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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Cycling Without A Helmet? Mon Dieu!

During a recent visit to Paris, New York Times environmental reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal rode a bike from the city’s Velib bike sharing program without a helmet!

And she had an inspiration: bike ridership in the U.S. could increase if people didn’t wear helmets.

Rosenthal says that riding without a helmet is common in Europe, and she thinks it’s safer for daily commuters.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that helmet reduces head injury risk by 85 percent. And the group found that 91  percent of bicyclists killed in 2009 weren’t wearing helmets.

But Rosenthal says she’s advocating helmet-less bike riding in urban bike sharing programs, because the chances of suffering a severe head injury while riding 5 miles per hour through city streets is less likely.

Guest:

  • Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times environment reporter

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • guest

    My husband was cut off by an SUV and knocked off his bike on a quiet street during commuter time last week in Providence, RI. If he in surgery as I type and listen to your show. If he wasn’t wearing a helmet I can’t imagine what would have happened….

  • Esteban

    I totally agree – city riding is more like walking.  The whines of vehicular cyclists and helmet police are growing more and more marginalized as everyday people take over the movement.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003000884786 Navin R Johnson

    I don’t wear a bike helmet when I am on my cruiser in the neighborhood.  But I do wear one while on my road bike or if I am riding on an off-road trail on my mountain bike.

    I also question the design of modern bicycle helmets, they seem designed to stop blows on the top of the head only and do poorly protecting the sides of the head.  I actually wear a kayak helmet while biking off road.

  • Smitys

    So, the young man I met who was riding his bike, on the sidewalk, slowly (less than 5 mph), who merely fell off his bike and landed on his head.  It was safer for him to not wear a helmet?  He was not wearing a helmet, and he’s been brain damaged since.  Gee, that sure was healthier for him!
    I’ve been a bike commuter since before it was popular, I wear a helmet.  You don’t have to be going fast, you don’t have to collide with a tree or car, you merely have to land just right to wreck your life forever.  Let’s make a big deal about it!  It may be rare, but if it’s you, it’s 100%.  Wear a bleeping helmet!  I’ve never met a bicyclist who was detered from riding by wearing a helmet. 

  • awarerider

    Wait till you have your first crash even at low speed and tell me you weren’t glad you wore a helmet just in case. Helmets are so incredibly light and well ventilated these days, there’s no excuse or reason, in my opinion not to wear one each trip.

  • Gembbw

    I agree. Helmets should not be reguired. I bike all the time withou a helmet but at other times I do wear a helmet. I make an assessment as to the conditions I’m riding in. Most of the time I am just puttering around on my bike and don’t feel the need for a helmet. I know I would not ride as much if it was reguired.

  • Mike_Card

    A big problem with these fast-riding road racers who ignore traffic signs is that they wear helmets and act like they’re invincible, instead of invisible.

  • Brian H

    It sounds like we are appealing to adults like they are children. Something like: “Riding bikes is good for you, we will let you not wear helmets if you do it”. Why can’t more people ride bikes AND wear helmets? 

  • Rusty

    Better to spend $20 on a helmet and potentially save your self from brain injury. The latter is way more expensive when you consider medical costs as well as partial to complete loss of your autonomy. TBI is something not to be left to chance. It doesn’t take much. Even an minor concussion has consequences down the road, so to speak.

    Thanks for the forum.

  • GeriC

    There was an article in the New York Times or the magazine, about a study someone had done on how vehicle drivers react to people on bicycles.  I believe the result was that vehicle drivers are more cautious when riders don’t wear helmets. They were even more cautious when the rider had a ponytail – a mixed blessing!

  • Martha

    *Not requiring a helmet* is different from *advising cyclists not to wear a helmet.*  “Ride without a helmet” is fine advice for someone who’s on the fence about biking and who’s more likely to ride if they don’t need to wear a helmet.  But I’ve been biking to work for years and wouldn’t ride anywhere without a helmet.  Nobody’s seriously going to tell me I’d be safer without my helmet.  But I am a strong proponent of the concept that more bikers on the road makes the activity safer for all of us!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003000884786 Navin R Johnson

    I was once criticized for not wearing a bike helmet by someone who rides a Harley without a helmet, I just laughed at him.  In a nation where most states are rescinding motorcycle helmet laws, this debate seems silly.

  • Mike

    I wonder if there’s another reason that helmets makes it unsafer:  if I wear a helmet, it will save me from my mistakes, so I can make more mistakes!

    I’ve wondered the same thing about the safety features in cars– do people drive crazier because they think that the car will save them from their mistakes?

    Is it like football, where players use the helmet to hit other players harder?

  • Todd Cannon

    Did anyone notice the failure to mention accident rates versus user rates in Dublin? And, I was extrememely disappointed in Rosenthal’s comment about slow cycling somehow being safer. A closed head injury is possible falling over a zero mph. A car running you over rarely cares how fast you are travelling. All her points were poorly thought out. Just another example of lies, damned lies and statistics!

  • Chris

    If bikers only had to worry about themselves, then riding without a helmet might be a safe option. 

    However, when you factor cars and other motorized vehicles into the equation, wearing a helmet is the only way to go.  I have been hit by cars multiple times as a bike commuter of over 20 years and have friends that have been seriously injured–one was struck by a truck that ran a red light.  He would be dead if not for his helmet.

    I think helmetless riding is just a bad idea.  I do not want my insurance and healthcare rates to increase to cover all of the head injuries suffered by people who don’t want to “mess up their hairdo” with a helmet.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003000884786 Navin R Johnson

      I don’t ride my bike on major roadways, there is usually a different route you can take.  I also avoid traffic lights as they are dangerous places unless you are in a vehicle.

      I have been riding a bike for 40 years and never had a car hit me (but I did have to ride off the road to avoid a couple).

  • James

    I think it’s a personal decision.  It should not be mandated, nor should it be written off.  Personally, I’ve know too many people who have been saved by wearing helmets and that’s enough to get me to wear one.

