Monday, January 16, 2012

Did Not Wearing a Helmet Save Gene Hackman's Life?

film still via the gothamist

As some may know, 81-year-old actor Gene Hackman was hit by a truck while riding his bicycle in Florida last week. As the media has made a point to note again and again and again, Mr. Hackman was not wearing a helmet during the incident. It is now known that Mr. Hackman has survived the collision.

So... Does this mean that not wearing a helmet saved Gene Hackman's life?

Don't answer that, I know what you are going to say: My God, of course not. That would be absurd. What an insane conclusion. Right? Well, don't worry, I agree. Of course the fact that a helmetless cyclist survived a collision does not mean that this favourable outcome resulted from them not having worn a helmet. An accurate way to describe the situation is that the two facts coincided: He was not wearing a helmet, and he survived the collision. As everyone who has studies the scientific method or statistic knows, correlation does not imply causation.

I am glad we are on the same page now about the absurdity of implying that Gene Hackman's lack of helmet saved his life. Because if you agree about this, then surely you will see the double-standard of finding it entirely logical when helmeted cyclists who survive collisions report that wearing a helmet saved their life. It is a powerful emotional argument, but logically, statistically, and scientifically, it is erroneous for the same reasons it would be erroneous to say that not wearing a helmet saved Gene Hackman's life. If a cyclist wears a helmet and they emerge from a collision alive, that implies correlation, not causation.

Bicycle helmets have some protective properties under some conditions, but these properties are limited and do not extend to colliding with moving motor vehicles. Bicycle helmets also have some drawbacks, including their ability to cause rotational injuries. After reading lots and lots and lots of studies (the studies themselves, and not the media's digested, distorted, misquoted and sensetionalised versions of the studies), I believe that the evidence pertaining to bicycle helmet effectiveness is mixed and inconclusive. And this is talking about effectiveness itself, without even delving to the larger, social implications of the helmet debate. We are all scared of getting hurt while riding our bikes, and we would all like there to be a magic device or talisman that makes cycling safe. But it is erroneous and even dangerous to over-attribute protective qualities to the bicycle helmet. Personal accounts of surviving collisions are tremendously affecting, both for the person recounting their experience and for the listener or reader. And I by no means wish to undermine these accounts. But it is also important to recognise that as human beings, we are "wired" to be more susceptible to affecting narratives. Things that are not in fact logical make sense to us under emotionally charged conditions, and "a helmet saved my life" is a textbook example of that.

Be angry at me if you must for the title of this post and the things I write here. But also try to understand my point. Accepting emotional, subjective beliefs as evidence does not actually contribute to safety. It only contributes to a false sense of security, to hysteria, to witch hunts, and to the media now making it a point to state whether a cyclist hit by a motor vehicle was wearing a helmet or not, thus normalising the "blame the victim" mentality in reports of cyclist deaths and injuries. How did we let this happen? That is something we ought to think about very carefully.

110 comments:

  1. Are you really going to open this to comments? Are you trying for the Guiness Records?
    I agree with you on every point.
    The problem is there really aren't any stylish helmets. I like a nice wool cap. It makes me feel good, and that is about all a helmet can do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I actually think I look fine in my road helmet when I wear it and I've seen plenty of attractive city helmets as well; the aesthetics are not an issue for me.

      Delete
  2. I am indeed opening this to comments, but please note that I will be moderating with a heavy hand (not something I normally do, but the h*lmet topic is an exception).

    So, please abstain from:

    . insults of any kind in response to any of the comments (not just me I mean)

    . explicit or veiled wishings of injury or worse to those who do not share your views

    . abusive language

    . sensationalised accusations

    Comments that contain any of the above will not be approved.

    None of this should of course prevent anyone from stating their opinion in a civilised manner.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just to give a heads up and so that it does not seem sudden, I plan to close the discussion at some point tonight. It has been fairly civil so far, but this topic takes a lot of energy to moderate and I will want to move on to other things. Thanks everyone for keeping things interesting, thoughtful and polite.

      Delete
  3. In attempts to be provocative you, V, are always quick to tug the emotional string now and again as you try to illustrate your POV. Language is powerful and your use of it to suggest that something subjective is indeed real makes this blog continually less compelling and interesting -- at least for me. I understand your POV--I get it--but tire of the constant lecturing. Enjoy your bikes and your rides and your writing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it is the main stream media that is being exceptionally provocative in the way they report bicyclist injuries and deaths. And as someone who now has a small voice in the "blogosphere" I would like to push back, just a little. If that diminishes your enjoyment of the blog, I accept that.

      Delete
  4. put the other way... wearing a helmet did cause me to survive. The helmet cracked clean through but my own head was intact.
    I am certain a bare head would have fared terribly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A helmet that cracked/broke didn't do you much good. They're supposed to compress.

      Delete
    2. Actually, no. The helmet absobed the majority of the impact and the kinetic energy of cracked the helmet instead of the skull.

      It's not just about crumple zone but also about transverse waves.

      Delete
    3. @Quincy Quincette
      "It's not just about crumple zone but also about transverse waves."

      What's a transverse wave?

      Delete
  5. Personally I would never ride without a helmet. Would not even consider it.

    From a " stylish" helmet standpoint you might take a look at Nutcase or Bern for starters. Seemingly there are nearly as many different types of helmets and designs as there are cyclists.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have no problem with the way helmets look. And everyone has their own style anyhow.

      Delete
  6. A few years ago when I was getting into cycling as a fifty-something, my front tire skidded on some sand and I fell landing hard on my left shoulder. At that time I thought that if I hit my head as hard as my shoulder, I would have been a mess. When the weather turns cold and damp, I am reminded of that day and now I usually I ride with a helmet. I'm not sure my experiences should have anything to do with other peoples choices.

    ReplyDelete
  7. On this subject, I consider myself a radical moderate, in that I feel very strongly about my views, but they're, well, somewhere in the middle.

    I have a helmet (a Nutcase, which I bought specifically 'cause it had room for stickers) and I wear it most of the time. I make sure to wear it at night--because I have a light attached to it, or if I'll be riding on busier roads, or if the roads are slicker than usual for any reason, or if I plan to have a drink or two. Also, when on tour. I know that for the most part it only does me any good if I basically fall of the bike and whack my head, not if I'm hit by a car. But I fall off my bike about twice a year, so there's that. It also keeps my mom and dad happy to know I'm wearing it on tour, and there's some value to that.

    But, oh, I love riding without it. There's no denying that helmets are awkward to deal with off the bike and limit your choices in hats and hairstyles. Plus I hate the idea that I'm telling people "cycling is dangerous!"

    I think that everyone should decide for themselves whether to wear a helmet. Helmet laws are stupid, they make cycling more dangerous.

