Helmet Laws, More Harm Than Good?

Background Reading

Summary

Cycling advocates say bike shares, such as New York’s Citi Bike, are safer than other types of riding because the bikes are slower and often used in bike lanes and areas with other cyclists. PHOTO: ALLISON SCOTT/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Cycling advocates say bike shares, such as New York’s Citi Bike, are safer than other types of riding because the bikes are slower and often used in bike lanes and areas with other cyclists. PHOTO: ALLISON SCOTT/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL


TakeAways

There are two factors here that need to be considered. First there is the issue of increased ridership. The idea is that if the number of riders increases sufficiently, then a critical mass is reached wherein motorists are forced into increased awareness of bicyclists. This is thought save lives.

Of course what is not mentioned in this logic is that we are talking about impact situations for which a helmet is probably not useful. Helmets are most likely to work when the forces applied to the cranium are generated by a fall. In a car versus bike collision the forces developed by a vehicle striking a cyclist would surpass those for which the helmet was developed.

The secondary factor is the mandating of helmet wearing. This is like the numerous other laws which are designed to protect, more about litigation than physical safety. So if we separate out this litigation issues we should be able to quickly determine whether a law is required.

Who does the litigation threaten? The Boub vs. Wayne resolution did something new for bicyclists. It made it possible for them to claim that they were:

  1. intended users of the roadways
  2. as well as permitted users of the roadways

If municipalities are freed from the burden of litigation for injuries incurred by cyclists who are not wearing a helmet during a crash that results in either head or brain injury then the need for a helmet law is negated.

This same unburdening would need to take place for organizations which hold biking events.

Does The Removal of the Law Insure Increased Ridership?

I have not personally found the helmet requirement to be burdensome to the point that I would refrain from cycling. And in fact most of the people I have encountered wear helmets. I do however have a single friend who refuses to wear helmets for two reasons:

  • he finds that helmets make him look ‘dorky
  • and following a ride his hair is ‘mussed up‘.

But this does not keep him from riding his bike. He simply ignores the law and rides without a helmet. That I would expect to be the response of most folks who consider the law burdensome.