As bicycling proliferates, it appears less riders are wearing helmets. In the U.S. half of all riders wear a helmet for a least some trips and only 35 percent for all trips. A Streetsfilm on Vélib’, Paris’ bikeshare program, shows not one rider wearing a helmet. The same is true of videos of cycling in Copenhagen.
In the United States, 21 states (most of which are the highly populated coastal states) have helmet laws mainly targeting children under 18. In Canada, helmets are mandatory and bikers do get ticketed; the same is true for Australia and a few European countries.
It’s the Rule But Is It Cool?
U.S. President Barack Obama was seen on vacation two summers ago without a helmet. Reaction was mixed. Paul Steely White, executive director of the biking and public transit advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives, acknowledges that helmets are, well, goofy. “When you’re the leader of the free world you have to look tough,” he says. Director of the International Bicycle Fund David Mozer, while also acknowledging the uncool nature of helmets, says many injuries happen on quiet streets.
Seventy-five percent of all bicyclist deaths each year result from head injuries and 90 percent don’t involve automobiles. Yet evidence on the effectiveness of helmets is contradictory.
A 2009 study, “The Intended and Unintended Effects of Youth Bicycle Helmet Laws” (you can download the PDF here), by Christopher S. Carpenter and Mark Stehrfrom, profiled in the New York Times, revealed that helmet laws for youth significantly reduced bicycling fatalities among young people up to age 15. But the study also found that mandatory use of helmets makes biking seem more unsafe and discourages people from biking. Another report says that population data from around the world does not prove that helmets have resulted in a reduction in head injuries. For example, in the United States, an increase in cyclists’ helmet use over a decade was accompanied by a ten percent increase in head injuries.
So what’s the solution? Despite conflicting evidence, not wearing a helmet simply because it’s uncool is ridiculous. Are they really that much of a hassle? And do they cause irreversible helmet-hair during the commute to work?
What do you think? Would you wear this helmet?