or plain drab street clothing. Most cyclist have the attitude that "I can see me why can't the drivers see me?" which is well past moronic to think.

    As to helmets et.al. you know how I feel about those things........

    ReplyDelete
  20. Walt - I do not feel that you and I disagree all that strongly on the visibility issue; what we disagree on is on the degree and type of visibility that is most effective. And I think that lots of people disagree on that.

    ReplyDelete
  21. jan: I think that's a big part of our hysteria around safety in general in the U.S. - our view of safety is "everyone protect yourselves." And if you don't protect yourself sufficiently, then you are at fault for getting hurt, whether it was the result of someone else's harmful actions or not. Even airbags and seatbelts I think are reactions to allowing people to drive automobiles too fast. If cars traveled only at the speed of bicycles, there would be hardly any need for seatbelts either, because the rate of collisions would be much lower, and the severity of the collisions would be much lower.

    We're simply pushing our transportation system further and further beyond our limits, and because of that, we're creating more and more hysteria about having to protect ourselves against that traffic.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I'm going to disagree with one thing you wrote, but not tell you what it is.

    Safety, yes.

    ReplyDelete
  23. If you look at the statistics, bicycling while severely intoxicated substantially increases your risk of death or serious injury. Maybe this falls under your "being vigilant" category, but I thought it worth singling out.

    I think that if bicycle helmets had a significant beneficial effect on death or severe head injury rates, we would see that effect in countries like Australia and New Zealand where they are mandatory for everyone, and helmet usage is upwards of 90%. In fact, the per capita death and head injury rate for bicyclists has actually increased since helmet use went up so high. Make of that what you will, but I think it indicates that the protective effect in actual widespread use is much less significant than advertised by helmet promoters.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I firmly believe in a cyclist's right to chose whether they wear a helmet or not.

    What I find a bit troubling, though, is the seemingly-recent push by some non-helmet users to suggest that helmet usage actually leads to cyclists engaging in riskier behavior. Granted, maybe that wasn't your point above when describing the brakeless/lightless rider but I've started to hear that type of argument being made against helmets in quite a few other places. I agree the focus should be on safety first, but I think advocating for helmet use isn't necessarily incongruent with that idea.

    I personally decide to wear a helmet while riding in traffic because no matter how safely and effectively I operate my own bicycle, I still have no control over how safely a car driver decides to operate their vehicle. What I definitely don't do, though, is start riding unsafely or like a daredevil just because I've decided to wear a helmet that day.

    -Ad

    ReplyDelete
  25. If you look at the statistics, bicycling while intoxicated substantially increases your risk of death or serious injury. Maybe this falls under your "being vigilant" category.

    I think that if bicycle helmets had a significant beneficial effect on death or severe head injury rates, we would see that effect in countries like Australia and New Zealand where they are mandatory for everyone, and helmet usage is upwards of 90%. In fact, the per capita death and head injury rate for bicyclists has actually increased since helmet use went up so high. Make of that what you will, but I think it indicates that the protective effect in actual widespread use is much less significant than advertised by helmet promoters.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I've only come off my bike twice in 35 years (knock on wood) and neither time was I doing anything silly - once a farm truck ran a stopsign on a country road and hit me and another time I was coming down a long steep hill on smooth bitumen which ran out around a bend, and turned into rough unmade gravel. In both cases I suffered some injuries - broken ribs, shoulder blade etc, but nothing to my head, despite my helmet being broken.

    Behaviour certainly plays a role, but in no way can mitigate all risk or even very much of it, I'm afraid.

    Oh yes, and Doris, I think I can call myself a serious cyclist with several hundred thousand miles behind me, having ridden through something like 50 countries. I've a sense I might not consider you one.
    Roff

    ReplyDelete
  27. I think the visibility issue is also dependent upon one's circumstances.

    Riding in Portland, I'm almost always on small, two-lane (or even one-lane, one-way) roads, and I believe I am much more visible to people in cars when I am on those types of roads (when I am literally right in front of them, or mere feet to the side, and we're all moving no more than 20mph) than when I am on a 5-6 lane road, or especially a 5-6 lane highway, designed for fast movement of automobiles with wide lanes, etc.

    I do think proper lights are important, but as to how many, how bright, clothing, etc - much of it is dictated by your circumstances.

    I don't try to wear dark colors, but I don't think about what I wear in terms of visibility, and I have never had a bad interaction with a person in a car that was due to the person in the car not seeing me. Basically every time it has been either because I inadvertently did something stupid because I wasn't paying attention (it does happen occasionally, even though I try to be very careful), or because the person in the car was being impatient and decided they needed to zoom around me or cut me off or whatever it was; in which case, they clearly saw I was there.

    This includes in the pitch dark, in winter, while it's dumping rain.

    I think I might feel differently about what I needed in order to be visible if I did a lot of riding on highways though.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I agree completely with the behavior and skills portion. It's funny that all drivers in the US are required to take drivers education and pass a basic skills test (although it certainly doesn't seem to ensure a skilled safe driver!) ... but ANYONE can hop on a bike and head down the same streets, even if they haven't a single clue about traffic laws, courtesy, or common sense, let alone any actual riding skills.

    I'm by no means advocating required bicycle training or licensing ... it's just an observation. Cyclists ... serious or otherwise ... really should be aware of their local traffic laws, and learn how to safely operate their "vehicle" before putting themselves (and potentially others) in a dangerous position.

    As for the helmet issue, I'm very grateful that there is no law that forces me to wear one, as I believe it should really be an individual choice. That being said, I choose to wear my lid. I ride safe and generally don't do any kind of high-risk riding, and therefore don't have much occasion to fall or crash ... but the two times I did fall were at relatively low speed where most people would consider a helmet unnecessary, yet both resulted in my head making contact with the pavement. I'm not sure if it prevented any injury, but I'm definitely glad my helmet was on.

    Just my thoughts ... not trying to convince anybody one way or another.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Velouria said...
    "Walt - I do not feel that you and I disagree all that strongly on the visibility issue; what we disagree on is on the degree and type of visibility that is most effective. And I think that lots of people disagree on that."

    I understand that from the female point of view looks mean alot. My view is much more rigid.......

    That said, when it comes to life and death safety the rider is either "all in" or hmmmmm..... "careless" . (politest word I can use here)

    Bright vivid colors are easy to come by today so the cyclist is at fault when they fail to make themselves clearly conspicuous in traffic.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Doris:

    However, you might want to take into account that to me, a non-helmet wearer, those whose wear helmets are no more than little cyling Dumbos, holding on very tight to their little feathers, hoping that it will save them in case of an accident: it will not.

    I guess my 4-year old daughter and I were "dumbos" when we got hit by a motor vehicle while riding together on my bike (observing all applicable laws, mind you) and she slammed her forehead onto the pavement. Her helmet cracked at the point of impact, but I guess in retrospect, it was silly to think that those feathers actually did anything helpful.

    Oh, and my friend S, who went down hard when his pedal broke, was also a "dumbo" to think, even for a moment, that his extruded polystyrene foam bonnet (which also cracked upon impact) did any good.

    Statistics are hard to interpret when you can't account for all uncontrollable or unknown variables (such as proper use, proper reporting, etc), and I will make no attempt to support or refute claims of helmets being beneficial, but my own anecdotal evidence and experience dictates a risk-benefit choice that is strictly mine, no one else's. And let's keep the sarcastic comments to ourselves.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Fantastic! You articulated what I have never heard well-articulated before.

    Regarding many of the arguments made for helmets (as mandatory), Velouria, I appreciate your delegation of this as a secondary priority and portlandize's correct recognition of poor argument in Jon Webb's comment(is it correlation or causation?). I'm not saying, Jon, that you are wrong, just that this is not a compelling statistic.

    Also, I strongly agree with you, Velouria, on the items that you prioritize as being pivotal to being a safe cyclist.

    @Walt @Velouria: By definition, wouldn't "sufficient lighting ... so as to be clearly visible to others on the road" be, well, sufficient to be visible? If this is unsatisfying, which I can understand, @Velouria, can you quantify or help us new cyclers learn how to quantify what "sufficient lighting" is? I've actually asked my partner to approach my bicycle while I'm riding in the dark (with lights on) and to make sure he can see me "sufficiently."

    ReplyDelete
  32. Where I live, helmets are required - and I'm actually kind of glad for that. The one time I took a bad spill, I hit the pavement with my face (luck held, though, and I landed in the driveway of a paramedic who was heading to work...). Damage could have been considerably worse had I not been wearing a helmet.

    I do agree that cycling safely and responsibly is really important. Generally it's not too bad here, and downtown is even better now with the installation of two bike-only routes. I do try to stick to bike routes, because drivers don't always know what the rules are for cyclists, and I don't like being yelled at when I'm making a left hand turn in line with the cars.

    ReplyDelete
  33. portlandize:

    Where is the outcry for helmets for people riding in automobiles, especially children, whose number one cause of death in the U.S. is automobile crashes?

    There is. They're called carseats, the better ones of which have EPS side-impact support wings at the head and torso. And unlike helmets, statistics have unequivocally borne out their effectiveness. It's also known that helmets can only mitigate the risk of head trauma from a limited force of impact. Comparing a fall from a bike onto pavement with an automobile crash is like comparing the risks of drowning in an inch of bath water versus a swimming pool. Apples and oranges. The forces are different, as are the physio-mechanical dynamics.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I agree with your points on Safe riding and concede that when you ride unsafely while helmeted the helmet is in fact wearing you (with apologies to Jerry Seinfeld)

    However based on my on experience, crashed can and do happen despite following all of the rules above. My, admittedly anecdotal, example came while going about 5 mph over a railway crossing on a local bike path. The tracks bisected the middle of an S turn in the trail. I turned a bit too soon and BAM! I was on the ground feeling I had been hit by a train. I literally saw stars as my helmeted head was the first thing to contact the pavement. I have experience falling off and usually roll onto my shoulder but this happened so fast that one second I was riding the bike and the next I am seeing stars and trying to clear my head. That for me was the deciding point that wearing helmets makes sense, its not a cure all, not a substitute for safe and attentive riding but I do not want to know what it would have felt to hit the pavement that day with a bare head. To each their own. Be safe and keep the rubber side down.

    Peace

    RR

    ReplyDelete
  35. V. I thought discussions about helmet use were not welcome on your blog. I hope that those new to cycling, as I imagine a good number of your readers are, not trust the various opinions of blog commentators, but do their own research and decide whether or not a helmet could make them safer or at least make them feel more secure about their decision to get on a bike.

    ReplyDelete
  36. @Jon Webb: Of those 19 helmet-less fatalities, how many were a direct result of head trauma?

    Buddy of mine broke his wrist in a bike accident and the ER Dr. pointedly asked him if he was wearing his helmet when he crashed. He causally answered that yes he was, but unfortunately it wasn't on his wrist at the time.

    ReplyDelete
  37. GR Jim - I am going to guess what that thing is, but not tell you what I am guessing.

    Anne - They are not welcome when off topic, which is most of the time, because they usually derail the comments of any post into a helmet debate. But since this post is specifically about safety and brings up the whole issue, that does not apply here. Having said that, the usual rules about rudeness and inflammatory comments still apply. I agree with you about the importance of people making their own decisions about whether to wear a helmet.

