I’ve received requests to tackle the bicycle helmet debate ‘Opponents go head to head on the helmet,’ which appeared in the August 25-31 issue of West Ender. Vancouver resident Ron van der Eeden has mounted a court challenge against the validity of bicycle helmet laws in British Columbia under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He argues, ‘Bicycle helmet legislation is discriminatory as it applies, with demonstrable justification, only to individuals who ride bicycles without being equally applied to individuals who drive automobiles or walk.’
Although Kits readers disagree about B.C.’s bicycle helmet law, everyone agrees that the WE article was a shallow stab at probing a real issue. So let’s take a better look at both sides of the bicycle helmet debate here by hearing everyone’s thoughts.
Note: Before we proceed, I’d better ‘fess up: I’m a cyclist who wears a helmet. The list below reflects comments I have received—some contradictory—not my personal opinion. A lot of people have expanded Ron van der Eeden’s attempt at explaining why helmets may not enhance safety. The pro-helmet gang’s response was concise. Add any point that’s missing by commenting. Here’s what I’ve heard from you all so far:
Why cyclists object to mandatory helmets (Section 184 of the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act)
1) A helmet does nothing to prevent a cyclist from getting hit by a car or reduce accidents.
2) The effectiveness of helmets in preventing injury is seriously exaggerated.
3) Equating helmets with bicycling safety is misleading. The primary emphasis should be on safe riding skills and good driving habits–so that drivers see cyclists.
4) The Walker Study: Ian Walker, a psychologist at the University of Bath who rides his bike to work every day, rigged his bike with an ultrasonic sensor that could detect how close each car was that passed him. He rode with and without a helmet until 2,500 cars passed him. When he was wearing a helmet, cars passed 8.5 centimeters (3.35 inches) closer than when his head was bare. Why? Walker theorizes that helmets change the behavior of drivers.
5) Helmets decrease peripheral vision for cyclists.
6) The Dare Devil Effect: The opposite of the Walker Study. Helmets are compared to anti-lock brakes, not safety belts as is commonly assumed. A safety belt unequivocally prevents injury in accidents. However studies show that anti-lock brakes, which were designed to reduce accidents, resulted in faster driving—i.e. cyclists who wear helmets take more risks.
7) Helmets deter people from cycling.
Why cyclist should wear helmets
1) Helmets help prevent serious head injuries and loss of life in accidents. The highest cause of death in a motor vehicle collision accident is a serious head injury.
What are your thoughts as a cyclist or driver? Should cyclists be forced to wear helmets? Is the bicycle helmet debate old? Should we focus on topics like safe riding technique, sharing the road and texting while driving?
Last modified: August 31, 2011