    • LizNOLA

      Mild traumatic brain injury can be very expensive in time, money and the care/energy of friends and family. When we really are “islands” then fine; harm yourself. Meanwhile,  there are people who love you, will sell their houses to see you get good medical care, will quit jobs to nurse you… so, put the helmet on. For them, if you don’t care enough for yourself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003000884786 Navin R Johnson

    I guess the rider should decide if they need a helmet.  If you aren’t a very skilled rider, you should probably wear a helmet all the time.  If you have great control of your bike and know how to avoid wrecks, then you have less need for a helmet.

    • Beeapfel

      How about unexpected circumstances?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003000884786 Navin R Johnson

         Most circumstances can be expected.

  • Charles

    The idea to not wear a helmet is insane. Are we going to suggest not wearing one while snowboarding or skiing because of the health benefits from just getting out and being active? Yes there is a benefit to going out and getting some basic exercise, that can’t be denied. But that doesn’t instantly remove the benefits from taking some basic precautions.

    • Laurie

       People wear helmets while skiing??

      • E Brody

        yes – many  

  • Pete Shaw

    I am and have been for over 30 yrs a recreational cyclist.  Twice my helmet has saved my life.  Both times traveling at very slow speeds.  I hit a small obstacle and lost control, causing me to fall, my head, in my helmet, hit the curb.  The helmet was destroyed.  Other time I hit a patch of ice and fell into a metal post, again my helmet was destroyed.  My kids and grand-kids know that they do   NOT get on a bike with out a helmet.  My 6 yr old grandson has already experienced the benefits of wearing helmet, and thanked me for my rule of wearing a helmet.  Under NO circumstances  can I envision a policy of not wearing a helmet whenever on a bicycle.  I usually ride 2,000 miles a year.  Yes, sometimes it is hot wearing a helmet, but I would rather have a “hot head” than a cold casket or hospital bed.
    Pete Shaw
    South Bend, IN

  • DaveW

    While I can see the statistically derived benefits of such a move, I still will ride with my helmet whenever I can.  A friend’s older brother was hit on a bike while he wasn’t wearing a helmet – he recovered from the coma but has never been the same person since (his personality completely changed, and not for the better).

  • Sandra

    As opposed to thinking of the use of bike helmets as statistics, I think about the issue as a parent. I have had the experience of a phone call from a trauma center telling me my 22 year old son, not wearing a helmet, had been hit by a car and was unconscious in the ER; they were monitoring a brain bleed that was continuing to increase is size and they would let me know if surgery was needed (I was 3000 miles away and it was the middle of the night). I also have had the experience of my 19 year old daugter calling me from the ER, telling me a man had gone through a stop sign and hit here while she was on her bike. She was at the hospital because there was a question as to whether she might have a broken bone. She also let me know her helmet would need to be replaced because it had been so badly damaged when her head hit the curb.

  • Josh W.

    I think causality is a little confused here: I was raised and trained with the idea that a helmet is MANDATORY to bicycling, right up there with peddling. The whole assumption of the argument is that helmet-wearing drives people away from urban bike sharing programs? Is it that helmets are supposedly uncomfortable? Inconvenient? I think the much bigger deterrent to urban bike riding is the myth that it is somehow reserved for those “hardcore” commuters with strong convictions about the environment, personal fitness, etc.
    Having witnessed and experienced low-speed, non-life threatening bike accidents in both urban and residential environments, I believe the importance of helmets cannot be emphasized strongly enough within bike culture, even if local laws do not enforce such measures.

  • RMJ

    I was in Berlin last May – saw 100′s of people on bike without helmets (saw about 10 with helmets). All but 10 were in the “spandex” uniform. I returned to San Diego energized to modify my hybrid into an up right and toss the spandex…but not the helmet, at least not yet. The difference between Berlin and San Diego is the drivers – Berlin drivers are very aware of bike riders – not so much in San Diego. However, I have noticed more and more people riding without helmets in our beach communities. And I agree, the more slow bicyclists riding to get to a destination (versus a ride for sport) will cause drivers to pay more attention and share the road with bikes.

    Challenge: what should we call this new, at least to the US, bicyclist? Definitely they are not cyclists – that is the fast, spandex crowd. And commuter isn’t appropriate either – I am retired and use my bike for errands, visiting friends. I have not hear a good term – what say you listeners?

    • Rebecca_A

       out and about cyclist or bicycler

    • Jake

       “Utility cyclists”.  The fast, spandex crowd are called “roadies”.

    • E Brody

      actually, it’s guys in tight neon – a.k.a. roadies – that are the newbies to the landscape here – ever since Lance won in ’99 their herds have multiplied to fill the niche once occupied by the more rare & easy going  ‘guy on a bike’  and the even rarer but equally relaxed ‘two people riding bikes’ – of which I am one – welcome to the pod  

  • http://www.facebook.com/nicolasrj Nicolas Johnson

    Nick here from Portland, OR.  We’ve got all kinds of commuters on bikes, great bike paths, and a growing public transportation system complete with buses, light rail, and street cars.

    Helmet laws, sure go without them.  But I will always wear my helmet.  To hear Elizabeth say the chance of a life-threatening head injury, even just putting around on a cruiser, is “Really really really really tiny” is just very deceiving, I don’t think anyone thinks their chances of getting in an accident are higher than that to begin with, and even if the chances are that low I still don’t think it’s an excuse to not wear a helmet.  Sure, don’t wear a helmet, but don’t tell me your safe because your chances of an accident are “so low”. If you win the lottery and get in an accident, you may regret it.

    And the other comment about people going “5-10″ mph to commute to work has so many things wrong with it, my speed up hills is ~11mph, I don’t know of anyone who wants to lengthen their commute. Riding my bike is faster than driving the way I do it, it’s also faster than the public transportation available, if I slowed down to “5-10″ mph to commute to school it would double my transportation time, and then I might as well take public transportation and get some things done on the ride in.

    If the only purpose of people not wearing helmets is to reduce heart-attacks and get people in better shape, I think there are better ways to do it than telling everyone to not wear helmets.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003000884786 Navin R Johnson

    Bicycle helmets are not going to protect you much if a car hits you, they are not as effective as motorcycle helmets. 