    And the emphasis on helmets as the be-all end-all of bicycle safety makes me want to scream. What about encouraging people to ride with (instead of against) traffic? Or telling them to get lights? Or reminding people driving cars to look for bicycles? Or reducing in-town speed limits? Those are things that would actually increase safety for everyone!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Correlation is a statistical term, and I think you are going too far even implying that survival and wearing helmets is correlated in the data. Its definitely not a correlation when we just look at one crash.

    Yeah, the cyclist happened to crash and be wearing (or not) a helmet at the time, we can't really determine anything from that one incident.

    As far as I know, the studies on helmet safety haven't even determined a correlation with survival with their use.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are right, I took a liberty with that word, using it casually and not as an actual statistical term.

      Delete
  9. Really well written. I have noticed here in Australia the media will mention helmets when reporting bicycle crashes when a bicyclist wasn't wearing one, but completely ignores them when they were.

    ReplyDelete
  10. For the record, I did get into a nasty crash in 2011 (hit a sharp speed bump, went over my handlebars) in which I lacerated my liver and smashed my face into the ground. I hit the ground with the side of my face and got stitches above one eyebrow and on my chin.

    And the doctors weren't totally sure, but it was suggested that I had a mild concussion.

    I was wearing a Bell helmet with a visor, did it do me any good? Would I have hit the ground at a different angle without the helmet? I sometimes think it's possible the visor meant I hit the side of my face instead of breaking my nose, but there's just no way of knowing.

    ReplyDelete
  11. There are some comments coming in with gruesome descriptions of bicycle accidents that I am not approving, because in my judgment they are needlessly sensationalist and have nothing to do with this post. I am honestly not trying to go for the most comments here, but am genuinely interested in a reasonable discussion.

    Please note that the post says nothing about whether one should or should not wear a helmet. The point of the post is basically the last paragraph.

    If you want to know what motivated me to write this, it was seeing the "the cyclist was/ was not wearing a helmet" comments in the media over and over and over again, with the implicit (and sometimes not so implicit) implication that this somehow makes a difference in the driver's liability. What's more is that I often feel that cyclists themselves contribute to this idea, precisely with the sorts of comments some are making in response to the helmet debate.

    I am not saying you should or should not wear a helmet. That is none of my business.

    What I am saying is that maybe we need to stop and think about what our attitude about the issue is doing to the way cyclist injuries and deaths are portrayed in society. That is the point I was trying to make and that is what I would ideally like to discuss here. The fact that we are unable to do this, without feeling compelled to instead engage in the helmet effectiveness debate itself, like a sad, angry broken record, is discouraging.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "What's more is that I often feel that cyclists themselves contribute to this idea, precisely with the sorts of comments some are making in response to the helmet debate." REALLY good point.

      Delete
    2. A fellow cyclist pointed out that the media reporting on the Hackman collision was forumlaic in a sense. If a cyclist is involved in a collision - the onus is to report on whether they were wearing a helmet, and on occasion whether they were inebriated. If two automobiles are involved in a collision, then one reports on seatbelt wearing, alcohol usage (if any)...so removing those elements, I think that the question should hinge on other factors...what was the point of contact? What was the responding officers initial reaction? And so forth.

      Delete
    3. Hmm, I am Australian also, and have been yelled at by drivers when not wearing a helmet and also warned by police. I usually wear one for the sake of avoiding conflict.... and yes, it is culturally ingrained in us here that if you dont wear one, and you crash, you'll get brain damage, and then no more cycling, no more life as you know it. - we have entire ad campaigns funded by gov. organisations, similar to non-smoking ads... not sure if you have those in the US, This is obviously media scare campaign, but I dont think that it is in place to boost the helmet manufacturing industry. I Thought originally that it was because we have a first class public health-care system, and therefore, if helmet wearing reduces injury, the public pocket is paying for less hospitalisation of cyclists with hardcore injuries that could have been prevented.... that's what i thought at first. But now, after doing more research on overseas bicycle cultures, I think differently. Maybe its the Kafka-esque love and intrigue that one can develop for a culture that they read about but havnt experienced, but it seems like the Dutch have it down pretty well. From what I understand, they have mandatory bicycle lessons for all school aged children, and at the age of 8 or 9, they actually have to pass a test, or obtain a "license" of sorts... not a legal contract, but something that deems their skills at a safe level for them to ride on the roadways.
      Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but my thinking is that if those kids dont even pursue cycling in their adult lives, they will at least be drivers and pedestrians who have a very clear understanding of what cycling means to an individual in terms of physical exposure and a basic trust that the other humans they are sharing the road with will actually respect their lives enough to drive carefully.
      As far as Im aware, there are no helmet laws in Amsterdam, and they have a well-designed, yet chaotic system, but everyone understands it, and people ride without fear.
      Now, I wonder if the campaigns to get people wearing helmets are meant not just to bring awareness to cyclists and encourage helmet wearing, but also just to add to their visibility in the media, keep them in the eyes of drivers, even when sitting on the couch.
      The sad Irony I will also add to this, is that we do dangerous things every day. If you are not familiar with Molly Meldrome, he is a Music Man, who has been a promoter and critic of Australian music for many many years, he's practically Kylie Minogue's Uncle of sorts, and in the eighties, he featured in the original ad campaign encouraging kids to wear helmets. Just before Christmas last year, he fell off the roof whilst installing his Christmas Lights and suffered a massive brain injury, he now has amnesia and there is a worldwide call for friends, family and acquaintances to come forward and share photos and memorabilia with him to "bring back" his memories. Anyway, details aside, this was a dangerous activity being performed in pursuit of leisure, but the media did not mention his lack of helmet or safety gear. Perhaps the helmet debate does good as it highlights the fragility of our squishy selves in a concrete, motor driven environment.

      Delete
  12. come to Australia and be forced to wear one or not ride.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Could someone enlighten me re what happens in places such as Australia and Seattle when a cyclist is "caught" without a helmet? I mean is it a fine, or are there circumstances under which they could go to prison?

      Delete
    2. A fine, which varies from State to State but is up to $150. If you try and contest it, you'll end up with a criminal record... that's right, a CRIMINAL RECORD.

      Delete
    3. I really do think that Australian laws are far to draconian. Especially in Victoria, where I believe the fines are the highest of any state.

      Delete
    4. I am in Tacoma (south of Seattle and awesome for the record.) Technically its a $60 fine here. However, I have been stopped without a helmet before (I wear one 95% of the time, but I did not have my drivers lisence with me, so the police did not know how to handle that, they just let me off with a warning. Most people in the area I know where had similar experiences. It's similar to a seatbelt law really. I don't agree with it, bust since it was instituted nothing has really changed, still tons of riders without helmets. Tacoma has ways to get a free helmet and rear light which helps the "fairness" of the law, I still don't like it, but its not all that bad. Nice post, glad somebody is drawing the middle ground :).

