At the risk of starting a helmet war…I want to make my position about helmets and their use by advocates very clear.
Recently one of the top bicycle advocates in our community rode in a community ride without a helmet. This ride was with city officials and was broadcast on two or three news channels. This article is in response to those actions and represents my thoughts on a controversial subject.
Advocates and Helmets
So why should bicycle advocates wear helmets?
Advocates tend to be mostly accomplished cyclists who are well able to avoid crashes. They represent all types of cyclists, including those who wear helmets and those who don’t. So why am I so adamant about advocates wearing helmets.
Because the people who make a difference expect it.
Whether we like it or not, advocates are role models, not just to the cyclists we represent, but we in fact do represent those cyclists to a broader public, including elected officials, law enforcement and the general public.
I believe we lose creditability when we don’t wear helmets; especially when we are in our advocacy mode talking to people who count and presenting our story in the media.
Just as I wear a suit to the capitol to visit my legislators, I believe it is important to wear a helmet when being an advocate.
I’m not saying that it is right or good or proper that people judge us by whether we wear a helmet or not. But I do believe that we are judged and lose some of our power when we present ourselves in public as advocates without the helmet.
My view on Bicycle Helmets
I wear a helmet every time I get on a bicycle…unless I get distracted as I did recently and started to do a trial ride on an electric bicycle with no helmet. I have fallen at least four times when my helmet cracked and likely reduced the injuries I sustained.
I recognize that helmets are designed to provide protection in a low speed crash and don’t offer a significant amount of protection if I get hit by a motor vehicle at high speeds. However, I also know that most bicyclist crashes that result in injuries requiring medical treatment are, in fact, slow speed crashes that don’t involve a motor vehicle.
I also know that there are numerous studies that show the health benefits of regular physical activity and more specifically the benefits of riding a bicycle daily.
In fact the health benefits out weigh the risks of riding without a helmet by a large margin.
I have ridden in Amsterdam and the countryside of the Netherlands. I was one of the few people riding with a helmet. I believe the biggest cultural difference that makes the crash rate in those countries one-tenth of that in the US is that almost every driver is a cyclist and every child is given traffic safety lessons from first to sixth grade. I am not sure that is a good reason not to wear a helmet but it works for them.
For adults, who can comprehend the complexity of traffic situations, I normally argue against mandatory helmet legislation (MHL). I can teach an adult to avoid most crashes.
I would rather see an adult riding without a helmet than not riding.
For children, who are unable to deal with the complexities of traffic situations, I normally speak up for MHL. I can rationalize requiring parents to put a helmet on a child because they are not capable of making good decisions in traffic. I believe the risk of not wearing a helmet in our traffic situation is higher for a child but
I would rather see a child riding without a helmet than not riding. But, I would rather see a child riding with a helmet.