    ReplyDelete
  38. cyclotourist / Jon Webb - Regardless of whether we believe helmets to be effective, there is something seriously problematic when journalists and medical staff act like an accident is a cyclist's fault, if the cyclist was not wearing a helmet. It is not logical. Kind of like saying that a person was shot during a mugging because they were not wearing a bullet proof vest.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I absolutely agree with the points listed, and about the prioritizing of behavior over protective gear. Regarding my helmet use, it all depends on the type of riding I do -- I generally don’t wear one for transportation cycling in my local area, but I do for fast rides on my road bike. I am not anti-helmet by any means, but to further Velouria's post immediatley above, what I don’t like is how helmet use seems to be given more importance by the safety “experts” than other measures one can take to be safe – stressing gear over training (both cyclist and driver) and infrastructure. The news media, too, follow this same thinking. For instance, read any article regarding a car/bike collision, and no matter what the circumstance, it will always state whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet or not – in other words, it reinforces the idea that all you need to do to be safe is to wear a helmet; likewise, if you’re injured, it’s your fault because you were not wearing one.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I would have agreed with you entirely until June 17 when a Chevy Suburban driver decided to bolt into traffic past the stop sign just as I passed. Despite following all precautions, including making eye contact (I thought) with the driver before moving past, I was hit. Fortunately, she clipped my rear wheel rather than running over me and I was banged up but not seriously injured. She was as devastated as I was and running up to me said "I NEVER SAW you". I realized then that each day we risk a real failure of human perception-- people cannot see what they are not looking for ("The Invisible Gorilla")and that the cyclist is completely at the mercy of random events. In communities like suburban Rochester,NY cyclists are few and many drivers don't look for them at all.
    The helmet protected my head as I hit the pavement and the ugly fluorescent vest at least got the witness' attention. My lesson- despite your best efforts, there is a fairly high probability in our community that you will be hit and the helmet will protect you against more serious injury.

    ReplyDelete
  41. I tend to side with Portlandize, but I agree with just about everything that Velouria said. My one Caveat would concern traffic controls. I generally try to ride where there ain't no cars, I can do that without too much difficulty where I live, but every so often I have to ride on a busy street and I cannot control drivers and how they drive. While I agree that a helmet can save your life, I have several and I wear them often; there are many times when I just do not want to wear one and that should be my choice! I ALWAYS wear my seat belt, but again it should be my choice! If I had to choose between a car with an air bag and one without, I would probably choose with, but I should be able to choose!! When I am doing some quick miles on my roadbike I wear a helmet, when I am riding my cruiser to the grocery store on streets with very little traffic, I don't.

    Unfortunately, saying things like 100 percent of the people who die in bicycle accidents do not have helmets on is pretty silly! People die in bicycle accidents all the time who are wearing helmets! A helmet is not a body cocoon and will not protect your heart, lungs, kidneys in the event of a crash.

    Are people wearing helmets a bit more cavalier then ones who don't??? Dunno, but I will say that I did not own a helmet when I bought my first mountain bike, but they won't let you race without one, so I got one and Yes, speaking for myself I was much more likely to try something risky offroad whilst wearing a helmet then I otherwise would; Could have just been me, but probably goes for most people!

    I have been riding for a long time, recently I have had a friend of mine come riding with me and I will warn him "O.K. I am fixing to do something unconventional" to get through traffic. After I have executed said maneuvuer he says "O.K. I can see why you did that" many times someone else might have said that what I did was breaking the law or unsafe, but to me many times it is actually done with and eye towards being safer and putting as much space between me and a situation that could be unsafe as well as ease traffic flow for myself and the cars too.

    If a bicycle runs a stop sign and there's no one around to see it, did he really run the stop sign!? I say no!

    To my mind bicycles are a bit like trains, both are very effecient as long as they don't have to start and stop too often. Start and stop too many times and almost all effeciency is lost! Cars start and stop easily and accelerate quickly, unfortunately since most roads and traffic networks are built for cars we cyclists we have little choice, but to try and conform to their traffic controls as well as we can. Does that mean down to the letter of the law? Sorry, not for me, but I do try to recognized the intent of the law and/or traffic control device.

    V, You are very brave for throwing this subject out there and unfortunately it is one of those things where there will be strong opinions on everyside!

    MASMOJO

    ReplyDelete
  42. Anon 5:52 - First, sorry to hear about this incident. Second, your comment (and others expressing a similar sentiment) make me aware that some of you are misunderstanding this post somewhat. My point is *not* that by following all the points I listed we will avoid any chance of collision. Unfortunately, that is impossible and even the most exemplary cyclist behaviour can result in a collision due to driver recklessness. I do not dispute this.

    However, that is still not a logical argument for why protective gear should be prioritised over safe behaviour (both on the part of cyclists and drivers!). To return to my bulletproof vest example earlier: why are pedestrians not encouraged to wear them in order to avoid being hurt in incidents of urban violence? Or, wait, for that matter why are pedestrians not encouraged to wear helmets, since there are many, many pedestrian fatalities from motorists?..

    Focusing on telling the potential victim to wear protective gear instead of on behavior that would prevent them becoming a victim in the first place, is, in my view, a serious flaw in any safety campaign.

    ReplyDelete
  43. I wear a helmet for several reasons, but safety lies with the way cyclists behave on the bike, as Velouria says. I read THAT part several times and the only quibble with it that I can come up with is that the safe cyclist constantly learns through teaching and experience how to ride better and safer.

    ReplyDelete
  44. anonymous 3:47pm said:
    "I often ride with an emergency room M.D. ..."

    Best advice yet! Keep those ER docs handy on EVERY ride! =P

    Seriously, i think that helmets are helpful in situations where you hit your head, but as others have mentioned, one can hit his/her head in many off-bike situations. Why not wear the things 24/7?

    And, while V's comments about knee-pads, vests, and steel toed boots may seem absurd, but i think it's the absurdity that makes the comment valid. One can hurt his/her knees or toes just as easily in a bike crash; if you're riding like you expect a crash, why not wear a suit of armor?

    (Confession: i often ride to work with steel-toes on, WITHOUT a helmet, but that's b/c of the nature of my work as opposed to traffic safety concerns.)

    As far as Walt's idea that clown-clothes are required for night-time visibility: If you have good lights on your bike, you don't need gaudy clothing. If you don't have good lights on your bike while night-riding, a chartreuse vest isn't going to save you.

    And as for the basic premise of the post, I agree for the most part, except that most motorists do not consider cyclists following the traffic laws to be "predictable". Most motorists are unaware that cyclists should be following these laws, and many complain about the cyclists that do. I "salmon" up a one way every morning on my commute, and use the same road the proper way on the way back. From a safety and driver-annoyance standpoint, it doesn't make a lick of discernible difference. FWIW, every cyclist i see during my commute, and many of the motorists, are braking traffic laws left&right. I guess I'm just trying to fit in. (I'm willing to bet that, if I follow any of you piously "vehicular" folks around, I'll catch you breaking a law or two once in a while. It's a normal part of using the roads.)

    I own a nice helmet. I wear it on the trails, 95% of the time i'm riding off-road. I probably oughta wear it on the roads, too, but I don't think it'll help me in any but the most mild accidents.
    -rob

    ReplyDelete
  45. I have really enjoyed reading this discussion, as I have been mentally battling with the pros and cons of helmet use coupled with the new Hubway Bike Sharing program being implemented around Boston. WIth that in mind, I have two points.

    First, I am very worried for the safety of these "newbie" bicycle commuters. They should all read this post to begin to understand Safe Bicycling, whether or not they choose to wear helmets.

    Second, (I don't think I'm the first to say this, nor will I be the last) if not wearing a helmet invites more people to choose bicycling as their preferred method of travel, then so be it. More bicyclists will only lead to safer roads, since drivers more accustomed to driving with bicyclists and because more drivers will also be bicyclists, and thus more likely to look for them. Personally, I'll continue to wear a helmet, but that's mostly at my wife's request.

    ReplyDelete
  46. I consider myself a very safe cyclist and have been commuting for over 30 years. I use lights at night and are very aware of my surroundings and yet I've fallen twice in daylight and unfortunately wacked my head. I've been very lucky to have worn a helmet. To me it's a small price to pay for such good protection. I point this out to my children when they try to ride without a helmet, and yes, I preach good riding technique also.

    Velouria - While I respect your views, you have not been riding long enough to have encountered this rare, yet not unheard of fall. Even the best of intentions cannot prevent that stone in the road or broken pavement. My fear is that too many people will listen to your wonderfully clear prose and be convinced that wearing a helmet is secondary and not equally as important as good riding etiquette.

    ReplyDelete
  47. The mistake of so many in the anti-helmet camp is to pejoratively describe helmet use, or seat belt use in a car, as some sort of panacea that supplants the need to operate the applicable vehicle safely. Of course that's not what the actual helmet proponents think. It's just a vacuous argument by anti-helmet folks meant to trivialize the importance of helmet usage, or rationalize their choice to not wear them. It's conspicuously defensive and lacking in substance.

    Of *course* you have to first operate the vehicle safely. Like, duh. But real substantive arguments against helmet usage are few. Messes your hair? Inconvenient? Might not fall on that part of your body? Meh. Ya takes yer chances. Nobody is forcing you, and I agree that it's personal judgment and should remain so. It's just poor judgment.

    I am frequently bemused by the parents I see in my area on weekends who take their kids on nice family bike rides. The kids have helmets, and the adults never do. They are always riding less "serious" bikes, which underscores that they are, indeed, inexperienced cyclists. But they probably feel like they are pretty well above the helmet thing, being grown up and all.

    There seems to be a divide in helmet use between those who view cycling as a lifestyle activity vs. those who practice it as a sporting activity. But the actual risks to both are similar (certainly in the worst case). I wish helmet eschewers luck, but I will always view them as needlessly tempting fate.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Maybe it would be helpful to look at it this way:

    "Safe behaviour" helps to protect all road-users (not just the cyclist) from being involved in an accident. Everyone should therefore practice this as a responsible member of society.

    Wearing a helmet etc. only protects the cyclist him/herself. This is therefore a decision that should be left to the individual (like whether or not they smoke, drink, take enough exercise, or eat a balanced diet).

    In a free society, I can see why we might want to enforce the former, but cannot see how we can or should ignore the individual's rights by enforcing the latter.

    In summary, I agree with you 100%, V.

    ReplyDelete
  49. The biggest thing you can do to make cycling safer is to ride your bike. The more of us out there, the more drivers get used to us, the better the chances that driver sees us.
    Been riding a long time. Know what it feels like to be invisible. Being a cyclist used to be like being a unicorn. Drivers couldn't see what they could not conceive might exist.
    In many settings these days I know the drivers see me. The change is enormous.
    Thank you one and all. Thank you Velouria.
    Keep riding.

    ReplyDelete
  50. I've fallen off my bike 3 times and have yet to hit my head on anything, though I have skinned my hands every time, and ripped a small hole in one of my pairs of jeans, where my keys were in my pocket. Thousands and thousands of people fall off their bikes all the time all over the world, and never hit their heads. Some individual person or persons having hit their head is not necessarily a good reason for other people to wear a helmet, on its own, just like me having slashed my thumb open on our sharp kitchen knives is not a good argument for everyone else to not use a knife, on its own. There is a lot more to the issue than just "I fell off and hit my head, so everyone should wear a helmet."

    Yes, pretty much anyone who rides a bike for any length of time will fall off their bike. A small percentage of those people will hit their heads, and an even smaller percentage will hit them hard enough to do any real damage. Because a few people sustain major head injuries out of millions and millions of trips doesn't mean something is exceptionally dangerous, it means a few people hit the probability of sustaining a major head injury. The same is true of walking, climbing stairs, flying in a plane, driving, eating cereal, going to the doctor... there is risk involved in everything, and you can die doing pretty much anything, if just the wrong thing happens.

