I can’t think of a more controversial subject to write about than bike helmets and the wearing thereof. Nothing will get a cyclist’s anti-bacterial padded shorts in a knot more than saying they should or should not wear a helmet.
To borrow a line from my own novel, “It’s like trying to peek at a snake in a pool cue case.” Let’s see if the bastard will turn around and bite me.
I believe the subject is like religion or politics; an individual should do what they believe is right, but should not necessarily try to force their beliefs on others. I wear a helmet when I ride, but it is not my place to tell others to do the same, anymore than it is my place to say others should wear a seat belt when they drive.
People get extremely passionate on both sides of the fence, and get very upset when others oppose their view. I wouldn’t say I am passionate about the issue even after my accident last December when an SUV made a left turn in front of me. I slammed head first into the side of the vehicle.
I was wearing a helmet, but still came away with a hairline skull fracture; I also damaged a nerve in my right eye. This has left me with double vision that persists even after almost a year has elapsed.
The helmet broke, and it is my view that it did absorb some of the impact. Without it, my injuries might have been worse, even fatal. On the other hand, I could argue that I hit the vehicle at 20 mph and the helmet failed to protect me.
I continue to wear a helmet when I ride, but because they don’t offer total protection, I wear it only as a last line of defense when all else fails. Far more important in my opinion is avoiding the accident in the first place.
A recent report on child related bicycle accidents stated that there are 10,700 children hospitalized each year in the US because of bicycle accidents. The report goes on to say a third of this number had traumatic head injuries, and wearing helmets would reduce these head injuries by 85%. I guess I was one of the unlucky 15%; that is if you consider a skull fracture a traumatic injury.
The report states 30% of the accidents involved automobiles. However, there is not a single mention of safety training for children, or drivers of automobiles. So in other words, buy a kid a bike, put a helmet on their head, send them out on the streets, and they’ll be fine. I don’t think so.
Try to get children and teens to wear helmets by all means, but proper road safety education, I believe, would cut these numbers far more than helmet use, even mandatory use. Of course, this is the parent’s responsibility, but it is the parents who need educating first. Most of them don’t ride a bike themselves, so they don’t have a clue.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-helmet use; I just think some of the pro-helmet advocates would be doing more to help the cause of cycling, if they put their energy into pushing for road safety education, with helmet wearing as part of that.
Bicycle helmet use is still very much an American thing. It began in the US in the 1970s and is slowly spreading to the rest of the world. However, it is not practiced, preached, or accepted in other countries at the level it is in the United States. Certain countries have more of a cycling culture where almost every car driver is also a cyclist; I would feel perfectly comfortable riding there without a helmet.
Many people will not ride a bike if they are forced to wear a helmet, or even if they are made to feel like some social misfit if they ride a bike without one. Helmets have been accepted by roadies because they have been accepted by the pro racers. If you wear the Lycra jersey, shorts and shoes, then the helmet goes with the whole ensemble.
But, put a road helmet, with its bright colors and duck’s arse styling on a guy in a business suit commuting to work, and he looks a total dork. Some will say putting appearance over wearing something to protect your head is stupid, and it may be.
However, try telling that to the teenage kid who is wears a helmet as he cycles to school, and has to run a gauntlet of abuse from other kids. He will quit wearing the helmet, and if forced to wear it, will quit riding his bike. And that is a damn shame.
Some kids are wearing the round skateboard style helmets while riding their bikes, because they “look cool.” This should be encouraged and helmet manufacturers should take note. Produce some plain oval shaped black helmets.
Forget for a moment the safety issue of bright colors and being seen. Get people to ride a bike and feel comfortable about wearing a helmet first; they will come around to wearing bright colors later. Look how many motorcyclists when legislation forces them to wear a helmet, they will opt for a small, plain black one.
I hope I never see the day when there is widespread mandatory wearing of bicycle helmets, for the simple reason they do not offer total protection; manufacturers need to keep working on that one. I realize it is difficult to make a bicycle helmet light enough to be practical and offer full protection.
However, bring in mandatory helmet wearing, and before long governments will push for full protection standards. Then we will all be wearing motorcycle style helmets and dying of heat exhaustion.
Okay, just my point of view and it is not my place to force it on others. Feel free to disagree and even put forward an opposing viewpoint; all I ask is, please be civil about it. But just in case, I’m going to get my snake bite kit ready.