  • guest

    These “Invisible Helmets” could be the solution??!! http://vimeo.com/43038579 See how they work here http://www.hovding.com/en/how

  • Tim Rohe

    You cannot compare cycling in the US to anywhere else in the word, especially Europe.  There is a big difference between biking without a helmet on a dedicated bike path completely separate from any road and biking on the US version of a bike path, a bike spray-painted in the middle of the road.  The US is much more of a car-centric culture where road conditions and bike paths are completely different.  Also, I completely disagree with the idea that more cyclists on the road makes cycling safer.  The only serious accident I’ve been in was caused by a group of cyclists on a bike-share rentals.  They were taking up the entire bike path and swerved into me, causing me to take a header into the pavement.  I am still in physical therapy for my shoulder and I would have a severe head wound if I had not been wearing my helmet.  Cycling should not be like walking, as the commentator suggested.  Cyclists on the roads and bike paths going painfully slow have develop the same bad habits as pedestrians, like talking on their phone or puttering about with their ear buds in not paying any attention to their surroundings.  Also, I have seen long traffic jams of backed up bikers when some Sunday cyclist is biking at five miles an hour down the bike path and there is no room to pass.  I bike to work almost every day because it is faster than public transportation.  If you choke up the bike paths with a bunch of rental bikes peddling along at a snail’s pace, making cycling “more like walking,” I might as well just take the subway.  Encouraging people to bike without a helmet is just plain irresponsible.

    • E Brody

       you said it, man

  • Bee

    We wear seat belts in cars to provide safety.Wearing helmets while riding bikes is the same idea. The importance of using one is  to prevent or minimize injury. Often head  collisions from a very minor or low velocity impact with pavement can result in brain  damage requiring long time extensive rehabilitation. I would prefer that my tax money would go for education rather than rehabilitation  expenses from a possibly prevented accident.  Require helmets.

  • Aaron Wilson

    I help to run a bicycle advocacy program in my own town. Why do I recommend wearing a helmet? Because of my own accidents. I use a bike to commute around my city, it’s not hard to go 15-20 mph on a road bike in a nice smooth bike lane. I’ve been cut off by motorist who weren’t paying attention, I’ve mis-shifted and flipped my bike, and I’ve gotten my bike tire stuck in our bad Michigan pot holes. All of these times I’ve had nasty crashes (which happens when you ride a lot), I’ve hit my head. The other day I did wear a helmet, and it cracked pretty badly. Because I don’t have health insurance, I’m very glad I was wearing a helmet and not sitting in the hospital for a week. Or worse….

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003000884786 Navin R Johnson

    A helmet is not a panacea for poor bike riding skills.  If you are going to ride a bike around cars and pedestrians, you need to be hyper-aware.

  • VT Rider

    Keep wearing your helmet and teach your children well.

  • Andreakbergmann

    I moved to the USA two years ago after living in The Netherlands for a few years.  Holland is an increadibly bike friendly country and I am happy that that culture rubbed off on me.  I still cycle as much as I can even though the terrain here in FL is not as bike friendly here as it was in Holland. I do not wear a helmet … however .. part of my daily cycle route includes taking my son to and from school.  He sits on the back of the bike and he does wear a helmet.  Moms will be moms ;)

  • Austin

    I didn’t wear a helmet all the time until falling off my bike and cracking my head from nearly a dead standstill – I was about to take off, but accidentally twisted my handlebars to the side, causing  me to stumble down a sidewalk ramp and fall over, crushing my glasses against my head.  This resulted in both stitches and a concussion.  If you want to ride without a helmet, that’s your choice, but you’re only fooling yourself if you’re calling it safer.  It’s easy to think you’re in total control of a bicycle until something goes wrong, believe me, even at slow speeds.

  • LixNOLA

    I remember the day at the office when we found out that a beloved janitor, a youngster with mild developmental disability died over the weekend because he was tapped by a car on his bicycle and hit his head on the curb. It was a mild accident that killed the young man. That same weekend the state infectious epidemiologist was also in a bike accident. He had a helmet and had some facial scrapes but no brain injury.

    I think about that every time I get on a bike and put my helmet over my skull.

    I also think about how I used to commute in San Francisco by bike and how I got an expensive ticket for running a red light at Van Ness and Market when there was no traffic. I learned that I had to ride my bike like a vehicle. I make hand signals, stop at stop signs and obey the traffic laws. I am a vehicle and am safer if I act like it.

    I used to commute 10 miles a day, took my bike on BART and did not have a car until I was nearly 30.

    • Fhfh3jh

       How about wearlng a helemt ewc time you hgo out of your house? Waling? Would save lots of lives isn;t it? how about not even getting out of your house ?
      Only retards need a helmet in the city on bike paths.. WTF? Just learn how to bike.. I can imagine retards who are running and fall down and break their head – just learn how to fall ..
      Basically if you are reallty retard you can hurt yourself in a lot of ways – no need for a bike to do that .

      I never wear a helmet no need to .. I felt twice I belive at slow speed – ice . worst thing you get a scratch on your knees or elbows.. I was ok.
      So retards will break their neck even with a helmet – jus let autoselection work otherwise we won;t be able to go out of our homes because the whole humanity will become retarded.

  • Aaron Wilson

    Another thing: I want to address the issue of people riding their bikes 5 mph. I think the interviewee doesn’t realize how easy it is to go fast if you ride a bike often, or if you know how to use gears. If she’s still going 5 mph, than maybe it’s time she enroll’s in a cycling safety class for commuters, so she can learn how to ride her bike more efficiently.

    Here and Now, I’d love to talk to you guys about cycling in cities that aren’t New York or Boston. How about Jackson, MI, where I’m from. Where I help to get people trasportation who need it in a poor rust belt city. I teach real advocacy, I teach safety.

