Comment 65511

By seancb (registered) - website | Posted July 04, 2011 at 12:15:15 in reply to Comment 65491

Seatbelts have been proven to help rather than hinder in almost every collision situation. There was some backlash against seatbelts initially, by people who were concerned about being trapped in a burning car, but studies and real world data have shown that the benefit of seatbelt use vastly outweighs the slight possibility of being in a situation where it is a drawback.

The bike helmet story is much less straightforward. The tests under which helmets are certified are very simple straight-on-the-noggin bumps. Glancing blows, neck twisting, and whiplash style impacts (the kind that you use as an example in your own words above) are NOT tested, and independent tests have shown that a helmet could worsen concussions in many types of falls.

Beyond that, helmet manufacturers explicitly warn that the devices are NOT meant to reduce injury in collisions involving other vehicles. In other words, they are designed, tested, and certified solely to protect you from falling straight into the ground at low speed with no other vehicle involved.

The simple fact is that helmets are a red herring when it comes to cyclist safety when riding at normal speeds in mixed traffic.

Beyond the chance of a helmet actually causing physical injury (and I freely admit that it is just a chance), there is a huge social detriment to the stigma of helmet use - and this is not just a chance, it is real. And it is made much worse when helmet use is mandated by the government.

First, helmet use perpetuates the false idea that cycling itself is inherently dangerous. In reality, it is no more dangerous than walking or taking a shower, and is much safer than driving. The real danger for cyclists is CARS.

Rather than mandating helmet use for cyclists, we should be pushing for safer streets for cyclists (and by extension, pedestrians). This could be as simple as changing the laws, but should be accompanied by physical changes to our roads as well.

Rather than putting the onus on cyclists to wear protective gear to prevent injury from the inevitable collision, we should be passing laws that put more responsibility on drivers in avoiding the collisions to begin with. The current approach is akin to mandatory bullet proof vest laws in lieu of gun control laws. It simply makes no sense.

Here are some simple ideas that would be virtually free:

  • increase sentences for drivers at fault in collisions with cyclists - this can include larger fines, license suspensions and even jail time.

  • higher fines for driving infractions in the presence of cyclists (similar to "speed fines doubled in construction zones with workers present" or "community safety zone, fines increased". all infracions should be doubled when a car is within a certain distance of a cyclist.

  • a minimum passing distance law - 3 feet for passing cyclists.

All of these are easy, law based solutions that do not require changing physical infrastructure nor special gear requirements for vulnerable road users.

Keep in mind also, that cars come with seatbelts (and headlights, and horns, etc). For cyclists, every step toward safety is at additional retail cost. Bike helmets are BIG BUSINESS. Would you pay $70 for a styrofoam cooler? Where does tha majority of that $70 go to when you purchase a styrofoam hat from a bike shop which contains the same material as a helmet? How much of this is R&D and how much is profit? Why does no one ask these questions?

Blind faith in bike helmets is dangerous.

Be careful out there!

Comment edited by seancb on 2011-07-04 12:19:14

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