    Again, based on each person's circumstances, I have no problem if they choose to wear a helmet, that's completely up to you, and I will not fault you in the least for that decision, because I trust that you have a better basis for making a decision for yourself than I have for making a decision for you. Please offer me and others the same respect, and don't treat us as stupid or naive for making an informed, thoughtful decision based on our own circumstances, which you are not privy to.

    I believe it's entirely responsible to present the issue in an unbiased manner, and give people the tools to look into it and make an informed decision for themselves, not simply spout propaganda (in either direction - pro or anti helmet).

    ReplyDelete
  51. Few things anger me more than waiting for a light to change at an intersection and having a bicyclist zoom by me, crossing against the light. It doesn't matter whether the cyclist is wearing a helmet or not. It's an unsafe move. I also work a lot on bikes and am alarmed at the conditions of many of these bikes--most would not pass a safety check if such things were required. Educating folks who choose to use bicycles for transportation is just common sense and should be encouraged by LBS's, municipalities, and even bloggers. I guess the majority opinion is that requiring cyclists to pass tests or wear protective equipment is unwanted.....V seems to do an admirable job at promoting safe and responsible riding, but I believe any safety campaign should also mention appropriate 'attachments' to both bikes and bicyclists. Lights, fenders, racks, helmets, and easily visible clothing all work to make a more confident and safer rider and may prevent injury to others or to oneself. Being defensive or dismissive can quickly become rather ugly. Safety is safety and well designed campaigns for transportation riders should cover the gamut since nothing is 'required' for one to use a bike on the road.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Thank you, Velouria. I really appreciate the way you articulate how any particular decision about safety takes place in a context.

    I find it baffling that so many people (I mean friends, family etc) focus so heavily on helmets when there are so many other elements involved in riding as safely as possible. And it seems baffling that many dear and wonderful people feel they have the right to harangue one about helmets when they wouldn't ask one to show how competently one signals, rides slowly, starts from a stop, etc.

    And yes, I'm with those who make helmet-decisions based on context (where one's riding, what surfaces, the extent to which one can limit other risks, what kind of bike and position, etc etc). I'm not denying that helmets give some protection, but I agree with those who point out that they would provide some protection for pedestrians, too (in and outside the home!), so it's a question of comfort vs risk - for me wearing a helmet seriously detracts from the pleasure of (slow, upright) transportational cycling, so I only wear one when I think the setting (e.g. icy roads) makes a bike ride more dangerous than being a pedestrian.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Re "no helmet = poor judgment" - You are making an assumption in your judgment of others' poor judgment. While I understand your POV, it is important to recognise that not everyone believes helmets reduce risk of injury. I will elaborate on this in a separate post.

    Moreover, the "poor judgment" judgment can be made toward so many behaviours. Is it really any of our business to pass judgment on what other people do if it does not impact us?

    ReplyDelete
  54. MelissatheRagamuffinJuly 18, 2011 at 7:10 PM

    I just had my first (and hopefully last) experience with car wrestling. I am 6'1" in my bare feet. On my bike saddle I'm probably closer to 6'3" - I have swept back handle bars, so I sit fairly straight in the saddle. I wear a neon pink bike helmet with a light on it. Yet, the woman who ran a stop sign and hit me swears she didn't see me. I maintain that she didn't see me because she simply didn't look.

    And to quote my son who is a delivery driver for a pizza place: Bikes aren't a problem as long as your head isn't stuck up your butt, and you're paying attention.

    There are too many motorists with their heads stuck up their butts.

    ReplyDelete
  55. People who place some value on their brains and realize how necessary this organ is to our every breath life surely would wear a helmet,that's funny to think that some people really believe that their skills or ego saturated abilities as a cyclist now has lowered their risk factor and now can skillfully and safely navigate country and urban streets without a helmet.The only problem is what they call an accident an event that happens when you least expect it,an unseen gravel corner, touching you friends wheel on a casual ride,or that part that came loose on your bike that suddenly face planted you,or the car that passed you at 70 that almost nicked you that sent you veering of the road yea all those riding skills will help you out there. the helmet its just a fashion statement. Be safe out there Velouria. I was riding with a group of riders in the Tour of Tucson three years ago to witness a car t-bone about 8 or 10 cyclist in a blink of an eye ,a lot of injuries and one almost fatal and helmets saved lives that day and to argue this point seems a no brain-er ,I guess the nay sayers need reality moment and I hope it is not them. Glenn in the Northwest

    ReplyDelete
  56. I have discussed my personal thoughts on helmets on my own blog in the past, and am not going to go too deep into it here.

    The thing about helmets, gloves and other safety gear is that any such accoutrements offer you some protection only in the event that you actually crash. They are the proverbial "last line of defense" and if you find yourself relying on them, something has gone wrong. A cyclist saying "all I need to be a safe rider is a helmet" is like a sailor saying "who cares about icebergs? I've got a lifeboat!"

    Velouria is spot-on, I think, with the "Primary" safety considerations. Good riding habits, a well-maintained bike (and while I won't get preachy about helmets, bike lanes or even salmoning, one thing that irritates me to no end is a bike with no brakes. Skid-stopping is not an effective way to control your bike in traffic, nor is it good for your drivetrain. Show your bike some respect and ride it properly with at least a front brake, etc, etc grumblegruble).

    Wear a helmet, don't wear a helet, wear one sometimes, and not others, whatever you think is appropriate, but be polite about it and keep in mind that your most important safety equipment is UNDER the hemlet (that you may or may not be wearing).

    ReplyDelete
  57. Julia Leigh said...
    "@Walt @Velouria: By definition, wouldn't "sufficient lighting ... so as to be clearly visible to others on the road" be, well, sufficient to be visible? If this is unsatisfying, which I can understand, @Velouria, can you quantify or help us new cyclers learn how to quantify what "sufficient lighting" is? I've actually asked my partner to approach my bicycle while I'm riding in the dark (with lights on) and to make sure he can see me "sufficiently.""

    You don't want to be just "sufficient" with your lighting.

    You want to be blatantly conspicuous since ,as a cyclist, you are the smallest silhouette on the road. Plenty of bright lights and bright easy to see clothing (not necessarily cycling stuff either!).

    Like it or not you and your bike are either visible or you are not! No middle ground here in spite of common opinions of most cyclist.

    ReplyDelete
  58. I've gone over my handlebars three times in the last six years- I know how easy it is to spontaneously loose forward momentum and come off the bike. I've been fortunate enough to not have landed on my cranium. Each time I came off of my bike I was being cautious and looking out for dangers. The first time I hit a pothole hidden by the slope of the road (while a car was passing me). The most recent incident was caused by a spoke nipple breaking and my front wheel warping and locking up on my brake pad- Not something I could have anticipated, nor would have ever even considered. I was close to a curb, but fortunately, I fell towards the middle of the street where there was no traffic. My helmet survived unscathed in each of these incidents.

    But, knowing how easy it is to come off of my bike without any other factors than myself and my equipment makes the decision to wear a helmet easy. Who knows when I'll come off the bike again and my cranium will chance upon a curb, or a rock, or a car, or even another person's skull. It only takes one time, and the risk really isn't worth it to me. Wearing the helmet does me no harm whatsoever and it could possibly save me from brain damage or death in the chance that I do land in that one particular way.

    I can handle bloody knees and elbows- even broken wrists. But I'd be unable to do my job as a catatonic. Most of the bike accident statistics deal with fatalities, but I'd be curious to know how many people have suffered brain trauma that caused them to lose control of parts of their bodies. I would hate to be dependent on somebody else for the rest of my life for something as entirely selfish as vanity.

    ReplyDelete
  59. I use flashing LEDs front and back now because I was almost hit by a driver turning left in front of me at an intersection. I had a very brightly colored shirt on, but I think I just don't present enough mass to register in some drivers' minds. It may be imaginary, but I feel like I am getting noticed more with the blinkies.

    I try to follow laws as I've learned them from driving, but there are some situations that don't normally occur in a car that could be unsafe. For example, what do you all think about riding past cars (on the right) that are stopped or going slowly approaching a traffic light?

    When at a four-way stop with other riders, does each rider have to stop individually, or can a small group proceed as a unit?

    When waiting at a stop light, I usually hang out well beyond the stop line to get better visibility to the front car.

    Is it ok to signal a right turn with your right hand? It seems to be much more obvious than the traditional bent-left-arm.

    ReplyDelete
  60. MelissatheRagamuffin said...
    "There are too many motorists with their heads stuck up their butts."

    Blunt but oh so true! :^))

    ReplyDelete
  61. I live in Australia, where helmet use is mandatory. I would love to have the choice of wearing a helmet where and when I choose. For example, riding down empty back streets to the local shops, I'd like to feel the wind in my hair and be helmet-free particularly on sticky summer days. It irks me that if I do that and the local police are patrolling they will fine me.

    Riding in traffic however, I think a helmet gives a certain level of protection in slow-traffic incidents, ie if a driver is bike-blind and doesn't see you pull up beside him at traffic lights and turns in front of you, knocking you over. Helmets won't save your life in an accident where you're going fast and/or if you get hit by a speeding car. Nothing will.

    Realistically if you're going to use your bike to commute, and your commute is through high-traffic areas, learning to handle your bike correctly, and making sure it maintained with all brakes, lights etc working, as V has said in her original post are the most essential things you can do to ensure your safety.

    You also need eyes in the back and sides of your head as too many drivers are unaware of bicycles sharing the road with them. Australian and American cities I believe are in the main well behind European cities in terms of bike use and bike awareness by drivers.

    ReplyDelete
  62. in Australia we have to wear a helmet. This reduced the amount of head injuries in cylcing accidents by 30%! Quite good stats.
    But it also reduced cycling overall by 30% as well, no one wants helmet hair when getting to work or the shops.
    If we totally ban cycling we could reduce head injuries from cycling down to zero. Don't let our Australian overlords know this though :o)

    ReplyDelete
  63. I see running through the posts of the anti-helmet (or is it pro-choice?) crowd this notion that wearing or not wearing a helmet affects only the cyclist himself/herself. It may be comforting to think this, but I believe it's dead wrong. A cyclist's safety is of concern to others besides the cyclist. My safety, for example, is of considerable concern to my wife and kids. It would presumably be of concern to cyclists, motorists, pedestrians, or others with whom I became involved in an accident. So, I see the helmet decision, and safety decisions in general, as requiring one to balance one's personal freedom with one's sense of responsibility to others.

    ReplyDelete
  64. The comments about "ego" and such are bordering on derogatory/rude, so please do not continue in that vein. What about the ego of those who presume to judge others behaviour, perhaps without being entirely informed about its meaning or purpose?

    Steve R - That whole argument is a slippery slope. Should we then also think about our loved ones when we make decisions about what to eat (after all, bad diet shortens the lifespan and leaves loved ones with medical bills)? Where does it end?

    ReplyDelete
  65. Let's say we both have equal technical skills, and we both practice "safe cycling" with an equal degree of responsibility and care. I have a helmet and you don't.

    We then both crash and hit our heads on the pavement due to something unforeseen and unpreventable.

    Who fares better? Or, if your spouse was one of these people, which would you prefer him/her to be?

    ReplyDelete
  66. @Robert Hoehne - good point! :-D Ssh, don't tell the nanny state!

    ReplyDelete
  67. rpguitar - Actually it depends on the type of fall and how exactly you hit your head, as well as at what speed. Research is inconclusive. I will elaborate on this in a later post dedicated specifically to helmets.

