To Helmet or Not to Helmet

A woman working as a bicycle messenger was fatally struck by a delivery truck in San Francisco earlier this week. She was not wearing a helmet. This incident, according to the San Francisco Examiner, has opened up the bicycle helmet debate in that community on both mandatory and voluntary helmet use.

According to the story, the advantage of bicycle helmet use is widely known and straight forward: bicycle helmets significantly reduce the rate of serious injury or death for those who wear them and are involved in a bicycle accident. The story also listed four reasons not to wear a bicycle helmet, and I must confess, some of these reasons are new to me.

1. Bicycle helmets provide a false sense of security and thereby encourages reckless bicycle riding.

2. Bicycle helmet wearers are passed more closely by motorists than non-helmet wearers.

3. If people are forced by law or custom to wear bicycle helmets, some potential cyclists will rebel and refuse to ride at all thereby depriving all bicyclists of numbers that would make it safer for all bicyclists on the road.

4. Bicycle helmet wearers look “dorky.”

In my opinion, as one who has been thrown from a bike with his head hitting the street wearing a helmet, the helmet use side of the equation is significantly more favorable than the non-helmet use side. But, I would be interested if others could list additional reasons for not wearing a helmet.

Regarding mandatory bicycle helmet laws, given the libertarian streak that appears to prevail in contemporary American society, I doubt if a mandatory helmet bill could be passed and/or signed by a governor in this state. However, I could see in the not too distant future, health insurance plans extracting a substantial deductible for their policyholders involved in a bicycle accident that requires emergency room medical attention or hospitalization where the policyholder was not wearing a bicycle helmet. What do others think?

These opinions are mine alone and do not represent any position of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.


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