  • Marc Yergin

    I ride bikes. I always wear a helmet. I have heard people say, “but I’m only going slow or 5 miles an hour.” I keep in my mind the picture of what a melon looked liked when it was simply dropped from about the height of a head on a bike — it shatters. And that melon wasn’t going anywhere. The unexpected post you hit as you fall off a bike can create damage. What is often forgotten is basic physics: SOmething is dropped, gravity causes it to accelerate. So, even though you are going slow forward when you drop you will accelerate and it your head hits first, see you in the ER.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wil-Davis/750405297 Wil Davis

    Four close friends have have been saved from serious injuries by wearing helmets when they cycle.  One of my bikes threw me when it was startled by a tree root, and my helmet was split by my head’s ensuing close encounter with the ground.  I subscribe to the school of thought that you only really need to wear a helmet if you have something worth protecting!  (I’ve been a cyclist for 58 years). – Wil Davis

  • Polly

    I have biked in Europe and here – it is something “I just do”.  The car culture here is very different than Europe.  Just look at the size of the cars. I was wearing a skirt and a helmet when I was taken down by a car making a left turn.  I was doing an errand less than a mile from home.  The car was a big SUV and going to fast.  I rolled onto and over the hood and tossed onto the ground – she kept going.   2 plus years later, I am close to recovered from my injuries – but thankfully, no head injury.  I still ride but I do not trust motorist – even with good intentions, they are propelling a lot of steel through space.  I passionately want people out on bikes and see the book “Pedaling Revolution” for a great discussion of safety in numbers BUT this is the USA and the numbers and attitude of drivers do not make me ready to ride without a helmet.  I have seen and worked with Head Injury – it is pretty tragic.

  • Ken

    Personally, I think the notion of riding without a helmet is irresponsible, if not a bit insane. I had an accident 8 years ago (with a helmet) that put me in the hospital, in a coma, for four days. Having experience Traumatic Brain Injury (much like soldiers in Iraq/Afghanistan suffer after being attacked with an IED). Based on the damage to the helmet, I’ve no doubt that I’d be dead.

    I understand the “but, it’s less than 5-10mph” argument, but even falling off a bike at a low speed without a helmet? It’s far too easy (likely) for one’s head to contact a curb during a fall, which I don’t personally think is “no big deal.” At all.

    That said, I will continue to wear a helmet (regardless of context), and will tell my story to every helmetless rider I encounter. On the mountain-biking trail, I have standing instructions to eject helmetless riders (it’s private property, and one of the terms for using it is to wear a helmet).

    If this “you don’t really need a helmet” sentiment continues, I predict more ghost-bikes to appear as a direct result.

  • Margieb42

    Wearing a bike helmet saved me from a serious head injury several years ago, when I fell off of a bike onto a concrete driveway, and I wasn’t even in traffic.  My dad, who was a physician, was a strong advocate of bike helmets because he was aware of the number of people who suffered permanent head/brain injuries as a result of bicycle accidents.  Parents should teach their children to use bike helmets by leading by example, so it becomes a habit with the children, who will then teach their children.  I don’t know about biking in other countries, but in the USA, it will save a lot of families from a tremendous amount of heartache if they just put on a helmet before riding,

  • ggle calendar

    For the kind of riding Rosenthal is shown doing, perhaps going helmetless is OK.  However, there are other ways to ride.  Rather than the “5 mph on a big clunky bike” she cites, I average 15 mph on my road bike, and have gone as fast as 50 mph on downhills.  In over 33,000  miles of riding, my helmet protected me at least once from a concussion, or worse.

  • Carol H

    Portland OR has been known as, “Bike City USA.”  The weather is often horrible and we have had helmet laws for years.  In 2011, we averaged 18,257 bike commuters crossing our bridges daily.  Our ridership increased 6.4% citywide last year (Joe Rose, Oregonian).  Our bike program is doing just fine, AND our riders are protected with helmets.

    Anyone with an ounce of common sense understands the value and importance of wearing a helmet.  The fact that Ms. Rosenthal is an ER physician and is espousing this view is simply incredulous.

    To have both a successful and safe bike program, parents need to enforce helmet wearing from the beginning with their children and ride with them often, leading by example.  This way, the next generation doesn’t even question helmet wearing, just like starting life in car seats leads to a lifetime of seatbelt wearing.  No questions asked.

  • E Brody

        Robin – you’ve confused me – today you recounted  the horrors of unsafe working conditions overseas and validated organized labor’s ability to protect wokers then you sabotaged the organized effort to improve bicycle safety  here – I was deeply moved Mr. Nova’s observations but Ms. rosenthal left me a little cold;
         if more people start riding bikes because they’re not required to wear helmets there will be more head trauma injuries and related deaths to cope with – Ms. Rosenthal presents a side of the issue that is altogether too cosmetic and reflective of European attitudes campared ours – too much like arguements against seat belts & condoms – you know – personal freedom etc.   
         once common sense becomes fashionable again so will wearing a helmet and this debate will die – troubling to me is seeing young helemtless parents riding bikes with their helmeted  children – seems helmet confusion is altogether a part of the shifting attitudes and practices of the day – I believe wearing a helmet is the safest way to go – I  know that my life was saved by my helmet in a crash when I was commuting – I love riding my bicycle all the different ways described on the show but it’s always risky – when it comes to my safety  I have to be the most responsible person out there – personally, I don’t think cycling’s promotion is best served by marginalizing or discounting the value of its greatest safety advancement      

  • Amy Raslevich

    My family and I just moved back from living in the Netherlands for three years, and this conversation is an odd one to us.  In moving to the land-of-bicycles, we very quickly learned that ANY accident between cyclist and motorist was the car’s fault.  It took several weeks of driving to get used to looking for and accommodating the cyclists.  Only non-Dutch people wore helmets, and EVERYONE rode bikes to work, school, the market, etc.  Biking was central to the country; there were racers and recreational bikers, but biking was also very utilitarian — there are more bikes than people in the country, as each function requires a slightly different bike.  The topography allowed for this, as did the governmental support for bike paths and cyclist protection, but the bikes themselves were very different than what is available in the US, and the culture accepted biking as the central means of transportation locally.  We saw everything from businessmen with briefcase clamps on their bikes, to mothers toting five children along with them (one on the handlebar seat, one on the back, and two to three in the wagon or tandem), often beside which children rode solo on their own bikes.  In fact, children received pedal-less bikes before they could walk in the place of the walkers that US children used to use here ; these taught balance as well as confidence as a cyclist.  To me, however, the main difference was absolutely in the way that drivers were required to share the road with cyclists, which completely changed the way one drives and where attention lies.  Cell phone use in the car was illegal, and all attention was on side and rearview mirrors, as a cyclist was always expected to be right there.  Until we change our urban culture in those ways, though, our cycling will still remain dangerous and combative.

