Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Need for Bicycle Helmets

I occasionally check in on the world of bicycling.  The increasing use of bicycles for everyday tasks can be a key element of successful urbanism.  A recent coincidence led me to check in this week.
A reader of this blog recently commented that bicycle helmet laws may inhibit bicycling by making it seem more dangerous than it really is.  It was the first time I’d heard the argument and I was slow to respond.  Which was a good thing because all of a sudden a pair of articles appeared that made the same argument.

Elisabeth Rosenthal, writing in the Sunday New York Times, compares Europe where helmets are required only for children, few adults don helmets, and bicycling is common to North American where helmets are often required for all and bicycling is far less common.

Her key observation is “… many researchers say, if you force or pressure people to wear helmets, you discourage them from riding bicycles.  That means more obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.  And – Catch 22 – a result is fewer ordinary cyclists on the road, which makes is harder to develop a safe bicycling network.”  Rosenthal goes on to quote an Australian researcher who estimates that the benefits of not requiring helmets may outweigh the costs by 20-to-1.

Chris Bruntlett, writing in Hush, makes the same argument and provides further data, including the estimate that annual medical expenses in Australia are increased by $301 million because helmet laws inhibit the health benefits that would result from bike riding.  He contends that helmet laws have been shown to be failures pretty much everywhere.

I’m not a bicyclist and haven’t been one for years.  (Let’s put it this way.  I’ve never worn a bike helmet.)  But I’d like to hear from bicyclists with thoughts on this issue.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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