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ABATE = A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments

I was surprised and glad to see them participate. It makes sense that they're testifying against this bike helmet law, and they have a lot of experience working against motorcycle helmet mandates.

New York State, 2010: 32 out of 36 fatalities not wearing a helmet.

- vs -

Maryland State, 2010: 3 out of 9 fatalities not wearing a helmet.

OK she made a case we need to enact this law for NY.

I think you meant Jed Weeks. Chris Merriam is also with Bikemore.

Jeebus, this is a solution in search of a problem. "We know cyclist deaths are rare and every single advocacy group says helmet laws are unnecessary and counterproductive, but we are the legislature and we must save them!!!1!"

Fantastic testimony. I only hope that one day cycling advocacy organizations learn their lesson: they need to STOP TALKING ABOUT HELMETS.

I don't wear one and when people ask me, I tell them that they are useless. You can't split hairs on a public forum. If there's a gray area, you need to come down 100% on the side you actually agree with.

That is, you can't wear a helmet, advocate for "safe cycling", promote helmets, and come out STRONG against a MHL. One hand undermines the other.

As the brilliant people stated above, there are easy ways that the state of MD can save the few lives of cyclists who die a year as well as hundreds of pedestrians and none of it involves helmets.

"That is, you can't wear a helmet, advocate for "safe cycling", promote helmets, and come out STRONG against a MHL. "

so if someone proposes mandatory sun block laws, I have to either accept them, or deny that sun block saves lives? And I can't even wear sun block if I dont want it required?

Thats just silly. I do wear a helmet, and I don't want it mandatory. Anyone who can't understand the distinction needs a course in logic. I am currently undecided whether that course should be mandatory.

Fred, I disagree.

Just as I can wear sunscreen, advocate for "healthy skin care", promote sunscreen, and yet come out STRONG against a MSL.

I, for one, agree with Fred in the sense that I find the overall policy positions of WABA and other such groups to be incredibly muddled. If the data truly do not support helmets, then they should stop promoting them.

We are donating our hard-earned dollars to WABA, LAB, etc. with the understanding that they will do something useful. At this point, they should either make the case that promoting helmets is a useful thing to do, or implement a policy of talking about helmets as little as possible, as other organizations have done (Adventure Cycling Association comes to mind).

Further, they should come out strongly against the misinformation on government web sites, such as the debunked claim that helmets are 70-90 percent effective.

If the emphasis is on safety, what is the criterion for effectiveness? Does the helmet have to fit? Bowler hats were designed as head protection when riding a horse, so can I wear a bowler hat on a bike and call it a helmet? What if WABA sold bowler hats labeled as bike helmets, would that count? Can I wear a yamulke and call it a helmet? There are all sorts of regulatory problems in even getting such a bill to work.

I don't think it's particularly muddled when there's clear data on one point (the effect of mandatory helmet laws) and much less clear data on the negative *individual* effects of using a helmet.

As you know, I think that helmets reduce the risk of an Injury by 10-20%. Therefore to me it makes perfect sense to wear a helmet, but oppose making that mandatory.

Different people draw the line different places , but the basic premise that voluntary measures are good but mandatory not good is common

Fred reaches a strategic judgement that would be correct if most people can't tell the difference, and helmets do not protect enough to be worth the extra hassle of fighting misguided legislation born of the belief that all that is good must be required. I thInk that helmets do some good and that proponents of the legislation would push it no matter what we say.

@Jim T,

I read your article where you came to the conclusion that helmets reduce the risk of an injury by 10% or 20%. I tend to think even those figures are probably too high for several reasons. One, some studies show that motorists pass closer to helmeted cyclists, thus making it possible helmets indirectly cause some crashes (and injuries) which otherwise wouldn't have occurred. Two, helmets can be hot, the chin strap distacting, and also can impede hearing/visibility. This would further decrease the effectiveness rate by making crashes more likely.

Granted, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to do a study taking all these variables into account. I'll offer my educated guess that if they were to be taken into account, helmets might be a wash as far as reducing injuries go.

On the flip side, as you and others have mentioned, the effects of a mandatory helmet law ARE well-known, and none of these effects are good. That pretty much makes the case against mandatory helmet laws.

Mandatory helmet laws do make sense in certain contexts, primarily those where the helmets are overwhelmingly effective AND the likelihood of head trauma is rather high. Construction comes to mind here.


@Joe R: As you no doubt realize, I have simply swallowed the Elvik results hook, line, and sinker (but express a rounded 90% range) The case-control studies have key limitations.

Before even getting into what you say, people need to realize (see first footnote to the table in my testimony) that these studies do not measure effectiveness. Tey estimate an "odds ratio" which is not the same as effectiveness (aka "relativ risk") unless the sizes of the two groups just happen to have the same proportions as what one observes in the actual population. To put it simply, the odds ratio looks at the probability that you were wearing a helmet (or not)if you had a head injury, relative risk gets into the probability of a head injury if you are wearing a helmet (or not). These are differen concepts though Bayes theorem offer one an approach for deriving one from the othr, if you know the probability of wearing a helmet.

Confounding variables may cut both ways. Your example of helmeted cyclists getting into more accidents seems to have been observed in the UK, and if that effet is true here, then we would have to distinguish the effectiveness of the helmet in the crash, from the total safety impact. I have not personally noticed such an effect, and it may be limited to a small number of drivers. I have noticed the effect of bright flashing lights.

My hunch is that the person-specific differences in where and how someone rides a bike far overshadow these confounding factors. So if CDC and NHSTA adopt the Elvik synthesis as the best estimate that science has to offer, I will not quibble about the studies having been imperfect.


Helmet laws have very little to do with "saving" cyclists, and very much to do with control. They're about putting an "out" group in its place.

@Jim T:

I agree wholeheartedly that how and where someone rides a bike overshadows any confounding factors. I personally think defensive cycling is the best way to avoid injury. I've read tons of anecdotes from people claiming a helmet saved their lives. The one common theme among most of these stories was the way in which the person crashed in the first place. In nearly every case, the crashes were caused by operational error. Doing an endover when hitting the front brake seems to be a particularly common way to hit your head, for example. It's also one which is easily avoided by familiarizing oneself with how the front brake works. Same thing for most of the other crashes not involving motor vehicles.

The biggest problem with the case studies is by definition there can't be a control. As you said, the studies simply estimate an odds ratio. A true case control study would require the same cyclist to get into the exact same crash with and without a helmet. That's obviously impossible. There's also the additional fact that head injuries when cycling are exceedingly rare. Even if helmets really were very effective preventing head injury, would it be justified making them mandatory to save a handful of injuries annually, and perhaps one death every few years? I think not. The only reason we've tolerated seat belt laws is because seat belts are quite effective in reducing many types of injuries, AND car crashes are more likely. Continuing this line of thought, the only way I personally wouldn't have a problem with a helmet law would be if it also applied to groups more likely to sustain head injuries than cyclists. That would include both pedestrians and motor vehicle users.

Why jump to a mandatory law now? Show me the data on how the state's effort at helmet use education and promotion has failed first. Shouldn't this be the end of a progression or efforts to improve safety, not the first step?

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