    • Tim Rohe

       Yes, sharing the road is easier in the Netherlands, but drivers are not more cautious there just because they are always on the lookout for cyclists.  The traffic laws are very different, most importantly at intersections which can be incredibly dangerous here.  Cameras at traffic lights and for catching speeders are more prevalent there as well, encouraging safer driving habits.  Besides, you can get around most places on bike paths that are completely separate from the road, even in urban areas, so there’s no road sharing involved and you don’t have to worry about getting doored by a parked car even when you’re in a designated bike path or run off the road by a bus that you’re often sharing both the road and the bike path with.  Finally, bikers there obey traffic rules, which makes a huge difference.  In the US, a lot of the so-called “hardcore” cyclists think that they own the roads and don’t have to bother with traffic rules.  Even in the Netherlands, I doubt that if a cyclist carelessly sped through a red light, as is very common here, that the driver of the car would be found at fault.  I agree with some of what you’re saying, but I don’t see why you would find this conversation “odd.”  The culture there is more bike friendly, so it’s safer to bike without a helmet.  In the US, it is not, so it is recommended that you wear a helmet.  The commentator was trying to compare apples and oranges.

  • Peter M. Williams

    I’m sorry to be so blunt, but Elizabeth Rosenthal  IS A FOOL if  she thinks cycling will get safer by NOT wearing a helmet. That is a STUPID idea and her logic is seriously flawed. 

    - Dublin is NOT Melbourne, nor  is NOT New York. Comparing them is spurious at best. 

     - Most injured cyclists were NOT in collisions with CARS, they were injured in collision WITH THE GROUND.  I am able to type this because I was wearing a helmet when I hit the ground.  Everyone in the ER kept asking if I had worn a helmet, EXCEPT the neurosurgeon.  He said, “I see had on a helmet today.” When I asked him how he knew he replied, “Because I have also examined people who didn’t.”

     - Five miles per  hour is the speed of a slow jog.  The only people riding that slow are on sidewalks. . . where they  endanger pedestrians.

     - She is claiming that I can foster my life and health by endangering it!

    By Rosenthal’s  logic, we would make cars safer by removing the windshield.  You would have to drive much, much slower and you wouldn’t have all that glare from the sun.

    I can’t believe you gave this that much air time without a responsible opposing viewpoint.
     

  • jsallen

      Robin
    Young announced at the top of the hour that a topic on today’s program
    would be “is it possible that not wearing helmets makes bicycling
    safer?”

    The answer is, of course, no.

    The claim which usually underlies this
    argument is that if people don’t have to wear a helmet, then more people
    will ride bicycles, motorists will become more attentive, and voilà,
    bicycling will be safer. There also is a health claim.

    Let’s consider a parallel example: “is it possible that not wearing a
    lifejacket makes canoeing safer?” And here is the supposed logic, as
    applied to canoeing: if people aren’t encumbered with having to purchase
    and wear a lifejacket, then more people will take up canoeing, people
    in powerboats will then be more attentive about avoiding colliding with
    canoes — and so canoeing will become safer. Also, the health benefits
    of canoeing to society at large will outweigh the losses through
    drowning, even if most people never canoe far enough or paddle hard
    enough to get a meaningful fitness benefit.

    Missing from this contorted  reasoning is the choice facing the
    *individual*.  Also, the reasoning rests on a distorted perception of
    risk — fearmongering turned inside out. I took canoeing as an example
    because it is well-known that most canoeing incidents do not involve
    powerboats: a canoe simply capsizes, or someone falls overboard.  Less
    well-known is that, over 70% of injury-producing bicycle crashes do not
    involve a motor vehicle. Also  in incidents which do involve a motor
    vehicle, a helmet often prevents or mitigates injury.

    What underlies the anti-helmet drive is social engineering by the
    bicycle industry, environmentalist and transportation reform interests
    and public-health advocates like the guest on today’s show to recruit
    more people to ride bicycles — and mitigation of risk to the individual
    bicyclist be damned. We prime the pump for increased bicycle use by
    disparaging helmet use, and if we have a few — well, actually thousands — of avoidable fatalities and permanent
    injuries,l these sacrifices that
    must be accepted in the interest of the Greater Good.

    The anti-helmet
    argument gains more adherents with the advent of municipal bike-share
    systems, which at the same time make access to a bicycle easier and  use
    of a helmet more inconvenient.

    The story on Here and Now confused  the issue of mandatory helmet laws with
    the issue of personal choice as to whether to wear one. Let me make it
    clear: I don’t support mandatory helmet laws, which aren’t enforced, yet
    which can impose a presumption of negligence on a bicyclist not wearing
    a helmet — as in “yes, the driver ran the stop sign, but you weren’t
    wearing a helmet, so you don’t collect on the driver’s insurance.”
    Because I care about my own well-being and that of my family, I wear a
    helmet. I recommend that other bicyclists nake the same choice.

    “It’s more like walking than riding a bicycle. You’re more like a
    pedestrian” says your guest Elizabeth Rosenthal of ideall urban cycling
    as she envisions it. “The kind of crashes in which people fall off bikes and hurt their
    heads are really, really, really rare because you’re riding around at 5
    miles per hour. It’s more like walking” says Rosenthal. Great. That’ll
    get me home in two hours.  And who will point out the bicycling is
    several times as efficient as walking? I’d be better off walking than
    riding at such a low speed, if the goal is cardiac fitness.
    Let me also
    point out, as many commenters did,  that the speed at which the head strikes the ground depends on head height, not forward speed — and that slow-speed crashes are often caused by collisions while in crowds of bicyclists.