    But let's forget I wrote that and for the sake of argument assume that helmets are effective in the exact type of fall you are describing. Now let me present you with alternative scenario:

    Let's say we are practicing equal "safe urban walking" but I am wearing a bulletproof vest and you are not. Who fares better if we both get shot? And does the answer mean that we should all wear bulletproof vests?

    ReplyDelete
  68. *Absolutely* we should think about loved ones when we make decisions that affect our health. This responsibility increases with age and with the number of dependents in our care, especially where children are involved. It DOES make a difference to be 40 vs. 30, or father of 3 vs. childless.. Hell, I *started* cycling for that very reason (among other lifestyle changes) - to enhance the odds that I'd be around longer and healthier, both for myself and my family.

    ReplyDelete
  69. I think the "getting shot whilst walking" comparison is a bit of a stretch. :) With cycling and crashing, we are talking about a common danger inherent in the activity, not a far-fetched theoretical possibility. You obviously cannot protect yourself against every single possible calamity when participating in life's myriad activities. But you can try to be prepared for the obvious - and especially harmful - ones.

    Whether we agree that bike crashes are an obvious risk or not is another story. But I still hear few, if any, explicit reasons NOT to wear a helmet; I hear only nay-saying defenses against the reasons why one should.

    ReplyDelete
  70. "I think the "getting shot whilst walking" comparison is a bit of a stretch. :) "

    rpguitar - Depends on where you live. I've lived in places where such a comparison is not at all a stretch. Which is the whole point: All of these judgments are subjective and based on our own reality.

    ReplyDelete
  71. I am going back through the comments and reading all the ones I'd only skimmed. So far I have not deleted or suppressed anything that has been posted, but I've received some emails with complaints, so I'm trying to decide. Either way, thank you for keeping the discussion civil.

    One thing I cannot help but notice: The point of this post was that I believe stressing safe behaviour should be prioritised over debating safety gear. And yet, most commentators seem interested in debating safety gear. Does that mean you guys disagree with the crux of my post, or does it simply mean that the safety gear debate is more interesting?

    I suspect the latter. But either way, I think the direction of the comments only confirms the point I was trying to make in the post.

    ReplyDelete
  72. I live in Australia where helmet use is mandatory, and I 100% agree that safe cycling behaviour is of far greater importance than wearing a helmet or other safety gear. However I strongly disagree that being a safe cyclist behaviour-wise precludes the need to wear a helmet. The safest cyclist in the world can not control for the actions of other road users or unexpected conditions/obstacles you may encounter on a ride. The helmet is your head's last line of defence should the unexpected occur. I presume you put your seatbelt on when you're in a car? Why do you do so? Because it could help prevent serious injury in the event of an accident. The exact same reason why you should wear a helmet.

    Sure, there are several studies debating the efficacy of helmets, but I am unaware of anything that says wearing a helmet actually worsens head injuries. Therefore logically, you have nothing to lose by wearing a helmet, but potentially everything to gain. Inconvenience, fashion, or helmet-hair are negligible losses compared to a helmet potentially saving you from serious injury or peven death. It's somewhat laughable when cyclists who tout the health benefits of cycling do so without a helmet. All it takes is one bad day to take you from being fighting fit to fighting for your life.

    And as for the posters whose argument is "You can hit your head doing anything, why not wear a helmet 24/7?", you're all missing the point by a very wide margin. The point here is risk. The risk of a head injury is far greater when you're on a bike than when you're simply walking down the street or crossing the road (provided you don't just go leaping out in front of traffic). Similarly, in other environments where the risk of head injury is elevated, e.g. construction sites, helmet use is also essential. Not only is the risk of injury greater, but the severity of the injury should one occur is also likely to be greater. When this risk outweighs the inconvenience of wearing protective equipment, as it does when cycling, you should then take the necessary precautions.

    And Velouria, "Regardless of whether we believe helmets to be effective, there is something seriously problematic when journalists and medical staff act like an accident is a cyclist's fault, if the cyclist was not wearing a helmet. It is not logical. Kind of like saying that a person was shot during a mugging because they were not wearing a bullet proof vest". I'm sorry but this argument is a red herring. Again, it's all about risk. No one expects to get shot when they walk out the door (at least, not in my neighbourhood). But everytime you get on a bike, you should be aware that you are entering a risky environment and should take the necessary precautions. Sure, the accident may not have been your fault. But tell that to the metal plate the doctor had to put in your skull because you didn't wear a helmet.

    ReplyDelete
  73. I categorically disagree with the suggestion that every time a person gets on their bicycle they should expect crashing and hitting their head. If I thought this to be true, I simply would not ride - with or without safety gear.

    ReplyDelete
  74. A few more thoughts in addition to the statistic I posted earlier that death and severe head injury rates did not decrease in Australia or New Zealand after helmet use became mandatory:

    Those of you who believe a helmet is necessary to protect your brain during cycling: I wonder if you also wear your helmet while walking, riding in a car, or taking a shower. Your brain is at equal or higher risk of damage in each of those activities than while bicycling.

    To the idea that a helmet can't hurt you: a helmet effectively makes your "head" larger, increasing the chance that you will strike it and therefore turning near misses into hits. There is also disturbing research that suggests that helmets can introduce rotational stresses that can snap your neck that would not exist in a bare-headed collision. Finally, there is some evidence (supported by my own anecdotal experiences) that drivers give less clearance and drive more recklessly around helmeted cyclists.

    Can a helmet help in some accidents? Yes, probably. But it would also help in some walking or driving accidents. I compared my perception of risk among these activities and decided that if I would feel unjustified wearing a helmet while walking down the street, the evidence doesn't justify it during my daily commute on a slow upright bicycle on quiet residential streets.

    One other reason I dislike aggressive helmet promotion (and especially helmet laws) is because it creates a perception (as demonstrated by some of the fears expressed in this thread) that riding a bicycle is far, far more dangerous than it actually is. That suppresses ridership, which in turn really does make bicycling more dangerous.

    For my part, Velouria, this is why I find the safety gear debate, as you put it, interesting and important - because it threatens to frighten people away from cycling and characterize bicycling as a marginal and dangerous activity.

    ReplyDelete
  75. DMan: You, like others in the thread, are assuming that everyone else's environment, behavior, bicycle, and all other factors that go into determining the risk they face when riding a bicycle are the same as yours. They aren't. The argument that everyone should wear a helmet because the roads where *you* live are dangerous doesn't hold water. I'm not saying you shouldn't wear a helmet either, I'm just pointing out that your argument is pretty weak. I don't expect to get shot or crash my bicycle when I walk out the door in the morning. And, frankly, experience shows me that I'm much less likely to get seriously hurt from crashing my bicycle than I am from getting shot, so I might actually worry about getting shot more than about crashing my bicycle.

    ReplyDelete
  76. Of course your points about stressing safe cycling behaviors are valid, but knowing how to be safe and utilizing the proper equipment aren't mutually exclusive. This is the same in every activity.

    While we can't account for every eventuality, we can prepare for certain probabilities (such as falling and landing on your head). A helmet isn't meant to be a replacement for riding skills, common sense, vigilance, street smarts, observation, etc, but it can save you and your loved ones a lot of grief in the possibility that you land on your head with enough force to shatter your cranium in the event of a fall.

    Again, I can live with broken ribs, arms, legs, wrists... but a broken head rarely turns out well. For me, the concern of damaging my brain because I wasn't wearing a helmet in that potential scenario that I happen to hit my head upon something while riding far outweighs the embarrassment of being seen in public while wearing a helmet. Of course, I also don't mind wearing reflective leg bands or orange vests.

    I'm with rpguitar in wanting to hear a few explicit reasons why wearing a helmet would be bad, besides the fact that it might "seriously detract" from your slow, upright riding pleasure.

    ReplyDelete
  77. @Jesse Smith:

    Every one of your concerns is addressed in this post:
    http://sites.google.com/site/bicyclehelmetmythsandfacts/

    ReplyDelete
  78. For those who can manage an interesting - though long, dry and technical - read, see the latest meta-analysis on helmets and injury by Elvik in the Journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention. Evaluating helmet studies over the past several decades, this analysis concludes that when all factors are accounted for, the "net effect" of helmets is zero: while they correlate with a small reduction in (some) head injuries, they also correlate with a small increase in face and neck injuries.

    This does not take into account things like "risk compensation;" it is a meta-analysis of just injuries.

    ReplyDelete
  79. "Velouria said...

    I categorically disagree with the suggestion that every time a person gets on their bicycle they should expect crashing and hitting their head. If I thought this to be true, I simply would not ride - with or without safety gear."

    I didn't say that you should expect to crash every time you get on your bike, and did not mean to suggest that. What I said was that every time you get on your bike, you should be aware that you are engaging in an activity where there is elevated risk and therefore should take the necessary precautions, which includes practicing safe cycling behaviour AND wearing a helmet.

    ReplyDelete
  80. Dman - And my argument is that this is not a logical way of thinking about it, given that we do not take equivalent precautions for activities with statistically higher risks. But I need to stop at this point and save it for my helmet post. Come back to discuss in a couple of weeks?

    ReplyDelete
  81. I bought a brand new bike that came in a box, the handyman at the store, after assembling it for me tried to sell me a long list of extras: helmet, gloves, canteen, socks, shoes, fluorescent lights, etc. I remember telling him: "thank you, but I just wanna ride" and left with my new two-wheeler. You could not have said better in your log. Thanks.
    By the way, you should show your face more often in the pics. Nice freckles!

    ReplyDelete
  82. @ Somervillain

    "My own anecdotal evidence and experience dictates a risk-benefit choice that is strictly mine, no one else's."

    ANECDOTAL - that's the keyword here. Whatever happened once upon a time to me, my pals, my aunt or my dog does not make statistics, and is certainly no basis on which to either impose something to others or pass judgements on someone else's intelligence.

    "And let's keep the sarcastic comments to ourselves."

    That was exactly my point in my answer to Roff.

    @ Roff

    You could have cycled all the way to hell and back sitting on your head and pedaling with your tongue, this does not make you neither better nor more serious a cyclist.
    Actually, your country road tractor encounter and dirt road jack in the box surprise stories totally undermined whatever you were trying to demonstrate.

    As V pointed out, the main issue in safety is behaviour. From you examples, its seems that:

    1. You were not in control of your speed
    2. You did not anticipate antything
    3. You are some sort of Lance Amstrong wannabe and bahaved like one

    See how upleasant it is to have people make assumptions about one's sense of resonsibility, level of seriousness or intelligence solely based on a few line from a blog post on an issue as trivial as helmet shaped feathers.

    More important though, and to bad it was not addressed is the role of infrastructure, law enforcement and societal structuration.

    How about:

    - Impose a 30 years old minimum age for motorists,
    - Anyone seeking a driver's license should have a record free of substance abuse (abuse I said),
    - As part of the driver licensing process, a three month biking period on major streets and highways all witnessed by an independant third parties,
    - Systematic fail to license test in case of errors regarding pedestrian or cyclist questions,
    - Maximum 15 km/h on residential streets, and 30 km/h on main streets,
    - All cars equipped with alcool blow-in-the-balloon equipments on ignition,
    - A tax on gaz that quintuples the price thereof,
    - A tax on car price that doubles it (as some european countries have done),
    - Ever hit a pedestrian or cyclist and your license is suspended for life,
    - Do it again, straight to jail for 10 years
    - Cops actually doing their jobs and enforcing the laws
    - Stop signs as yields for cyclists
    - Red lights as stops for cyclists
    - Downtowns totally closed to car traffic
    - Residential areas reserved to locals only with systems that you see in Europe (you have to swipe a card on barriers for them to come down in the ground so you can proceed)

    Etc. These would eliminate the perception of danger (http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2008/09/three-types-of-safety.html) that leads people to think they need helmets.