      Delete
  13. There is no real evidence that helmets save injuries over a large population.

    There is suggested evidence in Australia that helmets may increase injuries (over a large population)....

    ReplyDelete
  14. I broke my finger last year in a fall sustained crossing an exceptionally dangerous set of train tracks that curved across the road at an odd angle. I was on my commuting bike and was not wearing a helmet, and obviously the helmet would not have protected my finger in any case.

    The accident was both my fault and not. It was my fault in the sense that I know that I should cross tracks perpendicularly, but it was also the fault of the road designers for not providing a turnout area (or at least a sign) to let bikes and motorists cross safely. But I am willing to concede that I bore some fault for my accident.

    No one who asked me about my injury asked about the road design or about my riding skills, but I listened to several lectures (from non-cyclists) about the dangers of riding without a helmet. This illustrates the very fallacy Velouria describes: the notion that a cyclist without a helmet bears fault in every accident, even when the helmet would do nothing to prevent the injury. Had I worn a helmet, I likely would have been applauded by the same people who were lecturing me, even though I'd have the same broken finger either way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. you know what your problem is? you need a finger helmet.

      Delete
  15. When I ride a drop-bar bike (usually means fast) I wear the helmet because I just can't muster the energy to defend myself from all those who will approach to instruct me. For some reason helmet wearers think they have absolute license to tell me what to do.

    When riding flat-bar bikes in ordinary clothing I leave the house without even thinking about the helmet. And get constant instruction on how wrong I am. If I let the helmeteers win I am not going to ride so much as I do now. It's cold and wet out there and I don't have anything that keeps my old bald head warm in a helmet except high energy output, pushing the pedals hard all the time. There are already places I try to avoid because of the constant drip of helmet correctness.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Another commenter shared this same statement, but the difference here is that you actually can see when a helmet was part of the accident.

    I've been hit by cars twice and in various other accidents while racing or just riding, and I've only had one accident where the helmet showed any signs of impact. I'm not going to go around saying it saved my life in any of these situations. But, in some accidents it is very obvious that a helmet DID do it's job, so it's far from some arbitrary claim.

    Most news outlets just report "the rider was/was not wearing a helmet" nothing more. In the same way that they would report if a driver was wearing a seatbelt or not, or if airbags deployed or not, etc. I think the "blame the victim" sentiment might be assumed and not implied.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Well said. I couldn't agree with you more. Interesting that several of your initial commentors offer personal anecdotes as putative proof. The point, of course, is that these anecdotes are no kind of proof at all.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Okay, I'll bite. I agree that the current media portrayal of cyclist somehow being at fault if they are not wearing a helmet is frustrating. I'm not sure what the underlying reasons for this are unless we are supposed to simply relinquish our rights to be on the road at all (ie, cars belong there, we don't; therefore, the cyclist are at fault). Also, the media seems to be saying, because we don't really belong there, by not wearing a helmet we are clearly devil may care adrenaline junkies who by laughing in the face of danger deserved our fate. When, the problem often seems to be that the car didn't see the cyclist and crashed into them. Unless someone can correlate helmets with visibility, I don't think there is a lot of use in continuing that part of the debate. The bigger problem, as some have already pointed out, is that the law does not seem even in its treatment of automobile/cyclist accidents. As proof, I didn't see any reports on whether or not the driver in the "Hackman" incident was wearing a seatbelt. So, I guess what I am saying here is that I agree that we need to shift the debate away from helmet/non-helmet to equal protection under the law.

    ReplyDelete
  19. true. "how did we let this happen?" - but extreme safety concerns are not eclusive to the bicycle world. - "thinking life with death in mind first" is the title of a fun reflexion on current automotive design trends in a german newspaper - http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/debatten/neues-autodesign-das-leben-vom-tode-her-gedacht-11602236.html

    ReplyDelete
  20. I don't disagree with your points nor using your blog to rant, affecting a larger prospective audience.

    I many ways it's necessary to educate what passes for journalists these days. Not even journalism, more like note taking.

    I hope you tweeted the offending party a link to this post.

    There is no but...to this story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is no one offending party, more like a dozen.

      But moreover, I think the Gene Hackman story provoked me because it came right after another story that was reported here locally. An MIT grad was cycling near the university and was hit (head on I think, while stopped at a light) by a tanker truck making a wide right turn at the intersection. He turned so wide that he went into the opposite lane and pulled the cyclist under the truck.

      Before the media began to report on this in earnest, there was initially just a photo posted of a piece of the guys's bike sticking out from underneath the tanker wheels. Some local blogs posted it and immediately a discussion ensued. Step1: Well, was he wearing a helmet? They speculated that tsk-tsk no, until someone who was there said that yes, there was a helmet. Hm okay fine. Then Step 2: they speculated about lights; it did not look like the bike had lights on it, surely that is why he got hit. But no, turned out there were lights on the bike. Hmm. This made me so ma, because you could just follow people's train f thought where they were hoping the cyclist did something wrong. This way, they could feel safer, because if they avoid these wrong doings the truck would spare them. Sadly, that is not how the world works.

      Delete
    2. "This way, they could feel safer, because if they avoid these wrong doings the truck would spare them."

      You've hit the nail on the head. People like certainty and they like to think that if they tick the boxes, they're set. They want to know that they'll be ok.

      Of course, I'd rather just blame the truckie for not paying attention to traffic conditions and hope I don't come across one of him.

      Delete
  21. It would be nice (in the same way that ponies would be nice) if the popular reporting of these things would focus on picky details of the driver's behavior, instead of on the presence/absence of a helmet. The details reported make it seem inexcusable -- Hackman was rear-ended in broad daylight (almost 3 hours before sunset, at about 5:50pm). So, cell phone records? Texting? When did the driver last have her vision checked?

    Or, why doesn't the paper discuss the design of the road? Perhaps that contributed to the crash.

    "Hackman was heading southbound near the 88 mile marker on the Old Highway around 3 p.m. when struck from behind by the right front fender of a 2007 Toyota Tundra driven by Kathryn Rodriguez, 60, of Islamorada".

    It's instructive to look at that road on Google Streetview; southbound appears to have a something-lane (has diamonds in it), northbound is a poster child for take-the-lane. On the other hand, Hackman's off the main road; why shouldn't he expect a safe ride?

    And Mr. Anon, just go away with all the "heartstrings" nonsense. It's not at all clear that helmets are a net positive, and even if they are, it is definitely clear that they are far from the largest factor in cyclist safety. This is not subjective. Northern European countries are much safer for cyclists than the US, and helmet use is rare. In Australia where helmets were made mandatory, hospital admissions per cyclist did NOT decline, but it did make cycling significantly less popular. Reductions in cycling are a public health catastrophe; helmet laws and even the sort of public tut-tutting that we see here act to decrease life expectancy. None of this is subjective, it's all based on statistics and public health studies. Bicycle helmet promotion kills.

