Helmet Debate Never Stops

Penny runs the bike shop near my office. She posted a reminder on Facebook that next Tuesday is the anniversary ride for Nathan Krasnopoler, who was struck by a car crossing a bike lane into a driveway. She is quoted by the Baltimore Sun in Cycling advocates fight proposed helmet law, preferring ‘safety in numbers’:

More helmets, more safety? Not so, according to cycling enthusiasts, who are fighting the legislation because they say such a mandate would discourage people from riding. Safety in numbers, they say, is more important than protecting individual skulls.

“There aren’t enough cyclists on the road,” Light Street Cycles’ owner, Penny Troutner, told a House of Delegates committee Tuesday. “We have to hit that point where cars are aware of them, thinking about them and not resenting them. That is what would have saved Nathan Krasnopoler.”

No one wore helmets when I was a kid, so once when my brakes failed I crashed into a Goodwill dumpster. At the last second I turned my head,   cracked the cartilage in my ear and lay there stunned. I can still feel the ridge where the cartilage grew back together.

I biked helmetless all through college in Pittsburgh, taking at least one spill on an icy road. I started wearing a hard shell Bell helmet when I started biking to work in Washington DC’s insane traffic. Since then, I’ve always worn a helmet when biking. Last Fall I went ass-over-teakettle after hitting a wheel block, and landed on my head and right shoulder. The shoulder still hurts.

Everyone tends to be a libertarian with respect to their own safety. They think auto speed limits or seat belt laws shouldn’t apply to them. I used to read OpEds in motorcycle magazines advocating that wearing a helmet was more dangerous than wearing a leather cap.

I think I can see both sides of the argument. There are certain people who ride bikes very slowly with very little risk of head injury, but there are also people who ride aggressively. Why shouldn’t we make our own decision to wear or not? I suppose I worry that someone I love will make the wrong decision.

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3 responses to “Helmet Debate Never Stops”

  1. cmaukonen says :

    I never wore a helmet. Not even as a kid. Took some spills but non of any consequence. In Ohio as a kid I biked all over the place, mostly on back roads. A number of them were dirt roads.

    Road from where I lived west of Burton Village to Middlefield and back. Road into the Village a number of times. Even road on a main road into Chardon once. Through 2 townships.

    When we lived in Naples, I would ride into town. Sometimes to scrounge for radio parts behind the TV shops and then bike back with big TV chassis tied to the handle bars. Of course I took the sidewalks etc. doing this.

    Florida had a helmet law for motor cycles for a while but then did away with it. It was in response to all the head injuries that teens were having on their Honda 50s etc. during that craze in the 1960s.

    After being back here and out to Burton a few times, there is no way I would bike without some protection, if at all. Far too much traffic there now and all going too fast.

    Would not allow a kid to do what I did now. Just too damn dangerous.

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  2. Martin Schwoerer (@MartinSchwoerer) says :

    “Why shouldn’t we make our own decision to wear or not?”: Exactly. Especially where, in this case, there are so many variables and unknowns.

    With seatbelts, there is no downsides, but the advantages are enormous.

    With bike helmets in contrast, the downsides are: people in cars overtake you even closer when you have a helmet; you get a hot head; helmet laws discourage people from riding a bike; helmets contribute to risk homeostasis (people ride riskier, even though a helmet doesn’t protect you much); helmet laws are a diversion for policemen and lawmakers, who would be better advised to police reckless car drivers and provide better bike infrastructure.

    What’s good about helmets: they can be life-saving at mid-level speeds or in low-speed freak-accident cases. At higher speeds though you’d need a full-face motorcycle helmet.

    All in all, I don’t wear a helmet and I accept my (adult) daughter’s decision not to wear one.

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  3. Bill Chance says :

    I would never cycle without a helmet. Once you are used to them, they are no problem (even in the heat here in Texas- a modern helmet is well-ventilated and provides shade). To me, they are protection against a simple fall. Without a helmet, a piece of gravel in the road can be a fatal obstacle.

    I have known two cyclists that broke their helmets in falls (one hit a road reflector at a bad angle, another slid on a patch of sand) – I don’t want to think about the damage if they hit their heads first.

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