    The funds allocated to these silly campaigns would be much better used in sensible urban planning.

    Doris

    ReplyDelete
  83. V -- I haven't read through all of the posts, but with regards to why people are focusing on the safety gear; I think it's simply that your stated position regarding safe behavior: your bike should be in good condition, you should be vigilant, you should pay attention to traffic laws, etc. All of that is generally accepted and few of us feel a need to contest that. Sure, some folks may try to argue that it is occasionally safer to run a red to stay ahead of traffic, but I think most of that crowd are so accustomed to being shouted down on that position that they'll keep it to themselves. Of the 'safe behavior' part of your post, I think the only point that invites comment and debate is what constitutes acceptable visibility at night.

    Personally, most of the points on helmets have been made already, and I don't care to get into this debate, which has been raging since the dawn of Usenet.

    When I got hit last month and was taken to the ER, I was asked if I was wearing a helmet, eventhough my description of the crash did not indicate that my head was anywhere near being impacted. I didn't find that judgemental or condescending. It just sounded perfunctory, like my dentist asking me if I floss three times a day. Nothing to get worked up about.

    You know what's an oft overlooked piece of safety gear? Kickstands. Oh, the chaos that could be wreaked when a bicycle tips over in a grocery parking lot. Chaos! I tell you.

    ReplyDelete
  84. Velouria - Sounds good! I somewhat regret that the first comment I decided to put up was to take issue with one of your posts. I've only been reading your blog less than a month, but have found it to be a consistently enjoyable, interesting, and informative read :)

    ReplyDelete
  85. Thanks for getting back to the point of the post. You had to know this would happen ... sorry, but even hinting at the "h" word is asking for more violence than any bike crash could ever impose. ;)

    Maybe we could just make the logical statements as follows:

    Safe riding practices minimize the potential for accidents. (See the post if you don't understand what that means.)

    Protective gear, while possibly reducing injury in the event of an accident, does not make an unsafe rider safe and does nothing to prevent accidents.

    Therefore ... when promoting bicycle safety, the focus should be on safe riding practices (accident prevention), rather than whether or not you always wear your helmet (oops, I said the "h" word). As a lesser focus, one should feel free to also wear whatever makes them feel comfortable while riding, without passing judgement on others who choose to wear (or not wear) the same.

    Hope that's a proper synopsis of the post intentions.

    The comments are starting to make me see the Monty Python version of the Spanish Inquisition ... cyclist tied up, tortured, and being asked "Did you or did you not ride through the town center on a steel mixte with 2 ... no, wait ... 3 bags of groceries ... and 6 pints of Guinness ... while NOT wearing an approved cranial protection device?"

    ReplyDelete
  86. And of course, goes without mentioning, (segregated) bike paths galore!

    Anyone who uses the "sorry mate I din't see you" bullsh*t argument should get a court ordered visual check-up with total prohibition to operate ANY vehicle until said vision improves. Such improvement should be assessed by a panel of independant eye professionals.
    In matter of days, that argument would disappear from the planet.

    Last but not least, complete and total strictly liability for motorists. I went to a conference given by Michael Coleville Andersen and he mentionned how in Denemark, a cyclist could be dressed all ninja, salmoning with no lights and still the onus would be on the motorist in case of an accident. I don't know to what extent this is true, but a little reversal of the onus would keep these motorists in line.

    Helmet hysteria is such an anglo-saxon thing... You don't see that elswhere, I really wonder why...

    Doris

    ReplyDelete
  87. Anon - I do accept that helmet debates will happen in response to a post like this, so I am just letting it flow and not moderating anything out (so far)... and trying (albeit not too successfully!) not to get too drawn in : )

    This is not a typical topic for a post here, but I felt it was time to express my views clearly and not be overly ambiguous about it. Now it's done and I will refer to this post any time someone asks.

    ReplyDelete
  88. "I'm with rpguitar in wanting to hear a few explicit reasons why wearing a helmet would be bad, besides the fact that it might "seriously detract" from your slow, upright riding pleasure."

    It would seriously mess up my 'do: Flat hair is unsexy.

    Eileen

    ReplyDelete
  89. V, I respect your decisions, but many of the arguments here are based in faulty premises.

    Whether or not you should/shouldn't wear a helmet, the bullet-proof vest analogy is bugging me to no end. It's faulty on several levels, but the simplest one is that you are comparing two non-comparable things. You can't compare choosing to wear an item that is not widely publically available and very expensive to choosing to wear an item that is widely publically available and relatively inexpensive (the fire department in my town has regularly scheduled days where they give helmets away for free). Apples to oranges. If a comparison isn't really, really apt, make your argument another way.

    Secondly, as anyone working in the US health-care system can explain: one's injuries, when they require major medical care, are not that person's alone. Most states require seatbelts for this simple reason: fewer folks are seriously injured in car accidents when people wear them, and not having to aid those folks using publically-funded agencies like the fire department keeps costs for everyone down. Whether or not helmets themselves work to prevent injuries, arguing that any injuries incurred will only impact the injured person is simply not true, and therefore the argument is invalid.

    I also love the old "but we incur risks everyday, so I should be able to do this risky thing because I want to" argument. If a kid in my class makes this argument (and trust me, they make it all the time), I fail their paper and make them start over, because it's flawed. It's logically unsound. Example: so because I could possibly fall down and hit my head on a rock while walking, I should be allowed to go skydiving, too, Mom. Those are both risky behaviors, after all. I could break my neck doing both... The logic here is obviously flawed: walking does not equate to jumping out of airplanes. It just doesn't, but teenagers love to make this argument all the time. Walking also does not equate to riding a bicycle without a helmet. That doesn't mean that there aren't good reasons to ride without a helmet, just as there are good reasons to go skydiving, but the fact that one can be injured doing other things TOO is not a valid argument for going helmetless.

    All these arguments are terrible from a rhetorical standpoint. If you don't want to wear a helmet, then your argument should be founded in very good statistics as to why this is true. I know you feel you have them, but most of your readers don't know that. I thought this sort of nonsense is why you avoided this topic, and I now heartily agree with that initial choice.

    I know, the original post isn't about helmets, but yes it is. That's the main safety argument in cycling, and I've observed already in my short cycling career that no amount of actual facts or real logic make a darn bit of difference to what people do, either way. But no matter what the topic, I hate bad arguments. Makes my teacherly skin crawl :)

    ReplyDelete
  90. I suppose the "safety gear debate" is going to happen no matter what, but there are a lot of other (and to my mind, more interesting) topics, such as lighting choices and bike handling skills.

    I'm in the position right now of teaching my 10-year-old daughter to bike safely in traffic, and there are a lot of things to cover, especially when explaining some of the visibility issues to someone who's never seen the road from a driver's perspective. Anyone else found themselves suddenly a car-free single parent? Any tips?

    Also, someone mentioned tools and flat kits. For some, it's possible to ride without the means to patch a tire, for others it's not practical, where does one draw the line, and what kind of kits do folks carry (and what do you do with them if you've got to lock your bike outside when you arrive?), I know what I do, but I'd be interested to hear what others use and why.

    ReplyDelete
  91. Snarkypup - Your walking vs skydiving example is a good one. I equate the risk of cycling for transportation with that of being a pedestrian and not with that of taking part in an extreme sport. And statistics are on my side.

    Basically, if in the course of reevaluating the data on risk analysis I came to a conclusion that the only safe way to ride my bike for transportation was whilst wearing a helmet, I would not do it. I am not willing to engage in such a risky behaviour just to get from point A to point B.

    ReplyDelete
  92. Matt--you could rent a car or grab a Zipcar and drive around cyclist-dense neighborhoods to illustrate the interaction of drivers and cyclists and how the road looks from inside the car.

    ReplyDelete
  93. "Secondly, as anyone working in the US health-care system can explain: one's injuries, when they require major medical care, are not that person's alone. Most states require seatbelts for this simple reason: fewer folks are seriously injured in car accidents when people wear them, and not having to aid those folks using publically-funded agencies like the fire department keeps costs for everyone down. Whether or not helmets themselves work to prevent injuries, arguing that any injuries incurred will only impact the injured person is simply not true, and therefore the argument is invalid."

    Then, pray tell, why exactly don't the helmet propagandists also require:

    - Total prohibition of cigarettes,
    - Total prohibition of alcool,
    - Total prohibition of fast food,
    - total prohibition of junk food,

    Actually, in the same manner there are helmet laws, there should be healthy-living laws...to keep costs down for everyone right?

    Anyone with a fat a$$ should be stopped in the streets and a health inquisition squad should invade this person's privacy with:
    - Did you get your 3 x 1,5h cardio exercises this week? No => ticket.
    - How many fruits and vegetables did you eat today? less than 10 => ticket. Less than 5, one month community service.
    - Did you smoke any cigarette in the past 3 months? Yes => one month jail-time.

    Every doctor in the country should send quarterly cholesterol reports to the Surgeon general for all citizens. Those above cut-off would see the health squad pop-up at their door for a corrective treatment: chained to a threadmill you'll only be set free once you've lost the extra fat.
    Etc.

    If anyone was really interested in the public good, general health matters, keeping health costs down, this is what would be done.

    Whatever!!

    Snarkypup, yours is the worst reasoning I've read in years.

    Doris

    ReplyDelete
  94. @ Doris

    "chained to a threadmill you'll only be set free once you've lost the extra fat."

    You meant chained to a bicycle!
    I love this idea... Actually that would be quite some policy...
    How many days before we've curbed that obesity rampage?

    Eileen

    ReplyDelete
  95. Overall, I agree with the post. In the comments, I seem to find many posters disagreeing with statements Velouria never made.

    I think the audience is weighted significantly to the U.S. From my unscientific observation, bike safety advice in the US always lists helmet use as #1, and may (or may not) address other issues such as lights (don't ride after dark, it's too dangerous), or following normal traffic laws (often abridged to eliminate bicyclists right to ride where it is safe) as an afterthought.

    Telling motorists to wear seat belts makes use because it is taken for granted that motorists will drive on the correct side of the road, they know they should obey traffic signals, and all the cars are required to have headlights and motorists know they should use them.

    My local observations for bicyclists
    *Most people I've met here (PA, MD, DE) were told in grade school to ride facing traffic. Club cyclists know this is not legal, but most casual cyclists and drivers think bicyclists should face traffic if there is no sidewalk for bicyclists to use.

    * Planners and advocates are not concerned about signals that won't change for bicycles, while the motorists complain that bicyclists ignore signals. Of course many bicyclists do - they're much harder to trip if the detectors aren't marked, and are deliberately calibrated to ignore bicyclists.

    *Similarly, safety promotions always stress helmets but typically state that bicyclists should always be as far right as possible, ignoring left turns, right turning cars and trucks, storm drains etc.

    In short, the acceptance of traffic cycling in the US is so low that in this context it really IS necessary to say that bicyclists are allowed to ride on the road instead of the sidewalk, should ride with traffic and are allowed to choose their lane depending on their destination. I don't see how having people wear helmets will address these issues, and I don't see how focusing on these fundamentals tells people anything about helmets.

    I believe Velouria's point was not that the helmeted rider turning into a one way street the wrong way didn't need a helmet. I think her point was that the rider and everyone else would be better off if this cyclists rode with traffic, and if adequate inexpensive lights were standard, since even casual cyclists may unexpectedly be out after dark. Knowing enough to ride with traffic, and ride in the correct lane seems far more likely to prevent collisions and injury than putting a helmet on these riders.