    ReplyDelete
  22. "The point, of course, is that these anecdotes are no kind of proof at all."

    Very true. But this cuts both ways. Just sayin'...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of course. I hope it is clear that I do not actually believe Gene Hackman survived the crash because he was not wearing a helmet.

      Delete
    2. I’m only making the point that dismissing evidence because it’s anecdotal doesn’t automatically validate the opposing argument.

      Delete
  23. The things that have hit my head have not been made of asphalt. They have been rocks, bottles, brush, lumber, and wasps. Only with the wasps have I been worse off for having a helmet on. When a bottle hits me, I like the protection.

    I don't care if other riders wear helmets or not. I do care when they proselytize.

    ReplyDelete
  24. @Taylor: Where I live, I don't find that the reports of a cyclist wearing a helmet or not are just part of the story comparable to seat belt usage or airbag deployment. As someone with an interest in bicycles, I listen or read carefully accounts of cyclist v motor vehicle accidents and I find helmets are only mentioned when the cyclist wasn't wearing one. Media outlets elsewhere may handle it differently.

    My opinion is this- if a news story runs about a cyclist
    who was doing 50 mph down a hill and hit a tree and died, then the fact that he or she was not wearing a helmet is mentionable. But if the story is
    about a driver who ran a light and smashed a cyclist with the right-of-way, then whether or not the cyclist was wearing a helmet is irrelevant. Mentioning if she wasn't does suggest placing blame on the victim.

    If the news started make statements such as "Man shot and killed on street during robbery attempt. He was not wearing a bulletproof vest.", people
    would object. I feel the helmet issue
    is comparable.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Nice article. It touches on a very touchy subject to some. I look at a 2 ton steel and aluminum SUV hitting someone who is 90% water and realize that a helmet covers only a small part of what could sustain traumatic injury. The skull of course does contain the Mother board and processor chips that we need to function so protecting them makes sense.

    Safer bike routes properly segregated from the bloated waistlines of our urban and suburban highways might be a good start. We invest $trillions of tax dollars into highways; why not invest some in safer (and properly shaded) urban and suburban bike routes? Who knows, traffic calming measures might also discourage people from driving all the time and allow them to consider bicycling. I hear all the time from friends and colleagues in Phoenix that the reason they don't bike-commute is that the roads are too dangerous. They are right in so many ways.

    Sadly, there's no such thing as a completely safe environment. In the US we often beguile ourselves into thinking that by prescriptively regulating how and when people do things we can create safer conditions.

    Tumbles from bicycles can be dangerous for sure but maybe we could reduce risks significantly by putting many of our suburban and urban highways on a serious traffic-calming diet and using the surplus lanes thus created for protected bicycle routes. Then bike helmets and the role they play could be assessed in terms of bicycle-bicycle collisions or tumbles rather than impacts of 2-ton vehicles hitting a cyclist at 50+mph.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Is Hackman riding the bike backwards in the picture? The media treats the public at large like their dumb. Every Thanksgiving they are compelled to tell us how to cook a turkey. When the weather becomes extremely hot or cold they are again compelled to tell us how to dress and what to do. It isn't a surprise that they would make it a point to state that a cyclist wasn't wearing a helmet when hit by a motor vehicle. That's how the media reports the news in short bites of information often misleading when taken out of context without all the details.

    I personally haven't noticed a correlation to reporting bike accidents and helmet-less riders. Fortunately I don't here a lot of reports about cyclist and accidents. I grew up in an era of no helmets or seat belts so I never used to wear a helmet until I had a bizarre accident while cycling with a ground hog on a side walk that made me think, "you never know whats going to happen, perhaps I'll start wearing a helmet. Case in point to the shit happens thought, is the severe head injury that a family member suffered while long boarding down a hill. Traumatic brain Injuries our awful,you can't begin to imagine all the things that can be affected and the impact it will have on your family. The helmet isn't a panacea but it does offer your brain some protection from an impact no matter what the cause.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Grrr the reply button is not working...

    Velouria:
    Could someone enlighten me re what happens in places such as Australia and Seattle when a cyclist is "caught" without a helmet? I mean is it a fine, or are there circumstances under which they could go to prison?


    Anonymous:
    A fine, which varies from State to State but is up to $150. If you try and contest it, you'll end up with a criminal record... that's right, a CRIMINAL RECORD


    Okay. So what if I just keep paying the fines without argument? (Let's say I get a grant for Helmet Free Living in Australia that covers these fines.) Is it okay then? How often am I likely to get stopped in a big city for this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess you could do that, It would be like saying you didnt believe in paid city parking, so you would just get a grant to pay your parking fines. you could keep paying them, but they would still be on some kind of record, and then possibly work against you if you were profiled for a particular type of work or something. I always thought i was safe riding on the bike tracks, but now they have cyclist police on bikes (avantis maybe? Ill pay more attention next time) and they ride (usually two abreast) on the tracks stopping people. I used to commute but now have young children and just amble along, and for a mother, if you were found without helmets on yourself and kids, you'd cop some serious finger wagging. As with any encounter with authority, there are a number of factors, the area you are in (some patrolled more heavily than others) and if the police are actually busy they'd probably ignore you, but most of all it just puts you in a foul mood for the rest of your day and ruins your ride once you get pulled over...

      Delete
  28. You know, I haven't heard of anyone being killed by their helmet, ever.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can fix that for you: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml99/99065.html

      (Summary - don't wear your bicycle helmet off-bike; the strap is not designed to release if you should catch the helmet on something, and the outcome can be fatal).

      This is fortunately so rare as to be anecdotal. The other hypothetical, but impractical-to-prove possibilities for being done in by a bicycle helmet are (1) helmet twisting your head (larger diameter, has more torque, versus hair) and (2) helmet causing impacts (because your head's profile is larger) where none would have occurred otherwise.

      Delete
    2. So are you going to wear one every second of every day?

      Delete
  29. Regarding anecdotes vs. statistics, and bad road design -- of the people I know who have recently crashed and had a concussion, in both cases the cause of the crash was a pothole, not a car. Helmets probably helped there. This is not at all statistical, but our roads are pretty bad (and in Belmont, objectively horrible in many places).

    These horrible crushed-by-truck accidents in Cambridge have a lot more to do with the size of the trucks, which force them to drive in peculiar (unexpected) ways, and that give them far more blind spots than is good (anecdote -- a friend's car in California was half-crushed when a truck driver, stopped to check a map, pulled out "into" traffic -- he simply looked right over the car and drove on top of it). Another problem with them being so high is that to the extent that we try to aim our lights to keep them on the road and out of people's faces, we make ourselves much less visible to the truck drivers.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I always wear a helmet to prevent falling-off-bike head injuries which helmets are pretty good at doing but I have no delusions it will save me when getting hit by a car. However I like to think that by wearing a helmet the driver that takes me out won't get off so easy.

