New “No Excuses” Helmet Safety Campaign Misses Its Mark

Written by Boston Biker on Oct 14

Source: BostonBiker

No Excuses! Wear A Helmet!

I have been noticing a new safety campaign around town, and have gotten a couple emails about it. It seems the Boston Public Health Commission has been putting up posters, and laying down stickers in bike lanes to alert cyclists to the importance of wearing helmets.

Sure its a little in your face, but wearing a helmet is a good idea. Reading the stickers you might think its the law to wear a helmet (it isn’t if you are over 16), but other than that no big deal. Wear your stupid helmet people, come on.

Then I ran across this.

Holy shit! Really!

That is some seriously heavy imagery, not the least of which because its a young black man with a bloody face posted in area of town heavily trafficked by young black people.  This is some seriously violent imagery for a public safety campaign.

I get what they are trying to do, its sorta like those anti-smoking campaigns.

The idea being that you make not wearing a helmet socially unacceptable by appealing to the fear people have of getting injured. Anti-smoking campaigns work in a similar way, appealing to peoples fear of mortality in order to get them to make different choices. However there are some important differences.

  1. Smoking is an addiction, addictions require stronger pushes to get people to fight them.
  2. Cycling is GOOD FOR YOU! Showing bloody images of people on posters is not going to encourage people to cycle.
  3. More cyclists seem to equal safer cyclists. Several studies have shown thatincreasing the number of cyclists on the road will actually make them safer.
  4. Most fatal crashes involve vehicles and cyclists. Helmets are good, but driver/cyclist education, better engineered roads, and enforcement will go a lot further in preventing these crashes than helmet usage will.

In my mind public safety campaigns should be about doing the most good for the most people. So lets take a hard look at this sort of campaign.

  1. This does nothing to educate drivers or cyclists to change their behaviour (cars turning without looking being one of the biggest safety threat to cyclists)
  2. It actively discourages cycling, I know I would not be cycling if I thought my face would end up like that
  3. Less cyclists = less safety for cyclists, safety in numbers works the other way when your numbers decrease.
  4. Cycling is good for reducing other public health threats (fights obesity and diabetes, reduces car pollution which causes asthma by replacing car drivers with bike riders, reduces heart disease, etc)
  5. Therefor less cyclists = more harm to the public health

So adding it all up, these bloody violent ad campaigns might actually do more harm than they avoid.

I would have rather these dollars spent on ad’s that warn car drivers about checking their mirrors before making turns.  You could use the exact same image, but instead put it up on a billboard near known traffic jam locations, with the text “Do you want to be responsible for the death of someones son. Check your mirrors for cyclists before turning.”

You could still put little stickers in bike lanes encouraging people to wear helmets, you could use the same slogan. But if you want to do the most good for the public health, you are going to want to encourage more people to bike.  Then educate drivers about how to handle the increased number of people on bicycle.

If you need a visual ad for encouraging helmet use, you could appeal to sex.  Have hot people in nothing but helmets (I guess its ok to see bloody faces but not naked people, use some bushes to hide the “naughty” bits), with the ad text “You look better in a helmet.”   Or a picture of a mother with the text “Your mother worries, wear your helmet” or any of a number of funnier/better ad’s that wouldn’t scare people away from cycling.

Helmets are good, and people should wear them. But showing a kid who looks like someone took a bat to his face is not going to get more people to ride their bike, and I think we would all be better off if more people rode their bikes, with or without helmets.

I tried to find more information about this campaign, but the URL on the poster doesn’t seem to work. Have you seen more of these posters around town? Are there other bloody imagery or just this one picture? Do you think the potential reduction in cyclist numbers is worth increasing the current percentage of cyclists who wear a helmet? Do you think these ad’s are effective? Let me know in the comments.