    I can't actually remember Velouria telling anyone not to wear a helmet. Personally I am think advice saying you should consider the circumstances shouldn't be that controversial. I don't see how telling cyclists to avoid wrong way riding or door zones says anything about helmets (although you may not need to buy as many). No one said this will prevent all accidents - motorists hit each other every day. However, some accidents are easier to avoid than others

    Bicycle facilities and treatment of bicyclists by drivers and police vary dramatically more than treatment of motorists. I think the varying tolerance or hostility for bicyclists creates such different experiences that there is no agreement on how bicyclists should behave, or how they should be treated.

    Angelo

    ReplyDelete
  96. Velouria (9:15) -- Yes, I absolutely do believe we should take the interests and concerns of loved ones into account when making decisions about what to eat, whether or not to smoke, whether or not to drink, whether or not to exercise, and so forth. To do otherwise would be pure selfishness. I have known people who made little or no effort to keep themselves healthy, and, believe me, the negative effects were not limited to them. Personal freedom has to be leavened with responsibility. Please note that I am not suggesting that the interests of loved ones should dictate one's decisions, only that they should be taken into account.

    I agree with you that there's a slippery slope, here. But that hardly invalidates the argument. It simply means that where one draws the line is likely to be somewhat arbitrary, and that not everyone is likely to agree on exactly where the line should be drawn.

    ReplyDelete
  97. I think that V's comment re: bulletproof vests is not unreasonable - in my city you are over 100 times more likely to die of a gunshot wound than you are to die in a bike accident. It might also be reasonable to ask why we don't wear helmets while driving cars.

    One of the issues that helmet skeptics have with helmets is that they are just not that protective. Not nearly as protective as many people imagine. (And they have become less protective as standards have weakened over time).

    I wear a seatbelt in a car, and I'll wear a motorcycle helmet on a motorcycle. There is strong evidence that these protective devices can actually protect you.

    Bicycle helmets are only designed to provide protection equivalent to falling off a non-moving bicycle. They are too lightweight to protect you from higher speed crashes or crashes with automobiles - if you want this kind of protection, you should probably wear a motorcycle helmet.

    Again, the best evidence we have is the evidence from Australia and N.Z., since they achieved over 90% compliance for helmet wearing for a large population (with biking facilities roughly equal to those in the US, not Denmark), and there was no compensating reduction in deaths or serious injury. None. Zero.

    It's hard to avoid the conclusion that helmets don't really do anything.

    (I should probably save more of this for the promised dedicated helmet thread, but I should also point out that helmets are *not* designed to protect you by breaking. A helmet that has broken has exceeded its design specifications and provided little if any protection to the wearer. That so many helmets break is an example of helmets being underdesigned, not an example of helmets being protective.)

    ReplyDelete
  98. I'm staying out of this, except to say that the original comment about steel toed boots and preventative neck braces had me laughing out loud for a minute.

    And I am not telling V or GR Jim, but I know what they disagree about, too. And I disagree with both of them.

    ReplyDelete
  99. I have two friends who would more than likely be dead had they not been wearing helmets at the time of their respective accidents (they both survived with minimal head trauma). In both cases they were riding "safely". One of them hit a large pot-hole on a dark sidestreet and the other popped his chain while climbing a hill clipped into his pedals.

    These incidents have convinced me that bike helmets are both very useful and very important. People that hear of incidents like these and continue to push against helmet use are very peculiar in my opinion.

    ReplyDelete
  100. I might also mention that I don't think anyone here has said you shouldn't wear a helmet if you feel better doing so. I personally don't wear one because I don't feel my circumstances merit it. That doesn't mean I'm suddenly anti-helmet, on a crusade to forbid helmets everywhere! I just want people to give it some rational thought, and not just make a fear-based reaction, solely based on what they were told by the local media about how your head will be squished all over the pavement if you ever get on a bike without a helmet.

    We have enough hysterical fear-mongering going on in society, let's not spread it further.

    ReplyDelete
  101. PS This post is inarguable except for the thing I forgot.

    ReplyDelete
  102. I almost forgot that you forgot it!

    ReplyDelete
  103. BTW I had #100 sewn up, let Corey have it FTW.

    ReplyDelete
  104. You’ve defined safe behavior only as “a matter of social responsibility” and not also as a matter of self preservation and survival. I’m guessing you did that to draw a distinction between social behavior (affecting others) and personal behavior and risk management decisions (affecting only yourself). Why not just draw that distinction instead of making it into an equipment (i.e. helmet) issue? Seems a skewed or incomplete distinction to me.

    ReplyDelete
  105. @velouria, grjim,and Corey, I can't tell if your disconnected exchanges are more or less absurd than most of the other exchanges here today...

    ReplyDelete
  106. Bif - because I think protective equipment, even if effective, plays a relatively small role even in personal safety compared to the other points I listed... yet it is often prioritised in safety campaigns over the other stuff. On the streets I regularly encounter cyclists who, frankly, cannot ride a bike - but are feeling safe and competent while wobbling down that one way street against traffic, because they are wearing a helmet.

    ReplyDelete
  107. Julia - Ah but Lovely Bicycle is the theater of the absurd and we are all but players...

    ReplyDelete
  108. Wow, this is a long discussion - I wasn't aware that the helmet issue was THAT big!

    By way of anecdote, I don't usually ride with a helmet (don't own one, though I do have a pretty tough crash helmet for a scooter) but the other day I had my first actual "run in" with a driver which was both terrifying and exhilarating in the most offensive sense of the word. ;)

    It started when my cyclist friend from England was in town and we decided to go for a ride. I had painstakingly appraised her of the road conditions, rules and particular hand signals best used and understood in the urban midwest. So anyhow, we were riding down this pretty busy road (cars parked on both sides, moving traffic both ways, no sidewalks, the usual). We were in the right-hand bike lane when we approached a split in the road. The right fork led to the freeway and the left fork was the continuation of the urban street. Obviously we needed to merge left. Unfortunately, the driver of the bright red, jacked-up Dodge Dakota with the massive brush-guard/cyclist-clearer on the front end who was driving behind us didn't agree. As we attempted to merge left (hand signals and all) he got impatient, cut us off and then started honking and yelling obscenities at my poor friend, whom, at this point was confused that her hand-signals didn't appear to be working!

    Anyways, the whole incident ended with my extending the middle finger, his screaming out further various unmentionable obscenities while swerving on to the freeway ramp.

    It was unnerving, but these things happen. Or at least you hear about them from time to time! My only question is why must these encounters seemingly always happen with really terrifying looking drivers in massive vehicles? You guys should have seen this truck - it was suited more for a monster truck rally than use on public roads. :-O

    ReplyDelete
  109. Ha! I was thinking Ionesco, but I like the dada marionettes image!

    ReplyDelete
  110. My perspective as a relatively recent avid transportation cyclist is this: I am actually surprised when I see cyclists around me stopping and remaining stopped for red lights, as it is not really the norm (though it is for me). These very same cyclists are usually clad with a helmet as required by the law of our city. That law is the only one people on bicycles mostly comply with, and it drives me crazy.

    I do usually wear a helmet, though I don't really want to. When I don't wear one, I actually kind of cringe when I see a cop car, thinking I might be in for a ticket.

    One thing I do notice about my own behavior is that I am a lot more likely to ride in an aggressive manner and take more technical risks when I wear a helmet. Without, I am more likely to be careful and take things easy.

    Mostly, I wish the cyclists in my town would be better citizens of the road (and even more so on the MUP-- I really don't want to get started on that one!), because the vast majority of cyclists do things that give the car folk reason, rightly so, to go on hating those scofflaw cyclists.

    I for one, would rather not be included in their camp, but in the eyes of the average driver, they don't know my bicycling record or philosophy, so I am lumped in all the same. And so, I occasionally get road raged on accordingly.

    ReplyDelete
  111. No matter how well you follow all the safety precautions you can, and behave as a responsible cyclist in all ways, you have no control over the actions of others on the road.
    Despite being an extremely defensive bike commuter I have nearly had bad wrecks in the past month alone with car, pedestrian, and fellow bikers that were not acting as responsibly.
    That's why you wear a helmet.
    It has absolutely nothing to do with how you personally ride at all.

    ReplyDelete
  112. In belated answer to Doris who thoughtfully put me straight in her response last night - my time, here in the UK - I am a little bemused by her assertion that my anecdotes about being hit by a stop-sign-running truck and surprise discovery that the bitumen ended around a steeply descending curve somehow 'undermined whatever point it was you were trying to make'.

    If you are not certain what point it was that I was trying to make, Doris, how do you know I undermined it?

    The point was, because you obviously missed it, that cyclist behaviour plays only a part in the avoidance of accidents; you can be as skilled and considerate on the roads as you like, but you are not alone out there - there are loads of possibilities to come a cropper without you having to have done a single thing wrong. So trundling out there in the naive belief that you cannot come to harm because you pedal sensibly and observantly is an extremely dangerous fallacy.

    As I said in my first post - and I concede it to be a value judgement on my part (as I said at the time) - that I do not consider helmet-less cyclists as experienced and serious cyclists.

    Your rather condescending reply that those of us who chose to wear helmets are insecure little cycling Dumbos who toddle forth clutching at our feathers in the (forlorn apparently) hope that they will somehow save us, is a nonsense. Helmets do make a difference in a crash - ask any A&E doctor, or look at the research done in Australia; for that matter my own experience of those two crashes proved to me, indelibly, that they work. In both cases the helmet was cracked, but neither time did I receive so much as a headache - although I broke several other bones.

    I must say though that your image of me toddling timidly forth on my bicycle clutching at my feathers, fretting and worrying at the dangers in the big bad world around me did bring a smile - as I interposed that image against the backdrops of Africa, Asia, and the deserts in the Australian outback, all places where I have gone for extensive solo tours.

    So although you seem to think, as you said in your earlier post, that I come from a non-cycling country, I do get out a bit. And I must say I wonder which non-cycling country it is you think I come from as you do not know me at all. In point of fact I possess three passports from three different countries; I am a triple national.

    And I wear a helmet!

    A man of many hats as it were....

    Roff

    ReplyDelete
  113. I've been shot and survived. A bulletproof vest would not have helped me because of where I was shot. Bulletproof vests don't help in all situations, nor do kevlar helmets, nor do bike helmets.

    You know what would have helped? prevention.

    Until drivers start treating their cars as 2,000 lb death machines and using some care... the helmet debate is kinda moot. Prevention is far, far more important a debate.

    ReplyDelete
  114. I am from Australia where we have to wear helmets, and I wear one. I do not agree with the law however, as many have pointed out above, its benefits are debatable and the worst thing about the law is that it has lead to a significant decrease in the number of cyclists on the road, as well as the perception that cycling is dangerous. The helmet law is also credited for the failure of the Melbourne bike share programme. This loss of the benefits of cycling for many is really sad, as the health and "liveable city" benefits of bike riding are so well known and acknowledged and I do not believe that we will get a really strong bicycle culture going while we have these laws.

    ReplyDelete
  115. In my city you are at least 180 times as likely to die from being shot than dying in a bicycle accident, and private citizens are forbidden to wear bullet proof vests by law. [annual homicide rate of 180. One bicycle related fatality between 1 and 2 years]

    ReplyDelete
  116. @ MFarrington

    How doest any of what you said justify wearing a helmet?
    Rather, your description only make the case for tougher laws on car drivers, actual enforcement thereof and better cycling infrastructure i.e. protected cycle lanes.