    Which leads to the absurdity you point out in your post. Someone driving an extremely heavy and dangerous machine (#1 cause of death amongst teens) hits a cyclist and we ask if the cyclist was wearing protective gear?

    ReplyDelete
  31. Sorry, I have to do it this way...

    "There is no one offending party, more like a dozen.

    But moreover, I think the Gene Hackman story provoked me because it came right after another story that was reported here locally. An MIT grad was cycling near the university and was hit (head on I think, while stopped at a light) by a tanker truck making a wide right turn at the intersection. He turned so wide that he went into the opposite lane and pulled the cyclist under the truck.

    Before the media began to report on this in earnest, there was initially just a photo posted of a piece of the guys's bike sticking out from underneath the tanker wheels. Some local blogs posted it and immediately a discussion ensued. Step1: Well, was he wearing a helmet? They speculated that tsk-tsk no, until someone who was there said that yes, there was a helmet. Hm okay fine. Then Step 2: they speculated about lights; it did not look like the bike had lights on it, surely that is why he got hit. But no, turned out there were lights on the bike. Hmm. This made me so ma, because you could just follow people's train f thought where they were hoping the cyclist did something wrong. This way, they could feel safer, because if they avoid these wrong doings the truck would spare them. Sadly, that is not how the world works."

    I'm going to put on my old man hat here.

    I think direct contact in the case of a local reporting agency is necessary. Afield it can't hurt if you have the time. I saw the Cambridge incident reports and it was abysmal. Mostly I think the people writing these are reductionist and can't think critically or for their audience, inadvertently or not reinforcing negative stereotypes.

    The way things are reported of course are related directly to press budgets. This rant helps, but ime too many people whine about things and no one makes the direct contact. Not specifically directed at you.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Perhaps unrelated, but I notice myself mentally profiling other cyclists when I ride at night. It appears that in my city, 70% of after-dusk cyclists ride with helmets. Of those, no more than 20% have visible lights. Of the unhelmeted, light usage rates are about the same.

    I don't know of this is an indicator of the helmet hysteria, but I find it very troubling.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup. I wrote about this sort of thing here. Basically I notice a prioritising of helmet wear in safety campaigns at the expense of safe behaviour and motorist responsibility.

      Delete
  33. This is analogous to when we hear of a car accident in which a victim was not wearing a seatbelt. There is always a sense of "what if?" What if he had been wearing a seatbelt? Perhaps he would not have been ejected from the vehicle, or hit his head so hard, or, or, or... What if?

    It is harder for most people to reconcile a tragic accident when the victim has not taken all reasonable safety measures. And helmet wearing is a very reasonable safety measure. It really is that simple.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And the media always reports seat belt status in vehicle accidents that involved deaths or near misses.

      Delete
    2. Except that it *isn't* that simple. Bicycle helmets are not tested to very high standards, and the evidence that they do you any good is pretty shaky.

      This site: http://cyclehelmets.org/1139.html seems to have the most balanced perspective on the debate.

      Delete
  34. @velouria - regarding helmet laws in Australia, you may find Sue Abbot's blog Freedom Cyclist helpful - she's been prosecuted a number of times (I think) for refusing to wear a helmet in Australia

    ReplyDelete
  35. Why is cycling considered dangerous? That's a premise of Velouria's post and certainly a premise of those who prescribe helmets. Except in the same sense that life is dangerous I don't see that cycling is dangerous.

    I've done 400,000 miles. Of course I've had injuries. All my cycling injuries have healed completely with no further consequence. I have injuries from walking that bother me every day and will probably require eventual further medical intervention. I was only a runner a few years and I have injuries from running that bother me every day and will probably require eventual further medical intervention.

    If you live an outdoors life wear sunscreen. Way more important than a helmet.

    If you don't want to fall off your bike put your saddle down and shove it back. Most of the falls I see it positively looks like the rider is in an ejection seat, or trying to vault off the bike. Safety and stability trump marginal notional increments of performance.

    I've been hit by motor vehicles dozens of times and only ever left the bike or got injured when it was a motor vehicle going the wrong way in a one-way. When (not if) you get hit the first thought in your mind should be you still have some ability to control outcomes. It's never over until it's over. Most often if you simply avoid panic the bike rights itself and you ride away.

    ReplyDelete
  36. One thing I think is really unfortunate here is that there is essentially no research going into making better helmets. There is some fairly strong evidence that common helmet designs might cause rotational injuries or impacts where the larger, helmeted head hit when a smaller bare head would not have.

    If these issues could be addressed in the design, I think very few people would argue that a helmet would not have a fairly powerful protective ability. (There's also the safety equipment induces risky behavior argument, but I think that's a bit of a red herring.)

    One reason people and media tsk tsk with an auto accident when the driver wasn't wearing a seat belt is that there is huge amounts of carefully researched data to show that seat belts almost always help. The amount of money and time spent testing safety equipment and impact variations for autos is massive.

    By contrast, the testing regime for bike helmets is one step above "put the helmet on a watermelon, drop it, see what happens." Of course, we're not going to get the kind of investment we get with auto safety. But it wouldn't require much to actually test and design for these issues with bike helmets.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Hi Velouria, thanks once again for opening up an interesting discussion. I agree with your main point that liability in a cycling accident can hardly be conflated with whether or not one is wearing a helmet. I also take your point about the press reporting on the issue and placing undue emphasis on issues that are often peripheral, suggesting some kind of causal link.

    However, I have been wondering about the pros and cons of wearing a helmet safety wise. Adisclaimer here: I have no axe to grind here. I wear a helmet purely out of a (faulty?) intuition that I potentially minimise the risk of serious head injury, it may well be a placebo feeling of safety. I see the rationale behind those arguments which point to helmets worsening injuries. As none of the evidence is conclusive on either side, I tend to err on the side of caution and training. I mean, wearing a helmet had been drummed into me from an early age. But I'm curious, why do you wear a helmet for road cycling?

    ReplyDelete
  38. @rpguitar - the analogy is imperfect because the safety of seatbelts has been proven "in the field", where the safety of bicycle helmets has not.

    It's also unusual how people focus on bicycle helmets, because that is a tiny little piece of the entire risk/mortality picture. Driving without a helmet carries a risk (about 50% of serious head injuries are the result of car crashes), but we don't read about that in the paper, and nobody tut-tuts about that particular risky behavior. Driving to the exclusion of walking and cycling is an enormous risk (+39% annual mortality rate and 2-5 years reduced lifespan for non-bicycle commuters).