    At the end of the piece, Robin quoted someone as saying about a
    helmet wearer “you’re a racer. Get off city streets.” A competent and
    fit urban cyclist is by definition a racer? A bicyclist is going too
    *fast*, not even as fast as a motor scooter rider, and so should get off
    the street? Serious confusion reigns here.

  • Jon eden

    What is so damn hard about wearing a helmet? Someone please tell me because I put mine on multiple times every day and just don’t get what the big deal is.

  • Nateoceanside

    Are Dublin and Melborne a proper comparison?  If one (Dublin) is slow-moving cobble-stone streets, and the other (Melborne) a faster moving environment, then perhaps Melbornes’s bike helmut rule makes sense. 

    Part of the story seems to be a series of logical steps that implies that:  (1) we need to train motorist to watch for bikes.  (2) To accomplisth this we need more bicyclist in the mix. (3) To get more bicyclist we need to encourage them to ride regardless of helmut use.  (4) Once the motorist are trained to watch to bicyclist, we’ll all have a safer environment.

    The problem with this logic is that if fails to account for all the fatalities among the non-helmut-wearers during the training process.

    In my city, the “bike lanes” are a joke.  It’s a white line painted on the side of a six lane street.  The speed limit is 45 mph, which means most traffic is moving closer to 55 mph, or more.  If you get hit by a car a 60 mph, it’s nearly always a fatal accident–helmut or not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stuart.fox.35 Stuart Fox

    I once saw a report on our local station that said drivers didn’t notice people on bicycles. So, I guess with them not noticing you on your bicycle makes all the collisions that are going to happen healthier without wearing a helmet.

    This guest was strange. Yes, I guess riding a bike instead of taking a car is healthier, but is getting into an accident, which, by it’s very nature is unforeseen, better with or without a helmet? Why didn’t the host ask about the inevitable accidents which will increase as more people ride bikes and how wearing a helmet would protect peoples’ brains.

    Besides, riding a bike is not like walking, unless you are walking in the street. As I mentioned above, people in cars don’t notice you if you are on a bike, and they do it you are walking. Also, unless you are running, bikes are much faster then walking. Lastly, bikes are subject to the same laws that apply to any vehicle, while pedestrians aren’t.

  • http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/mama_phd/long_distance_mom_head_injury Long Distance Mom

    I have been an avid bike supporter and environmentalist who rides with Critical Mass in Chicago, but I join the writers who are mildly horrified at the ‘no-helmet’ argument.  As a parent and TBI survivor, I find the statistical argument dubious for city listeners.  I rode without my helmet ONCE when I biked to a nearby forest preserve.  I was hit by a motorcyclist who jumped the light and ignored the pedestrian path.  (He got a $200 ticket.  I had $300,000 of medical bills.)  I am also a college professor who teaches communication so I understand that provocative stories get readers/listeners, but we should not accept that “easier” bike rides make it more O.K. to not wear helmets any more than we accept that driving to the corner grocery store means we don’t really need to wear our seatbelt. 

  • Tory

    Unbelievable how naive Ms. Rosenthal is. A cyclist is at risk in  all sorts of  situations in and out of traffic . Just falling off a bike at any kind of slow speed can be a problem. A helmet  can save your life and better, will keep you from living a life with permanent damage. While it may have been provocative to hear this viewpoint, it has got to be one most irresponsible suggestions for anyone to make. Cyclists not wearing helmets are not only a danger to themselves but also to the greater society. Brain injury  can turn a productive citizen into an expensive care dependent mess.
     
    I for one don’t want  potential cyclists that are deterred from biking by  wearing a helmet. These idiots should stay far away from bikes.

     

  • Ken

    I think the bicycle helmet debate keys on traffic and riding habits. Here in South Florida I have to ride on city streets with traffic; it is at best  hazardous; at worst out right dangerous. I’m going to wear a helmet here. If I was cycling in Europe I would probably not, or anywhere in a much more bike friendly society.  Sidewalks — they are called “walks,” after all — are dangerous in ANY country.  And I’ve seen some of the stupidest implementation of bike paths here in West Palm Beach. The City took a busy four-lane road — Parker Avenue — and changed it to a median 2 lane road and then painted bikepath icons in the space restricted lane where a car cannot even negotiate around a bicycle. Poor lighting, high traffic counts and frequent driveways make it a “death path.” I’ve only seen one bicyclist on it, who I almost hit because it was dark and he was wearing dark clothing without any lights on his bike. Oh, and no helmet…

  • Amy

    Can someone please explain to me what on Earth the problem is with wearing a helmet? Why is this even a debate? Bike helmet technology has advanced tremendously in recent years, and most helmets today are stylish, lightweight, comfortable, ventilated, inexpensive…and don’t even mess up your hair.

    Is there some absurd stigma attached to helmets that I’m not aware of? Do people think they look silly wearing them? Is it that big of a  hassel to take five seconds to put it on your head and click it under your chin?I ride my road bike 5-6x per week as my main form of exercise (10-20 miles/each time), and I would NEVER go without a helmet. I put it on and completely forget that it’s there until I get off my bike when I’m done. It takes two seconds, gives me peace of mind, and fades into the background. It’s just like putting a seatbelt on in a car…which I do even if I’m driving around my neighborhood at 25mph. 

    Seriously…I’d love to know the answer to this. Because I simply cannot fathom what is so annoying or abhorrant about wearing a helmet that I would risk a traumatic head injury to not wear one.

    • Mark Stewart

      When we were children, growing up in B’ham, Al., I gave my old Schwinn Varsity 10 speed bicycle to my younger brother when I got a motorcycle. He was riding in circles in a cul-de-sac, going about 1 mph or less when he fell off the bike onto his head. He fractured his skull and was in the hospital for a week with a bad concussion. No helmet. Fast forward 40 years. I was hit from behind by a car while riding my bicycle and thrown head first into the curb striking my head. It DESTROYED the helmet but saved my life. Imagine what injury to my head without it. As it is, it broke my C1 vertebra and caused a significant brain injury I haven’t healed from 6 months later.