    ReplyDelete
  117. MFarrington, I think the psychology that leads a person to buy/modify-something-to-be an "intimidating" vehicle also makes them likely to behave more aggressively towards other road users. I can certainly say that most of the aggressive-driver incidents I've encountered over the years involved drivers and vehicles that conform to certain stereotypes (possibly I could create "A Field Guide to Dangerous Drivers," someday).

    ReplyDelete
  118. I really can't understand the amount of disrespect sloshed around when the topic turns to helmets. Goodness, if you are an adult you have every right to decide what level of protective gear you want, if any.

    I for one am glad that my daughter is now ten years old because she was wearing her helmet (which cracked and had to be replaced) when she crashed at eight years old.

    I wear a helmet not because I think it has magic elven powers to heal should I be run over by a bus, but because if someone knocks me over I think hitting my head on a foam mushroom sounds ever so slightly more pleasant than a cement curb.

    Obviously safe behavior trumps all- but the kicker to me is that I can only ensure my own safe behavior, not the behavior of those around me. If they screw up, which they do, at least I have my magic foam hat.

    ReplyDelete
  119. V, thanks for publishing my comment, even though it probably contributed to another helmet war. You don't have to publish this one, I just wanted to say thanks.
    I agree with you that the media tends to assign the blame to non-helmet-wearing cyclists far too much, and that there are lots of things we can do to make cycling safer, including following the traffic laws. But after reading some reports of cyclist deaths and seeing over and over the words massive head injuries, and having survived an accident myself (I hit a curb and woke up in the emergency room) I just can't get out of my head the vulnerability of a cyclist to severe head injury.

    ReplyDelete
  120. V., I'm now spending a month in Cambridge, and I have to agree with you: helmet use seems very prevalent here, and safe riding practices seem very rare. This is compared to NYC, Washington, D.C., Austin, TX, as well as a host of smaller college towns where I've lived.

    What's interesting to me is that my complaints about Boston biking are exactly the same as my complaints about Boston driving: compared to anywhere else in the U.S. (or even places I've biked in Europe, including Hungary and Italy), drivers of all vehicles here behave very erratically. Boston is the only place where someone has honked at me for _not_ running a red light in a car, and I have yet to see anyone but me and my wife actually waiting for a green light on bikes.

    I do think the painted bike lanes have been good here -- the numbers of people biking are completely incomparable to the last time I spent a summer here, in 1995 -- but this city needs some bike education, badly.

    ReplyDelete
  121. Andy:


    It's hard to avoid the conclusion that helmets don't really do anything.


    Unless you or a loved one experience a blow to the head while wearing one. Didn't you read my earlier comment? Maybe my daughter was just a statistical outlier. Statistically, the helmet shouldn't have done anything. But as someone who works with statistics all day, I also know enough not to put blind faith in them.

    A helmet that has broken has exceeded its design specifications and provided little if any protection to the wearer. That so many helmets break is an example of helmets being underdesigned, not an example of helmets being protective.)

    Sounds like you could use a refresher course in thermodynamics, Andy. Perhaps cast iron would work better? Seriously, read up on energy dissipation and learn about the properties of EPS.

    Seatbelts also stretch in an accident. Does that mean they've done their job, or they've exceeded their design specifications? Are the two mutually exclusive?

    ReplyDelete
  122. Velouria - great post, best summary I've seen in a while.

    Most estimates show that 50% of car/bike accidents are caused by the bicyclist violating basic rules of the road. Being proactive, as you recommend, can reduce accidents further. In my opinion, signficantly.

    As to accidents being inevitable - I've been riding a bike since I was a kid, going on 50 years now. For the last 30 I've been a pretty much fully time commuter and transportational bicyclist- in Los Angeles for a few years and many years in the Philadelphia area. I have never been hit by a car (knock wood) although I was once injuried when I hit a stopped car - broke my wrist - my only signficant injury in all my years of bicycling.

    Certainly, safe behavior on a bicycle can't prevent all accicdents but it can sure reduce them.

    As to 80% ofbicyclists involved in fatal accidents having no helmets, as mentioned above, that is a very old and disproven number. Additionally, cyclists who choose to wear helmets are often more safety minded that those without, so helmets are a MARKER of safe bicycling, not a cause of reduced fatalities.

    I advocate helemts - they are designed to prevent serious injuries due to simple falls off of bicycles. Bicyclists are certainly more prone to falls than pedestrians or drivers due to the nature of the bicycle. The accident described above when the bicyle was clipped by a car and the bicyclist banged her head when she hit the road is the exact sort of simple fall helmets were designed for. whether the fall is caused by hitting a curb or being clipped by a car.

    But helmets will do no good in a serious car/bicycle accident - the forces are simply too great for a helmet to be able to absorb the energies involved.

    Our local bicycle advocates seem to push helmets over real safety training. Their argument seems to be that it is very difficult to get people interested in true safety and taking the time to learn to ride safely, so at least getting people to wear helmets will help alleviate the damage done by the bad behaviors. Not sure I fully agree with that sentiment.

    ReplyDelete
  123. The accident described above when the bicyle was clipped by a car and the bicyclist banged her head when she hit the road is the exact sort of simple fall helmets were designed for. whether the fall is caused by hitting a curb or being clipped by a car.

    Peter, yes, this was my daughter, and I think this particular accident illustrates pretty much spot on the type of accident helmets are designed specifically to protect from. It was indeed an accident with a motor vehicle, but it was at low speed causing a fall to the ground, not a high-speed impact. I mentioned in an earlier post that helmets are not designed to protect from high-speed impact, which is why they are not a viable option for cars. But I do believe from my own personal experience riding either alone, with family, or in group rides, that simple falls in which the rider simply falls to the ground at low speed, are much more common than the sort of high speed accidents the anti-helmet zealots are using to try to refute the effectiveness of helmets. As far as I know, no pro-helmet advocate believes that, either. Also, statistics are a very slippery slope. For the type of accident that helmets are specifically designed to protect from (simple falls), how many do you think actually get reported? Probably single digit percentages, in my estimation. So the data is just not comprehensive on the subject. Therefore one must use his or her own judgment when deciding to wear a helmet. It all comes down to personal comfort level. My own experience and anecdotal evidence drives my decision, but I don't believe that anyone's personal experience or preferences should mandate what practices others people must follow.

    Andy: my daughter's helmet did indeed crack, but her frontal bone did not. Would it have cracked, if the EPS foam hadn't remodeled the impact energy, reducing the forces exerted on the frontal bone before it "exceeded its design specification"? Or would she have suffered internal hemorrhage? It's impossible to say with any certainty, but common sense suggests that the probability of either of those outcomes would have increased.

    ReplyDelete
  124. Those of you who state with certitude that your helmet saved your life in a crash, the only way you can know this is if you repeated the exact same crash but did not wear a helmet and died.

    Since we're all throwing anecdotes around, here's a couple more. I knew someone who drove his car off the road and died, quite possibly from a head injury. Would a helmet have saved his life? Quite possibly. I know another man who fell off a stepladder and died of a head injury. Would a helmet have saved his life?

    Are we all being incredible reckless and foolish to drive cars or climb stepladders without helmets? If not, then why do we single out bicycling for this focus on promoting helmet use?

    ReplyDelete
  125. Jesse - Once that sort of thing is said, there is an impasse. The emotional feeling of causality is so strong that any logical argument explaining how causality really works falls on deaf ears. I understand why people need to believe this. But it makes reasonable debate impossible.

    ReplyDelete
  126. @Dman,

    The thing about protective equipment is that what may seem appropriate for you can seem unnecessary for others, for example:

    "Logically, you have nothing to lose by wearing a stab-vest, but potentially everything to gain. Inconvenience, fashion, or sweaty torso are negligible losses compared to a stab-vest potentially saving you from serious injury or peven [sic] death. [...] All it takes is one bad day to take you from being fighting fit to fighting for your life."

    To some, that statement might chime with their own perception of risk, to others it might sound ludicrous. This is why it is a matter of personal choice; if it was made mandatory, it would simply put many others off from participating in the activity in question. The only major difference being that there is little academic doubt about the effectiveness of stab-vests (although there could be risk compensation effects to worry about)

    ReplyDelete
  127. http://www.nybuff.org/2011/07/women-struck-and-killed-by-usps-truck.html#comments

    I did not agree with the comment posted - once again he was blaming the cyclist.

    ReplyDelete
  128. In the end, this is what I would recommend to anyone who asked me:

    The health benefits of cycling vastly outweigh the risks (with or without a helmet). Even with the minor risk that cycling involves, riding regularly increases your life expectancy significantly.

    So, if wearing a helmet gives you the confidence to ride regularly, then by all means do so. Conversely, if having to wear a helmet would discourage you from riding regularly, they don't wear one.

    If you do choose to wear a helmet, do not overestimate its protective effect, and consider it a last line of defense. All of the safety advice Velouria lists in this post should come first.

    ReplyDelete
  129. Sue:

    Marilyn Dershowitz, 68, was hit on W. 29th St. near Ninth Ave. just after 12 p.m., sending her crashing to the pavement, police said.

    Interesting. If it was the fall to the ground that caused the bleeding and not the direct impact with the vehicle, I wonder if a helmet could have mitigated the forces that led to the bleeding? Not to add fuel to the debate, but just to yet again illustrate that even if you are exercising all the appropriate safety considerations, it's possible to have a collision with a motor vehicle resulting in a fall to the ground-- we're not talking high-speed impact here--exactly the type of fall that a helmet is designed to protect against.

    ReplyDelete
  130. Adam said...
    "In my city you are at least 180 times as likely to die from being shot than dying in a bicycle accident, and private citizens are forbidden to wear bullet proof vests by law."


    Exactly. I have lived in areas where getting shot, stabbed, raped, or beaten is a very real concern for pedestrians. To undermine this by suggesting that the risk of head injury from cycling is higher is to show how out of touch one is with reality.

    ReplyDelete
  131. A couple points

    The bullet proof vest is an analogy; If you don't understand that, it's pointless to reply. Fact is even with airbags and seatbelts many more head injuries are recorded in automobiles. How do you think automoblie drivers would react to having to wear a helmet!

    Here in Dallas, people riding bicycles are required to waer a helmet, but motorcycle riders are not!! Sounds silly to me!

    One thing that has not gotten many comments here and that is simply this. No matter how skilled you are or how safely you are riding, it is still possible to get in an accident and most likely with a car or other moving vehicle. Fact is there are too many drivers out there who have no business behind the wheel of a car! My wife came from a country were women typically don't drive, when she came here I taught her how to drive, but quite honestly I did not feel good about letting her out on the road, even though she passed her driving test and got her license! Problem is we live in a car based society and I had little choice, but let her drive if she was going to function as a normal person in the community! I will chalk it up to my driving instruction that she's only had one accident in 12 years. (Slippery, rainy road and a sharp curve) She's a pretty good driver now and I don't worry about her, but the fact is that at any time there are thousands of less skilled drivers on the road. I have really noticed over the last year a spike in elderly drivers exibiting a variety of behaviors that indicate to me that they have no business on the road, but who's going to step in and stop them?? These people are not only dangerous to cyclist, but other motorists as well!

    So really we are left with cyclist forced to wear helmets as a direct response to our car centric society. I have 4 cars and I love cars, but I also own 15 bikes and 8 skateboards and I love them just as much!!

    When Dallas passed their mandatory helmet law, ridership dropped noticably and @ least 3 bike shops in my area went out of business. That to me is counter productive!

    AS I said earlier I do wear a helmet most of the time and part of that is because I am a dad and a husband, BUT it should be my option! Unfortunately I think part of the juggernaut driving helmet laws are Car-centric insurance companies, who are more concerned about large payouts by their car driving customers to cyclist that they may hit then any real concern over public saftey.