    So why the fixation on bicycle helmets? As a contribution to public health, it would be much more effective, for every auto crash of any kind, to report whether the driver was using a car when a bicycle or just their own two feet would have served better. And yes, I know that I am pushing the heretical idea that some car use is frivolous, unnecessary, and unhealthy. We'd better off if that were conventional wisdom instead.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I am a former ICU nurse and have worked intimately with head trauma patients. None of the patients in ICU were wearing helmets at the time of their injuries! I have also worked in clinical research and I doubt you have accurately studied the research related to head trauma. Additionally, sometimes the effects of mild head trauma do not become apparent until years later. Even mild head trauma can result in headaches and memory issues, that are sometimes no readily apparent. Beyond that, I have had an experience myself with my bicycle - once without a helmet (hadn't bought one yet) and with a helmet. In the first incident I fell while walking with my bicycle on ice that I was not able to escape due to being on a street with cement side walks and beyond that 5 foot walls retaining yards (a rare, in the South, early evening ice storm) The second unfortunate accident was with a new bike that 'fell apart' (the handlebar /head tube screw had not been tightened sufficiently by the bike shop). With the bike in the ice storm, I had got off to walk it, as riding wasn't working but never the less slipped and fell backwards, my head slamming against the cement resulting in a large and painful hematoma (luckily no damage to the soft tissue of my brain that I am aware of one year later). That was without a helmet, and again I was walking. While going probably a little too fast due to the excitement of a new bike I hit one of those tiny speed bumps, my bike "disenegrated" and I was caught in a manner which caused my helmeted head to fling forward and my helmeted forehead literally bounced on the pavement several times before coming to a stop. My head was fine though, no bumps of any kind. I do suffer a fractured wrist.

    One has to understand that we basically are carrying an egg around on our shoulders. Even if the skull does not fracture, the jelly contents of our brain may be damaged as it reverberates from side to side. A helmet provides cushioning that prevent this. I wish I didn't have to wear a helmet as I love the fresh air and dislike carrying around a bulky helmet once I get to my destination. But I wear one always, because it is simply necessary. I also am aware that Gene Hackman could have issues that were not yet apparent at the time of the accident, especially if his accident involved his head.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I understand your story correctly, you fell on ice when walking the bike, which could have happened without the bike. But I assume you do not wear a helmet when you take a walk in the winter.

      I understand that you have medical experience. So do some of my friends, colleagues and family members. Some persons with medical experience do hold different opinions to yours on the issue and share my interpretation of the data available.

      But once again to wear vs not to wear a helmet was not the point of this post

      Delete
    2. I think the point of Susurrus's contribution was to indicate the importance of wearing a helmet, given her own professional and personal experiences. I suspect,(do correct me if I am wrong) that she is suggesting its relevance in press reporting?

      I just googled the Gene Hackman story. The first story I encountered was a Daily Mail article. Interestingly, no reference was made to him wearing a helmet or not. However, the article did state: "Early reports the 81-year-old had suffered serious head injuries were dismissed by his spokeswoman." Perhaps this was why the press chose initially, to hone in on the helmet angle?

      Delete
  40. Keep it up, V.: it's posts like this that make your blog especially worth reading!
    (Whether it's politics, religion, bike helmets, or whatever, we should base decisions and opinions on facts and evidence, not hearsay, anecdote, or unquestioned assumptions)

    ReplyDelete
  41. I think you weaken your argument with an overstatement I've encountered elsewhere, too: "Bicycle helmets have some protective properties under some conditions, but these properties are limited and do not extend to colliding with moving motor vehicles."

    The last part is implausible. While it is true that bike helmets aren't designed to cope with the potentially huge energies of motor vehicle collisions, it's not as if every motor vehicle collision is as severe as any other. I assert as obvious that some motor vehicle collisions are no more severe than the simple falls that helmets can reasonably mitigate. In more severe crashes, what might have been certain death with no helmet might be brought into the vegetative-state range of injury (saved?!), while what might be a vegetative-state hit with no helmet could be a modest concussion with, and so on.

    I wear a helmet when conditions and riding style warrant, which is very seldom these days. I do sell helmets. For this discrepancy I have been called a "mercenary hypocrite." People seem to gravitate toward a certain zealous absolutism on this subject, which is why I generally avoid it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I disagree that the phrase I used is implausible. First, it is hard to qualify with what speed a car should be moving before it damages the cyclist beyond the helmet's ability to help. And second, helmets are typically rated to protect against falling off a bike at up to 12mph, not for colliding with a motor vehicle.

      As for your position, I think it is perfectly reasonable. I have helped friends pick out helmets even though I mostly do not wear one. It should not matter.

      Delete
  42. Thank you for an excellent and brave post Velouria. You are a stud and I admire you.

    Many people who have read the science agree that helmet promotion is not worth it because the health benefits of more people cycling hugely outweigh the risk of injury.

    But it strikes me that a lot of these people still have difficulty with two things. One is to give a short summary of the science, and another is to fully accept how hard it is to scientificly determine the protective effect of helmets.

    The research gives different answers depending on how you phrase the question. If you ask whether helmet-wearers have fewer head injuries than non-wearers, then yes, helmet-wearers have fewer head injuries. And if you ask wether increased helmet-wearing results in decreasing head injuries, then no, there is no effect (at least not compared to non-wearers such as car occupants and pedestrians). See wikipedia.

    That wasn't so hard right?

    Now it surprises me how many people, who ought to know better, keep saying that science shows that helmets unambigiously provide significant protection. They'll say that helmets are great, it's just laws and campaigns that are bad. But that's not what the science is saying. The science is saying that helmet laws suck AND the protective effect for the individual is debatable at best.

    Why is it so hard for policy professionals, who ought to know better and who actually have read the research, to grasp this?

    My theory is that understanding research and implementing policy are two different things and that there needs to be a public discussion just like with fiscal policy (reduce deficit or invest in the future?). I think it's through discussion that people can bridge the divide between scientific research, public policy and values. There's a Swedish surgeon who says concussions merit helmet laws (Ulf Björnstig). In my opinion that's nuts but because there's no public discussion about the implications of the research, people just take the opinions of experts as gospel not to be questioned.

    So I think it's really important for bloggers to talk about helmet science. Science can't be left up to scientists. Citizens need to make the effort to digest it.

    ReplyDelete
  43. I re read some of the post, so i see your point was not to discuss whether it is worth using a helmet or not.... I'll understand if you don't post my comment... it is fine. (I also realized that my comment about whether you had studied all the research was kind of rude. Sorry... ) But It is literally hell taking care of head trauma patients... for them beyond hell, and experiencing such a thing tends to make a person an advocate. I agree that whether an individual was wearing a helmet or not should not be the main focus when an accident is reported by the media. But, the fact that it can be very gruesome in many incidents where there is an accident that the head is involved in, is reality.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No worries. I do have experience in (head injury specific) medical research; I am a trained neuroscientist who has worked with head injury patients. But neither my research experience nor your nursing experience are relevant in the scheme of things; we are just individuals with opinions. What we need is more data, evidence, and a media that is not biased toward motorists.