  • Rebecca_A

     I find the vitriolic comments being spewed here, and elsewhere, against cyclists who don’t wear helmets to be alarming and dangerous. There are many dangers in our lives but there is no campaign to make us aware of them the way there has been about the dangers associated with not wearing  bike helmets. The campaign for wearing bicycle helmets and the dangers of not wearing one plays right into the hands of automobility which wants bicycling to be seen as so dangerous that people will remain  slaves to their cars and not experience the freedom a bicycle can bring.

    For instance, it is curious that there is so much noise given over to helmets, especially for children, but there is a virtual silence about children’s sunglasses which prevent permanent sun damage. The clear lens of the young child transmits about 7 & 1/2  times the amount of potentially harmful Ultraviolet Radiation Exposure than the yellowing lens in the adult. UVR exposure can cause  irreversible lesions of the ocular tissues, risk of cataracts, skin cancer of the eyelids, macular degeneration & sun damage to the cornea.   
    Unlike skin cells, eye lenses cannot repair themselves. Once they’re damaged, they’re damaged forever. Eye lens cells are never replaced and over time, the harm done is cumulative and can even lead to blindness. 
                                      
    I have been injured multiple times when I tripped while walking. I have had bloody knees, a fractured wrist that was repaired with a metal plate and a broken elbow which required surgery.  No one asked me if I had been wearing a helmet. I feel far safer on my bicycle riding at the slow speed of eight miles per hour though my usual speed in traffic is 12 miles per hour.  After wearing a helmet for twenty years I stopped wearing one after a trip to the Netherlands where no one wears helmets for every day cycling. Not even children. I realized after that trip how I had been consumed by the fear of what would happen if I didn’t wear a helmet. I haven’t worn a helmet now for four years and I think I am now a more aware, better bicyclist. People wearing helmets also get killed. I can think of ten accidents where people died who were wearing helmets.

    What keeps us all safe is excellent infrastructure. Want all bicyclists to be safe? Demand infrastructure that removes all conflict with cars.

  • Tim Joganich

    Lets not forget our physics here. The severity of a impact and hence the risk of a head injury technically does not have anything to do with your speed unless your head runs into a curb, car, pole etc. It is all about the drop height. Your head drops the same distance whether your are riding at 5 mph or 20 mph. There are always mitigating factors, but one can’t argue with physics.
     

  • khalil

     I did some back of the envelope calculations on the speed of impact of a body falling down from 3.3, 4.9, and 6.6
    feet height (1, 1.5, and 2 meters, rounded), which are plausible bicycling
    crashes having nothing to do with being hit by a car but just falling down.  These translate to 9.9,12.1 and 14 miles
    per hour (rounding). One can compare that to statistics of head injury
    probabilities for different impact speeds. One developed during
    the early days of estimating nuclear bomb effects, in this case blast damage.
    The velocity at which one could impact the road is substantial compared to the
    velocity that imparts a considerable risk of head injury. That’s why simply
    falling down on ice, if one strikes one’s head, can cause serious
    damage.

    TENTATIVE CRITERIA FOR INDIRECT (TERTIARY) BLAST EFFECTS INVOLVING
    IMPACT

    Source: The Effect of Nuclear Weapons, subsection “Blast Injuries”, pg.
    557. (1977, open literature).

    Skull Fracture probability vs. the direct impact velocity of head with a
    hard object (such as a wall, etc):

    Mostly “safe” 7 mph

    Threshold 9 mph

    50 percent 12 mph

    Near 100 percent 16 mph

    Falls are relatively rare, but cyclists do fall. Worst case impacts are
    relatively rare as well (one is as likely to hit one’s shoulder as one’s head, which I did
    once, causing an A/C separation), so suffering a head injury during a fall off of a bicycle is
    a rare times rare or extremely rare event. But helmets are there to protect against that
    extremely rare event, because that extremely rare event has extremely serious
    consequences. When we do risk analysis, we do exactly that: calculate
    probability of an event times its severity. One should not be frightened by the
    sight of a helmet. It is simply a protective device to protect against a very
    rare but nasty event. Helmets do not predict the probability of a crash any more
    than a good luck charm predicts a crash, so their presence or absence does not
    tell you if cycling is dangerous. They just mitigate the fall if you happen to
    land on your head.Then again, logic is not a strong suit in this discussion.

  • Loitering Dog

    Go ahead, safety despots, wear your helmets, but please, refrain
    yourself from chastising those of us who chose to ride for the simple
    pleasure of the wind blowing through our hair. I, for one, am sick and
    tired of the self-righteous types yelling “helmet” at non-helmeted
    bicyclists. I’m quite certain, if this were two hundred years ago, these
    sanctimonious folks would be at the front of a witch-burning mob
    touting their indignation at those who chose to go against the grain.
    If
    theintention of the “safety-keepers” is to save lives, then why not ban
    ice cream, butter, and eggs….better yet, stand outside of ice cream
    parlors and knock the cones out of patron’s hands; after all, heart
    disease is the nation’s number one killer….not falls from bikes.
    If
    we are to lead our lives according to insurance company statistics,
    then we are doomed to some regimented Orwellian existence. In sixty-one
    years of bicycle riding, I’ve never worn a helmet, and accept the risks;
    the greater potential health risk, as Elizabeth Rosenthal points out is
    to not ride a bike at all.
    By the way, not once, in all my years of
    riding, have I ever chastised someone for wearing a helmet; I figure
    it’s their choice, just as it’s their choice to have an occasional ice
    cream cone. As Katherine Hepburn once said, “If you obey all the rules,
    you miss out on all the fun.”
     

