Lose the helmet…gain ridership?

In the ongoing “Great Helmet Debate”, a recent article in the New York Times raises some interesting points. The article is mostly about helmet use in bike-share programs (like Paris’s “Velib” or Minneapolis’s “Nice Ride“), but also addresses the different mindsets between Euro- and U.S.-based bicycle advocates:

In the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as pretty near God’s truth. Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke. Cities are aggressive in helmet promotion.

But many European health experts have taken a very different view: Yes, there are studies that show that if you fall off a bicycle at a certain speed and hit your head, a helmet can reduce your risk of serious head injury. But such falls off bikes are rare — exceedingly so in mature urban cycling systems.

On the other hand, many researchers say, if you force or pressure people to wear helmets, you discourage them from riding bicycles.

Take a look at the full article by visiting the NYT page.

Personally, I am no fan of mandatory helmet laws for adults. The Libertarian-leaning among you (and others, of course) may agree that the government has no business legislating personal choices such as wearing a helmet. For children, that’s another matter altogether…I am definitely in favor of helmet laws for kids. My feeling is this: if you want to wear a helmet, cool. If you don’t, that’s cool too…but I reserve the right to privately think you’re a bit foolish for not doing so. I’m not going to get in your face about it, however — you’ve made your decision based on what you know or think and that’s fine with me.

Frankly, I don’t know enough about the helmet studies to know if helmet laws reduce cycling participation or not. I will say that the few I’ve looked at didn’t seem particularly rigorous from a scientific perspective.

I am curious to hear your thoughts on the matter — the helmet debate can get people pretty heated up, so let’s try to keep the discussion friendly, ok? Alright, let’s hear from you in the comments below.

About the author

Bicycle commuter since 1989, bicycle enthusiast for 30+ years. I am a Bookmobile/Books By Mail librarian at a large library system and the proud father of two wonderful boys.