    We will continue to have this problem until city/public planners start designing transportation around Bicycle/pedestrian traffic and other alternatives rather then cars!

    MASMOJO

    ReplyDelete
  132. You have not seen a comment from me in a while because I was hit head-on by a car that was probably travelling in excess of 50mph in June. The driver passed in a clearly marked no passing zone. My bicycle handling skills AND MY HELMET saved me from certain death. It is ludicrous to argue that my helmet did not protect me. The helmet was cracked in two. Seriously, it did not make me safer?

    You cannot predict or avoid a situation like this. Wear a helmet. I am typing this (with my one functioning hand) because I was wearing a helmet.

    ReplyDelete
  133. ^ "Last line of defense" as worded by Jesse is a good way to think of it. I'll take as many lines as I can get, but a reasonable person could certainly elect to go with fewer.

    However, if someone came up to me with a brick and a helmet and said, "I am going to hit you in the head with this brick, albeit at a relatively slow speed. Would you care to don this helmet first?" assuming I couldn't out run the loon, I'd say, "Yes, please." Even if there was no conclusive data as to whether the helmet would "save" me, I'm pretty sure it would hurt less.

    I do think it's a bit disingenuous to pretend as though whether or not someone's life will be saved is the only potential benefit of protective gear. There's something to be said for simply reducing unpleasantness, at least to my mind. Would my daughter have survived her crash sans helmet? Perhaps, but her good looks would certainly have suffered if the first thing to hit the pavement had been her nose instead of the front of her helmet. And of course, there's the whole pain thing, the worst of which I am grateful her helmet allowed her to avoid.

    ReplyDelete
  134. Lynne - I am so sorry to hear about this : (((

    Same to all others who report being hit by a car, our debate notwithstanding.

    ReplyDelete
  135. Actually, somervillain, Mrs. Dershowitz was in fact wearing a helmet.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2011/07/03/2011-07-03_driver_who_hit_killed_marilyn_dershowitz_sisterinlaw_of_alan_dershowitz_may_not_.html

    ReplyDelete
  136. This conversation has become both entertaining and irritating. It seems V has had an agenda since the very beginning against the current climate of media and marketing which she feels can alienate or misled many from the joys of riding. Fine. When buying a bike this past year the LBS stressed safe riding habits, proper bike maintenance, and fit as keys to enjoyable riding. This blog has always been a source of shared knowledge and experience. We each have our own epiphanies which dictate the ways in which we become more connected to this total experience of cycling and we each have our pet peeves and annoyances. Helmet discussion sure brings out both. I'd only like to add that, like all things we attach to our bodies or bikes, fit is important. Wearing a helmet correctly is more important than just having one on your head. Be safe!

    ReplyDelete
  137. Roff: I don't see the rage and angst you're talking about in this discussion. I think all us "anti-helmet brigade" (which is also labeling people as something which they are not) are trying to say, is that it could be a perfectly reasonable decision for some people to not wear a helmet. That's it.

    Both sides of this helmet argument are valid, this is not a debate in which we can settle on a universally applicable law. I know it's really tempting to try, but it's not going to happen.

    Do what you feel is necessary for yourself, and let everyone else do the same.

    ReplyDelete
  138. Anon 11:53 - I have a lot to say (and ask) about fit and road helmets, since this is something I struggled with when choosing one and I know others do as well. Seems to be more tricky than city helmets, too. Maybe yet another helmet post in the works.

    ReplyDelete
  139. oh yes....and i'm SO glad those who have had spills while wearing helmets are taking the time to share. godspeed, Lynn.

    ReplyDelete
  140. Actually, somervillain, Mrs. Dershowitz was in fact wearing a helmet.

    Fair enough, but was there evidence that it was being used properly? Straps latched? Tightened properly? Right size helmet? Put on in the right direction (yes, I have seen people wearing helmets backwards). Any device can only work effectively if it is used correctly. Unfortunately, these types of details are rarely recorded in accidents. The data collection skills of the officials who arrive on accident scenes are all too often sorely lacking.

    When police arrived on the scene of our accident, the *only* piece of data that was entered on the police report was that we had refused an ambulance. All the police were thinking was CYA. No mention of helmet use. So, we were a missing statistic.

    As for whether a helmet prevents injury, reduces severity of injury, or reduces discomfort of injury-- any sane person can tell you that it's impossible to know with certainty without doing the controlled experiment. Understandably, human subjects can not be used in the relevant experiment. However, common sense suggests that it would.

    To anyone who has ever actually been there - felt that horrific high-speed smack of body on pavement, and seen the crack in their helmet, there really is no argument.

    Been there, seen that. But again, personal choice, based on personal experience. Do what you want, be pro-helmet or anti-helmet, but please refrain from comments such as "helmets do nothing", as well as comments such as "people are stupid for not wearing them". What's *most* important is that people have the personal freedom to make their own judgments about their personal safety.

    One thing that has not gotten many comments here and that is simply this. No matter how skilled you are or how safely you are riding, it is still possible to get in an accident and most likely with a car or other moving vehicle. Fact is there are too many drivers out there who have no business behind the wheel of a car!

    I think I brought this up earlier :-).

    Wearing a helmet correctly is more important than just having one on your head.

    Exactly!

    ReplyDelete
  141. Portlandize and V: both sides are not valid, period. I simply would not have fared better without a helmet. My face and glasses were very scratched and my helmet cracked in two. The helmet did not save my arm and foot, but I did not lose consciousness or sustain any head injury.

    The law did not protect me; the driver broke the law. The low traffic on the road did not protect me. The numerous "watch out for bicycles" signs did not protect me. Incredibly, the driver was aware of the bicycles on the road that day -- not me, though.

    There is a big difference between making a personal choice not to wear a helmet and encouraging others to make that choice. I studied the "debate" before I was hit. I almost bought the argument that helmets did not make one safer. I can't tell you how happy I am that I did not make that choice.

    So let me throw that out to all the bike bloggers who encourage people to disregard helmets as necessary safety equipment. I almost fell for it. I would definitely have been much more seriously hurt, felt more pain, and possibly been killed. I am a big transportation and sporting cycling advocate. Things like being hit by cars really do happen to real people. How would you feel, bike bloggers who don't think helmets make you safer, if these posts I am writing today were instead being written by my son after his mom was killed because I HAD fallen for it and HAD NOT been wearing a helmet?

    I guarantee you that you will want a helmet if you wind up in that moment where a car is suddenly 10 feet in front of you and you realize that it IS going to hit you.

    You have lost a lot of credibility in my eyes. I hope that you will consider that you may influence someone to choose not to wear a helmet and that person may be seriously injured or killed because of it.

    I know that you discourage this debate on your blog because it is so heated. I am not accusing you of being anti-helmet. But we all know how hostile drivers are toward us. We need to conquer that problem first.

    Please take seriously my statement that I really did almost stop wearing a helmet based on this debate all over the bike blogging world. There is someone else out there who has been influenced to disregard helmet use. I hope that person comes to his or her senses before winding up where I did.

    ReplyDelete
  142. Okay, several times now I've pointed out that statistics are difficult to interpret or derive meaning from.

    It just occurred to me that of the 149 comments thus far, three were from people who have personally experienced a crash involving a blow to the head with a probable benefit of having worn a helmet (with Lynne's being a particularly poignant example). That's 1.5% right there, without vetting the comments. Yet the statistics cited by Velouria claim a 0% benefit. Statistics, huh? Anyone care to reconcile the discrepancy?

    ReplyDelete
  143. somervillain - Re statistics by tallying up the comments here vs a meta-analysis?... come on.

    Lynne - I am not going to argue with you; this has already gotten to emotional to be productive. I will write a dedicated post about helmets where I will outline my views on all of the points you and others raise.

    ReplyDelete
  144. But seriously, Velouria, how would the meta-analysis reconcile with Lynne's and others' experiences? Or do they represent the "small" benefit that the meta-analysis indicates?

    ReplyDelete
  145. somervillain - Those who wore helmets and the helmets did not save them cannot post about it here. Think about it.

    But again... Nowhere in my post or in the comments did I write that people should not wear a helmet if they believe the helmet is beneficial. In my post I wrote that I believe safe bicycling behaviour to be a priority over safety gear - as in, the priority of the order of importance.

    The direction of the comments makes it clear that we cannot in fact prioritise in this manner - the gear debate has an emotional stronghold on everyone.

    ReplyDelete
  146. I'm digging the "small" benefit of being alive.

    V, you influence a lot of people. I truly did almost stop wearing a helmet about four months ago. I had never questioned the benefit of a helmet before reading the articles claiming no benefit that are shared in the bike blogging world. I really hope that you hear that. The terror of that car appearing will live with me forever and one of the things that flashed through my mind was the realization that I had nearly stopped wearing a helmet.

    I'm old enough to remember the same debates with regards to seat belts and driving while intoxicated. Why do I support seat belt and helmet laws? Because it's not just about you. When you make that personal choice and wind up injured because of it, your family and society are also affected.

    But laws, just like the law against passing on a double yellow, won't necessarily protect anyone. I just cannot comprehend us, the cycling community, encouraging people to not use helmets. The benefit may be minor, but it is NOT zero. I am not a zero.

    ReplyDelete
  147. Those who wore helmets and the helmets did not save them cannot post about it here. Think about it.

    Right, but... neither can those who died and weren't wearing a helmet. Obviously the comments exclude those who died, period, regardless of helmet usage.

    The only helmet benefit data we have to go on in terms of tallying comments from survivors in this thread is (1) whether they survived a head injury from a bicycle accident, and (2) whether they were wearing helmets.

    Where are the responses from readers who have survived head injuries and were not wearing helmets? I haven't seen any yet.

    ReplyDelete
  148. Go ahead and remove my comment by all means if you want to. I am not going to bother cutting and pasting, nor am I writing this post for publication but to make clear that my choice of words in that post was considered - I really do believe that the blinkered, adolescent I-doan-wanna-I-doan-hafta-an-I won't attitude that is promulgated with regards to helmet use is dangerous and reckless. I believe in personal choice, but I also think that to discourage or denigrate helmet use as you are doing in your bully pulpit (with your ingenuous comparisons with steel capped boots, neck braces, and what-not) is grossly irresponsible. I am totally in agreement with Lynne; you and your column have lost a lot of credibility in my view.

    Cycling is safe, and pleasurable and beautiful - lovely, in your own words - but a bike is not a toy, nor should it ever be regarded as one.

    Ride safe

    Roff

    ReplyDelete
  149. What's interesting is all the fervent for/against helmet discussions with almost no discussion about the benefits and methods of learning to bicycle safety. This must be due to one of these two things: Either 1)most people here already strongly agree with safe bicycling practices and simply feel that's a given with no need for discussion; or 2) most consider safety equipment much more important than safe bicycle operation.

    I hope it is the former.

    ReplyDelete
  150. Velouria said...
    "The direction of the comments makes it clear that we cannot in fact prioritise in this manner - the gear debate has an emotional stronghold on everyone."

    Until drivers allow space 24/7/365 for cyclist ,as they do in countries where cycling is much more common, the priorities will always be self preservation for all cyclist.

    As it stand now the relationship between cyclist and drivers is one of hunter & prey..............

    ReplyDelete
  151. Roff - Thank you for clarifying that : )

    I am not looking for credibility. I never had it. I am not an authority on anything bicycle related. This is just a blog, full of personal opinions, biases, and BS as any other blog.

    At this time I will close the discussion, as my moderation resources have become officially depleted. Thank you everyone for an informative and mostly respectful discussion.

    ReplyDelete