  • Pual Fejko

    I have never and will never wear a helmet while biking – I think it silly!

    fej

  • hair but no head

    Nobody brought up the idea of helmet hair. Often times often often times, I don’t ride because my hair is plastered to my head. I sometimes surreptiously hide my helmet on the way to where I am going, hope for the best, and then where it home. I never used to wear a helmut, and now I feel guilty when I don’t. So, I drive my car. I used to ride a lot lot more when I didn’t wear a helmet. Now I don’t want to look real rough when I get to where I am going. There was only one time I needed a helmut and fortunately I was wearing one–when I was getting used to cleat shoes. I fell back while lifting my leg over the top, and hit my head. I fortunately had a helmet on, and it was one of those that came to a point in the back, so the only thing that got hurt was my pride. Now I feel like riding my bike without the helmet, and be comfortable with it, at least until my hair grows long, then it won’t matter.

  • Frank K.

    It seems the very idea of bicycling without a helmet generates horror and outrage in the minds of so many posters!  They believe bicycling is a huge risk for serious brain injury.  Astonishingly, even some prominent advocates of cycling adopt this view!

    Do such people never examine data?  Bicycling causes far less than 1% of the brain injury fatalities in America.  And that’s not simply because cycling is uncommon; pedestrian travel is approximately three times more dangerous than cycling, in terms of fatalities per mile, with a higher percentage of pedestrian fatalities due to brain injury.  The gruesome speculations about heads hitting the pavement apply just as well to pedestrians, and apply even more in winter. Yet only bicycling gets demonized.

    For other comparative risks, consider motoring, America’s number one source of fatal brain injury, despite seat belts and air bags.  Consider walking around the  home, including descending stairs. Any table of brain injury causes will show motoring, home life and pedestrian travel absolutely eclipse bicycling as a source of brain injury, yet (again) only bicycling gets demonized, even though Americans average over 8 _million_ miles riding between fatalities!  Remember, there are only 700 U.S. bike fatalities per year from all causes, vs. over 4000 pedestrian and over 30,000 motorist fatalities.

    More disappointing, even scientifically trained bicycling advocates point to cracked helmets as “proof” that serious brain damage was prevented, or “my life was saved.”  Yet since 1980, pedestrian fatalities and bicycling fatalities have fallen at precisely the same rate (with medical technology likely responsible for much of the improvement) despite massive uptake of bike helmets.  There is no identifiable benefit from bike helmets. 

    There is no identifiable benefit from bike helmets even in Australia and New Zealand, where all-ages mandatory helmet laws were enacted and strictly enforced in the early 1990s, and helmet use suddenly surged to as much as 90%.  Yes, apologists for those laws crowed about the reduction in raw injury counts – but skeptics soon pointed out that head injuries dropped _less_ than cycling did, yielding an increase in HI risk per remaining cyclist!  (Yes, that data, and all other such studies, disprove the “85% benefit” claim.)

    Bike helmets are certified to ludicrously low standards, a standard promising protection only for a decapitated human head in a mere 14 mph, perfectly linear impact with a smooth surface.  Unlike seat belts, the test in no way replicates a realistic crash.  Time series studies of large populations show helmets of that standard do not prevent a significant number of serious brain injuries.  So a cracked helmet is not proof that a life was saved.  It’s proof that helmets are fragile, and that increasing the size of a target will result in more impacts.

    In summary, bicycling is NOT very dangerous, in America or any Westernized country.  Bicycling has NEVER been a significant source of serious brain injury.  Cracked helmets are NOT proof of protection.  And continued promotion of bike helmets sends a false message, needlessly scaring people away from an activity with tremendous net benefits in health and safety.

    It’s time to examine real-world data and separate the fear mongering from the facts. 
    Bike helmets are an ineffective solution to an imaginary problem. 

    • Mark Stewart

      Dude, to test your theory I propose a test: You stand there with a bicycle helmet on while I hit you in the head with a hammer. Then, you take the helmet off and I again hit you in the head with the hammer. After you regain conciousness in the hospital (indeed if you ever do) you can revise this bs.

      • Frank Krygowski

         I hate to dignify with a response any post beginning with “Dude,”  but: Mark,  consider whether your farcical test would give any different results for pedestrians or motorists. 

        Serious and/or fatal head injuries that occur to pedestrians greatly outnumber those of cyclists, both in total count and on a per mile basis.  And while motorists are safer than cyclists per mile traveled, they tremendously outnumber cyclist casualties in total count, i.e. cost to society.

        Despite the myths, bicycling causes only a tiny percentage of America’s serious head injuries.  Cycling causes approximately 0.6% of U.S. brain injury fatalities.  Your “test” should be directed at the other 99.4%.

  • Jencw

    I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury as a result of not wearing a helmet while roller blading.  I was on a Green Belt, with only other bladers, cyclists and pedestrians, no cars, but I still had an accident that almost killed me, and put me in the hospital for a very long time.  Please don’t set the helmet usage back to the dark ages, especially since Idaho still isn’t out of the dark ages!  Articles like this, in my opinion, are as irresponsible as the “study” that has set back immunizations and resurrected almost-extinct diseases that kill and maim people.

    • Frank Krygowski

       Jencw – please look up the number of people annually suffering traumatic brain injuries in the U.S. from various activities.  Do the same for TBI fatalities.  Pedestrians are worse off than cyclists, either in total count or in injuries or deaths per mile traveled.  Motorists dominate the total counts (despite seat belts and air bags), along with those who simply fall walking around their homes.  Yet we are apparently “in the dark ages” regarding helmets on those people.  Will you campaign for helmets for motorists and walkers & joggers?

  • Mark Stewart

    A bicycle helmet SAVED MY LIFE. I suffered a broken neck and brain injury EVEN WITH THE HELMET. I won’t ride one foot without one now.

  • Mark Stewart

    Of all the things in the world one could write about, this article is the most amazing “story” I can imagine. It almost seems to come from another dimension. You know, that dimension where everyone is stupid and zombies exist.

    • Mark Stewart

      Maybe I didn’t survive my accident, after all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/John.S.Rawlins John Rawlins

    The main problem with riding without a helmet is that it is a much more pleasant experience than riding with a piece of foam on your head. If people start riding without helmets then lots more people will start riding bikes. This is how communism begins.

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