Design Template by Bikingtoronto

« Time to explain why helmet laws don't work, again | Main | StoptheU enforcement coverage »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post. MD you're going to need a helmet to ride a bike,but not to operate a scooter? RIGHT

So how many injuries would have been avoided or decreased on Capital Bikeshare over the past two years because of helmet use? I know there have been a couple serious accidents, but in the cases that made the local news, a helmet would not have made a difference.

With over 3 million bike trips for the system, a helmet would have made a difference in... well, I'm not sure. But it sure isn't many cases. A couple?

I think it's smart to wear a helmet, especially on a faster road bike. But helmet use doesn't need to be mandatory for Capital Bikeshare or any other adult cyclists.

Do we know who is pushing this legislation? Is it a grieving parent whose kid got hurt from a bike fall? I doubt seriously it's from the medical or nursing community, since they're able to balance the benefits against the risks and know that more cycling equals improved public health. And even those of us who always wear helmets and advocate that others wear them too know that the real safety in cycling is in improved infrastructure and getting more cyclists out on the road -- safety in numbers. Bike shops aren't pushing it for the same reasons -- they love selling helmets, but the main thing is to get more people cycling in general.

So who's pushing this?

This is one more good reason to attend the Bicycle Symposium in Annapolis Feb. 27. Tell the legislators personally why it is a bad idea. Organize. Discuss. Advocate. Buttonhole press.

Re Michael H: 3.5 million trips on Capital Bikeshare. Zero reported head injuries.

LAB needs to grow a pair and clearly come out against mandatory helmet laws for adults.


Why adults only? Why mandate them for children? How do all the arguments against helmet laws for adults not apply to children?

children, lacking credit cards, are not likely to be bike share users. They are more likely to bike near home, where they will have helmets available.

Really? That's your answer?

Anyone else want to try?

Why would we require helmets for kids but not adults? Do the same arguments against it for adults not apply to kids for some reason?

Has anyone mentioned in this thread or the previous one that adults in a free society have the right to their own choices and sovereignty over their own bodies? And that is sufficient, regardless of any studies or stats?

me, the main reason is that helmets are particularly useful for the kinds of falls that children are involved in - slow speed falls.

In addition, children are more likely to be in crashes. We often restrict the rights of children in ways that we do not for adults because children are not as responsible as adults.

But, I don't care for mandatory helmet laws for kids either. I can raise my children just fine thank you.

Has anyone mentioned in this thread or the previous one that adults in a free society have the right to their own choices and sovereignty over their own bodies? And that is sufficient, regardless of any studies or stats?

Sadly, that's just not true.

It was motorcycle helmet laws that blazed the way. Under traditional common law, the prevailing legal sentiment was that the power of the state was limited and could not be used to protect people from their own actions. At first, states tried to justify helmet laws on the basis that a motorcycle rider was less likely to lose control of his vehicle in an accident, and thus less likely to injure someone else.

The courts were generally deferential to this argument. They felt their job was not to second-guess the legislature, and it didn't matter if it was a pretext, or if the evidence was scanty, as long as there was some evidence.

The problem was the states couldn't come up with any evidence that helmets helped a motorcyclist keep control of his motorcycle. So in 1972 the state of Massachusetts changed their tactics, and in Simon v. Sargent argued that since society bears the cost of injuries, the state has a compelling interest in limiting freedom in the name of safety. The US Supreme Court agreed, and in ruling for Massachusetts wrote:
"From the moment of injury, society picks the person up off the highway; delivers him to a municipal hospital and municipal doctors; provides him with unemployment compensation if, after recovery, he cannot replace his lost job; and, if the injury causes disability, may assume the responsibility for his and his family’s continued subsistence. We do not understand a state of mind that permits a plaintiff to think that only he himself is concerned."

That is now the law of the land.

Submitted the form letter above,actually got a response from Delegate Cathy Vitale;she even admitted she doesn't wear a helmet.

@me, Wash basically answered the "why only adults" question but, since you were kind enough to ask, I'll put in my two cents.

- My belief is that arguing over helmets is, above all else, a matter of belief and emotion. I believe that science can affect the debate, but that belief and emotion will ultimately rule. Some will believe in Styrofoam. Others, that the safety of numbers trumps the ancient god Styrofoam. I see no need to pour gasoline over this particular powderkeg by bringing children into it.

Returning to the science, here are two lesser reasons.

- Curnow wrote a wonderful book chapter in Traffic Accident Analysis and Prevention (2008) to the effect that helmets are designed to protect against blows directed towards the center of the head. As Wash suggests above, these are precisely the kinds of blows a child is likely to encounter (fall down, hit head).

- The danger posed by helmets, as Elvik points out (Accident analysis and prevention, 2011), is that wearing a helmet increases the probability of a neck injury. The speculation is that a soft helmet can grip the pavement and twist the neck, but only if the rider is moving fast enough for this to matter. I am guessing that it is adults, rather then children, who crash with enough speed for their helmet to kill them via a brain stem injury. But this is just a guess.

BTW, Curnow goes on to explain that blows toward the center of the head may not be the most important injuries, that rotational injuries have been found to be perhaps more important, and how this plays out for woodpeckers, who slam their heads against hard objects repeatedly. It turns out that they move their heads in a straight line (versus a curve).

Finally, the main reason I believe that belief will rule is that I am convinced that Elvik (2011) is correct: helmets have nearly zero net safety effect. That is, the main effect of helmets is political. They are useful to politicians and to reporters who want to show that they care about public safety. They are useful to car companies who like to sponsor bicycle danger (aka safety) campaigns--they know they are frightening people off of bikes and back into their cars. They are not useful for cyclists. Or so I believe.

"Sadly, that's just not true.

It was motorcycle helmet laws that blazed the way."

Well, it was alcohol prohibition (and then drug prohibition) that paved the way well before that.

the "'society' has to pick up the tab" is a well traveled and obvious argument, and I remain unsurprised that people don't understand how much of a camel's nose under the tent it is.

Maybe we're over-thinking this. May be that some delegate had this idea that since most of the big organizations (WABA among them) recommend cycling with a helmet, the delegate figured he (she?) would use the weight, might and authority of government to promote it, too. The penalties are a warning (both legal and physical). I figure the delegate had the idea of the local town cop stopping the 20 year old hipster with a stern chastisement, then whip out some advisory bulletin and the 20 year old hipster would "see the light," use his head, and head down to the local shop to pick up a cycling hard hat.

The real trouble with the law (besides any kind of slippery-slope arguments) is that we all know the local precinct is too busy with hand-held cell talkers and red-light running to take action on yet-another feel-good law. Actually, from the perspective of the local police, it might be good for them: no real paperwork to write, no extra courthouse time (hey, OT is good, but all the time?)

so the lede is buried here...washcycle thinks unitarians are stupid. :)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Banner design by

City Paper's Best Local Bike Blog 2009


 Subscribe in a reader