Helmet Opinions?

Background Reading

Following an accident some club members began the nauseating debate about whether to wear bicycle helmets or not. What I found interesting however were some of the excuses for not wearing a helmet:

  • Infrastructure improvements for bicycles were ranked above helmet use because it was thought that they might make a difference. How?
  • One reason for avoiding helmet use was that it made one sweaty. Not being able to shower at the end of their under 8 mile ride meant that wearing a helmet was a non-starter. Really?
  • Laws are meant to protect people. But it was decided that helmet laws did not provide a safer environment. In fact the point was made that nothing about life guaranteed safety.
  • Life is as some pointed out, ‘risky business‘. I agree, but what about infrastructure lowers the risk? Evidently the increase of infrastructure available in Chicago has resulted in HIGHER mortality and injury rates thus far this year:
    Twice as Many Pedestrian and Bike Deaths So Far in 2015 as Previous Years (StreetsBlog)


Elizabeth Peralta-Luna and her two children were fatally struck by a semi driver in March.

Elizabeth Peralta-Luna and her two children were fatally struck by a semi driver in March.


So let’s agree that the jury is out on whether the number of deaths from collisions is going to drop because the rider was wearing a helmet. It would appear that the number of head injuries that play a part in survival is actually greater amongst pedestrians who are hit and injured by cyclists.

This is ironic given how the original article that spawned some of the conversation on helmet use:

But infrastructure does not appear to ‘fix the collision problem‘ either. Of late the fact that cyclists and pedestrians have paths that intersect is which provides the opportunity for collisions that most often end in serious injury or death for the pedestrians. The cyclists seem to avoid the problem of dying under these circumstances.

There are no forms of infrastructure that avoid interactions between cyclists and either pedestrians or auto drivers. Every path, or on street bike lane eventually intersects with either slower or faster moving traffic. At intersections have proven to be the ‘Achilles Heel‘ of all infrastructure designs.

One of the points made was that:

  • improving infrastructure and obeying the Rules of the Road
    • stopping at stop signs,
    • stopping at red lights,
    • making yourself visible at night will make cycling safer

And yet even these notions are passé in many cycling circles. Why?

The excuses given are largely that few accidents occur at stop signs. And losing one’s momentum is what takes the fun out of bicycling. Many cyclists ignore red lights because like stop signs they make the ride take longer and that too takes the joy out of cycling.

And of course there is the notion that having to use lights on ones bicycle or having to wear reflective clothing is a real ‘buzz kill‘ because it puts the onus back on the cyclists who is the ‘victim‘.

Nothing That We Are Doing Guarantees Vision Zero

That is the problem that we face as a society. The Dutch and Danes have been at this for decades and cannot solve that problem. The Brits are about to make valiant attempt to separate bicycle and automobile traffic altogether. But there is the niggling problem of having bicycles and pedestrians using the same paths that will probably result in injuries at least for the pedestrians.

The solution is not to have everyone traveling at the same speed. If that were the case automobile collisions would be fewer. No the problem is that life is risky. And it is ludicrous to attempt to assign vulnerabilities to riders based on their relative speeds.

In that instance it would mean that every bicyclist would have to be prepared to buy insurance to protect against liability incurred when travel either across a pedestrians crosswalk or alongside pedestrians on a MUP.

What may help is if everyone travels slower. The physics of injury is proven where speed is concerned. Collisions mean less injury at slower speeds. But our automobile speeds (at least on highways) are being elevated this very summer. We will move from a former 55 mph limit back to 70 mph!

Evidently we are not a society that truly has safety in mind. We are far more interested in satisfying the ‘fun‘ component in travel. That for many means going faster and that means waiting less.