      Delete
  44. It takes more than a pickup truck to stop Lex Luthor.

    ReplyDelete
  45. By the same logic used to state that "the helmet saved my life", Wouter Weylandt (pro cyclist killed during the Giro d'Italia) was killed because he was wearing a helmet. Sounds absurd, but V. is right. Correlation is not causation.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Also, see the "Bonus Tip" on todays Urbanridingtips for the REAL important bit of safe cycling gear.

    ReplyDelete
  47. I have begun to realize when you study anything related to human behavior, the results are often very muddy and cause/effect conclusions are hard to draw out...I think this lack of conclusive evidence is hard for many of us to accept. I am not in academia, but I imagine this is some crossover in the fields of sociology, behavioral psychology, statistics and other subjects that would arrive at a similar (perhaps frustrating) conclusion.

    I think the Freakanomics guys try to explain this to mixed success.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Journalism again: you mentioned social and traditional media. If the traditional reflects the same standards of content as social, i.e. tweets, fb, blogs, then, I'll say it again, high quality journo's are rare and are of an almost throwback tradition. That kind of unmuddled, objective, bias-free reportage allows the reporter to process the info on the spot and ask probing questions.

    In a way this capability has been lost, saved for a less (?) reactionary time to be discussed later. As in blogs.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Great post and a refreshing one.

    Also: I really love Gene Hackman a lot and am so glad he wasn't seriously hurt.

    ReplyDelete
  50. I've now fallen from my bike three times in my adult life, and so far, I've yet to land on my helmet. However, if I were to land helmet-first into a object of greater density than my skull, I would be glad that my helmet was there to disperse the impact in lieu of my cranium. I'm glad that Gene Hackman wasn't seriously hurt.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Won't get into the helmet debate, but don't talk to me about Gene Hackman:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8txLht1rJZw

    ReplyDelete
  52. @Susurrus - but of the patients you see, how many were cycling when the head injury occurred, versus other causes? The figures I have seen indicate that a large fraction of all serious head injuries (the ones you would see) are a result of car crashes. And one of the biggest (subjective) problems with bicycle helmets -- sweaty head -- is not an issue for cars. Furthermore, there's no public health cost; driving is not a particularly healthy behavior, so no loss if helmets deter people from driving.

    ReplyDelete
  53. I cannot think of a single case where it was determined, in an environment where helmets are needed, that WEARING A HELMET WAS THE CAUSE OF INJURY OR DEATH! Almost always what you will hear is "that helmet saved my life" In the cases that this is NOT so nothing more may have been done to prevent injury or death. How on EARTH this "debate" can be called "two sided" completely escapes me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You might have seen the study where Ian Walker put measuring equipment on his bicycle and measured how much space he was given by 2500 passing motorists. When he wore a helmet, he was given on average 8,5 centimeters less space. This shows how safety equipment can make people feel safe and cause them to be slightly sloppier. This is called risk compensation and is mentioned on the wikipedia helmet entry.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_helmet#Risk_compensation

      Delete
  54. Interesting post Velouria. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    It is not easy to bring sanity into this discussion, as some people can become very emotional about it. It is difficult to think clearly when you are under the grip of strong emotions, especially related to safety.

    A few people fell of their bikes and believe a helmet saved their life. That seems to make them blind of the possibility that they would have survived the accident without a helmet, as many people do.

    This issue cannot be settled by insisting that someone's BELIEFS are better than others, but by looking at the overall results of helmet wearing across the whole population.
    Has widespread helmet wearing reduced head injuries?
    It doesn’t look like it from the Australian experiment of introducing a helmet law. Surprisingly, the risk of death and serious injuries increased.
    http://crag.asn.au/?p=474

    How can that be? It seems that this is largely because there was a large increase in accidents that could not be compensated by a piece of polystyrene.
    http://crag.asn.au/?p=391

    Something to think about, for those able to keep a cool head and keep their emotions under control.

    There are far better solutions to cycling safety than a piece of polystyrene. Unfortunately, helmets take the attention away from more effective measures.

    ReplyDelete
  55. It takes many, many people a lot of effort to ensure that the official vehicle status of bicycles grows and expands. With that comes a responsibility on the part of us cyclists to take generally accepted precautions against an accident becoming critical. A helmet, just like a seatbelt, has become one of those generally accepted precautions.

    Now you say you don't want to debate helmet use. But you propose a cause-and-effect argument that is purposefully illogical. I get it ... that's your point, as a way to argue against the media always reporting if an injured cyclist was or was not wearing a helmet. But here's a cause-and-effect you didn't mention that really happens: a cyclist gets hit by a car, he falls hard, hits his head on the curb, and the helmet breaks (as it should, to absorb the impact). He bruises his arm, but his most fragile and critical body part ... his head ... remains unharmed.

    That's a cause-and-effect that can so easily happen in the life of a cyclist, that to ignore it comes off to most people (myself included) as playing with one's own life ... and the emotional life of the driver that hits the cyclist.

    Yes, I agree it has become part of the mainstream media narrative to report if an injured cyclist was wearing a helmet. But it doesn't bother me, because as a cyclist, a helmet is part of my narrative too. It may not save my life in every circumstance, but it will in enough of them that I too cannot understand why there are those who seem so determined not to wear them.

    Here in the U.S., it's your right as an adult not to wear a helmet if you don't want to. That's your choice, and I agree with that right. But it's also the right of every cyclist who believes in the life-saving benefits of wearing a helmet to advocate for their use. That's because not only is a bike helmet a beautiful, feather-light thing that can save you from serious injury, it's also is a powerful symbol, indicating to the world that we cyclists do not treat our bicycles as toys. We know both drivers and cyclists can make mistakes, even when following the traffic rules (which, yes, is even more important than wearing a helmet). But a helmet is one more indication that we care ... about ourselves, and the drivers that pass us.

    Symbols are a part of the world we live in. The media should tell the full story of all accidents. Agreed. But this helmet-symbol can save lives. I for one am happy it's part of the narrative.

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  56. Hey, Velouria: maybe it's time you got into the mainstream media? Outside the cycling blogosphere, very few people are even aware that helmets are under debate; I think you'd be an excellent person to present a fair account. There must be a bored journalist in Boston who'd give you some airtime...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually I think that first and foremost this is a conversation that needs to be had among cyclists, so I do not feel it is useless doing it here. There is so much infighting on this issue among cyclists that it just continues to amaze me.

      Delete
  57. Another reason I love reading your blog! Amen sister!

    ReplyDelete
  58. The non-cyclists in my life greatly out-number the cyclists. I simply cannot abide the conversation anymore and wear a helmet.

