Car Free, Helmet Free

I have never owned a car. Nor do not wear a helmet when cycling or walking.

I used to have a MIT article explaining how if we really wanted to reduce head injuries we’d require helmets before anyone could walk up or down stairs in their home.That is way more dangerous than riding your bike, any way it could be measured (frequency, distance, severity, etc).

So I was pleased to come across this article that had some fresher stats on the merit of using a bike helmet. Of course, wearing a helmet in an accident helps protect your head. And that applies to most accidents, not just cycling.

But somehow cycling gets singled out for this special treatment. I’ve long thought it belonged in the same garbage can as when engineers assure the public that something is being done for their own safety. It usually translates into a lengthy wait or long, awkward detour for cyclists or pedestrians and a faster straighter road for motorists.

So, here’s the fresh-to-me data:

I’d love to know what’s in that 16% other category. Stairs? Falling off your chair? Being dropped?

And finally, a nicely pointed cartoon to push the idea with humour:

The source of these three illustrations and explanatory text comes from Howie Chong:

6 thoughts on “Car Free, Helmet Free

  1. A surprising revelation. Thank you. It will make me change my position in helmet debates.
    (Not an alternative fact)>

  2. I used to NOT wear a helmet until I got teed by another cyclist on the SJAM Parkway which gave me a concussion and sent me to the Civic Emergency. The lesson for me is that no matter how careful you are you cannot anticipate: every possible accident situation , other peoples stupidity, or be %100 aware all of the time. Over 30 years of cycling on the cycle paths on the SJAM parkway I had 3 minor accidents (1 head injury per 15,000 hrs). So while I agree that the accident rate is low the risk is still there.

    While I now wear a helmet for most rides ( the short ones to a local store I often do not), I realize that helmets only provide protection for a minor collision. I worked in the Traffic Safety Department of Transport Canada, so I know if you want to be safe in car traffic you really need to wear a motor cycle helmet.
    In order to lower the accident risk while cycling I try to avoid potentially high accident situations like busy streets with lots of parked cars

  3. I’m not very impressed by that pie chart. Two big points that come to mind right away:

    1. The data may be fresh-to-you, but the figures are almost 40 years old – not exactly fresh! These numbers predate CA seatbelt laws by eight years, which may go a long way towards explaining the high numbers for motor vehicles.

    2. What are the relative trip numbers/person miles for bike and by car? Traffic density in San Diego county in 1978 vs that in Ottawa today? Injuries per person per day, per trip, or per 100 miles would be a much more useful figure.

  4. I agree that the numbers in your pie-chart are dated, but the source of head-injuries has not. Riding a bike is *not* a major source of this type of injury. I do not want to get into a ‘data war’ over this so I will let anyone who has an interest do their own research and draw their own conclusions.

    Here are a few other articles which I think that you might appreciate.

  5. While I won’t try to convince any adult to wear a helmet, I do think that they are important for children.

    I wear a bike helmet for the same reason that I wear a facemask when I play hockey: because the inconvenience of wearing it far outweighs the inconvenience of living with the results of an incident.

    I put a lot of miles on my bike and consider myself a good cyclist but nonetheless I have had some serious falls where I walked away without any concussions. Banged up feet, knees, shoulders, hands, elbows, etc…, yes, but my head is still functioning.

  6. I have a hard time understanding these anti-helmet arguments and don’t believe the statistics that get served up in their defence, but so be it. In my case, I never wore a helmet until I had kids. I wanted them to wear helmets and I felt I should set an example, so I did too. One fine day about 12 years ago as I was biking home along the Ottawa River Parkway, my front wheel locked up on some sand as I was turning — I know, I should not have been braking and turning at the same time. Anyway, I went down hard, suffered some nasty road rash all up and down my right side and severe bruising in my groin, making walking very difficult and riding impossible, so I called my wife to rescue me. When she and my son arrived and I staggered into the car, I took my helmet off and discovered that it was broken. Until then I hadn’t even realized my head had hit the ground. I shudder to think what the result would have been without the helmet.

Comments are closed.