    As a cyclist, I wish I lived in Amsterdam. As a husband, father, son and in-law I live in the middle of Canada, where "the helmet debate" comes across to most like a debate between a Unitarian and a Christadelphian about the differences between their true faiths.

    ReplyDelete
  59. Just to give a heads up and so that it does not seem sudden, I plan to close the discussion at some point tonight. It has been fairly civil so far, but this topic takes a lot of energy to moderate and I will want to move on to other things. Thanks everyone for keeping things interesting, thoughtful and polite.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Incidentally, it appears that the initial reports were exaggerated; Hackman was not seriously injured. Journalistic bastion People reports: http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20561565,00.html?xid=rss-topheadlines&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+people%2Fheadlines+(PEOPLE.com%3A+Top+Headlines)

    ReplyDelete
  61. I wear a full bear protection suit when I ride ... Some chaffing, yes.

    ReplyDelete
  62. Would you make your child wear a helmet if there was no law mandating it...?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmm... I want to say no, but not having children I just don't think I should even be allowed to speculate.

      But I do think that to a greater extent than we are willing to admit it ultimately depends on what our social peers are doing. Do the other parents in the neighborhood make their kids wear helmets? If so, must be the safe thing to do. Do the other parents have their kids cycle helmet-free? Must be the safe thing to do then. I know Americans living in Vienna who initially were shocked, just shocked that the local kids don't wear helmets. A year later, they find it totally normal and their own kids are without helmets as well.

      Delete
    2. I would, and do. My daughter fell to the pavement after my bike was hit by a driver (she was riding in a child seat adn we both fell to the pavement upon being hit). While I can't conclusively say her helmet saved her life or her skull from fracture, the point of impact and the dynamics of energy dissipation (called "remodeling") that occurred on the helmet (which I had examined by a ballistics engineer afterward, just for kicks) strongly suggest that her skull was protected from a large force. Conclusive? No. Compelling as anecdotal experience? Yes.

      Also, consider the difference in crash dynamics between small children and adults. Adults can "fall smartly", but children strapped in seats have no control over their movements when they fall. It's a whole different can of worms.

      Delete
    3. "Adults can 'fall smartly' "

      Yeah, speak for yourself. I'd probably fall like a pile of bricks. No instincts in that regard what so ever.

      Delete
  63. WOW! I am going to add bicycle helmets to politics and religion as topics best avoided. You're a brave woman Veloria, i can't imagine the stuff you've edited out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually I have not edited much out except for a few posts in the beginning. Maybe a total of 5 comments have not been published so far.

      Delete
  64. Peppy (the amazing scheming cat)January 16, 2012 at 9:37 PM

    I think children should wear the ThudGuard at all times, including in the shower, until they reach the age 18 at which point they should be legally required to change their names and get new Facebook accounts. Oh and I think all people should be required to own cats. At least two.

    ReplyDelete
  65. I kind of like my helmet, so

    ReplyDelete
  66. The tuck and roll saved Gene Hackman. Or maybe he was loose from a couple beers. I heard that works.

    ReplyDelete
  67. Peppy, do you have a companion cat? Should we debate allowing domestic cats to roam outdoors? Does Peppy have an indoor velodrome?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. a private chauffeur takes Peppy to the velodrome

      Delete
  68. The Reply button is not working for me ...

    Velouria, in response to whether you would be likely to be booked in Australia for not wearing a helmet, yes you would but not often. I know one person who regularly des not wear a helmet and who got booked once recently, I know others who do not wear them and do not get booked. I have heard of people getting pulled over and then just getting a warning not a fine. I wear a helmet, just in case .... But I ride illegally on the footpath at times and have never been booked and policemen have seen me do it, I think that they mostly turn a blind eye to such transgressions.
    Vicki

    ReplyDelete
  69. @susurrus - The stats I have come from here:

    http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/content_node.jsp?nodeid=441

    which attaches this citation to them

    Sosin, D.M., Sniezek, J.E., & Thurman, D.J. (1996) Incidence of Mild and Moderate Brain Injury in the United States, 1991. Brain Injury, 10(1): 47-54

    These guys

    http://casr.adelaide.edu.au/developments/headband/

    report that a simple padded headband would provide "some benefit" in 44% of the cases of occupant head injury. Given how many people drive cars, and the large number of dead and disabled from car crashes, it would seem that the frequent mention of cyclists wearing helmets (or not) and total lack of similar reporting for car drivers and passengers is completely disproportionate.

    As if you could not tell by now, the numbers suggest that all this hand-wringing about cyclist helmets has a lot more to do with culture and perhaps car-vs-cyclist tribalism, than meaningful mortality reduction. Legislating or pressuring cyclists to wear helmets reduces the cycling rate (this has been measured in Australia); this is a large net loss to public health (cycling is good for you, this has been measured in Denmark), therefore, statistically speaking, agitating for more helmet use by cyclists results in a net loss of life. Is that your intent? Objectively, that is the result.

    And I must ask, given that there is no public health penalty to requiring drivers to wear silly hats, and that apparently would save lives (if helmets are individually beneficial, which you do believe), why you are not agitating for this? It would result in a net reduction in mortality, unlike promoting cyclist helmet use.

    ReplyDelete
  70. I'll start believing that helmet advocates care about safety when they expend even 1/10 of their energy on promoting lights as well. BHSI has nothing--NOTHING--about lights on the front page of their site, nor any tips on vehicular cycling, nor anything about the importance of regular maintenance. Why has the helmet become the prime piece of safety gear that every cyclist must use? Hell, I didn't even KNOW that there were such a thing as bicycle headlights/taillights until I restarted riding as an adult. Not that cyclists should be blamed for not using lights, either (blaming the victim is always wrong), but I really think emphasizing lights over helmets would save a lot more lives, especially as lights will actually protect one from the #1 enemy, DRIVERS, whereas helmets won't do a damn thing in that regard and might even hurt you (see below).

    For myself, I gradually started phasing out my helmet on my daily commute and have overwhelmingly discovered that the "Mary Poppins effect" is true. I believe that since not wearing a helmet makes it easier to tell my sex, and also makes it seem like I'm a dumb girl who doesn't know to wear a helmet, that I get a lot more space. I have no problem with using motorists' biases against them! :) I do use a helmet on recreational rides where my speed is higher.

    ReplyDelete
  71. Thank you everyone. I am going to close the comments now, as at 100+ comments every opinion on this has most likely already been expressed.

    It is very stressful to write this sort of post and deal with the comments and I do not do it often. But I care about this issue very much. It does not matter whether we choose to wear a helmet or not. Neither should be used against us explicitly or implicitly when determining motorist liability.

    Also, I too am very glad Gene Hackman is all right. He is a great actor.

    Thanks again for the conversation.

    ReplyDelete