In Michigan, there are no laws requiring anyone to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle. But while the law has nothing to say on the matter, the perceived danger of riding a bike without a helmet effectively discourages regular and casual bike riding, making cyclists less safe.
I’m not a professional cyclist with a fancy bike and a cool stretchy outfit, but I ride almost every day. Though I could walk to most of my destinations, riding my bike is so much faster than my boring normal legs could carry me, so I prefer to hop on and pedal away. And I never wear a helmet. I don’t wear a helmet for the same reason I don’t wear a fedora: I don’t like the way it looks and feels on my head, and I don’t think it’s necessary.
Yet, a study in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that in the event of an accident, wearing a bicycle helmet reduces the risk of head injury by 85 percent. According to Michigan’s Office of Highway Safety Planning, 29 bicyclists died in traffic accidents in 2010. Given those numbers, am I a complete fool to ride without a helmet?
Not at all. While accidents do occur and no one wants to be or know a victim, the actual risk of getting killed on a bicycle is fairly small – much smaller than that of sitting in the passenger seat of a car or walking down the street. The 2010 OHSP numbers also tell us that among traffic deaths that year, 168 were motor vehicle passengers and 131 were pedestrians.
If you consider those fatalities and that some of those passengers and pedestrians may have been saved by wearing head protection, then perhaps anyone who rides in a car or walks outside should be deemed reckless if they neglect to pop on a bulky helmet first. That’s not a common opinion, though, and the sooner cycling without a helmet is considered as socially acceptable as riding in a car or walking without a helmet, the better off cyclists will be.
If riding a bike continues to be seen as a high-risk activity requiring special equipment to protect the most precious organ in your body (the implication being that the chances of your brain getting scrambled on a bicycle are good), fewer people will be inclined to try it.
This is unfortunate in many ways, one of the most evident being that with the highest rates of obesity in the world, Americans need all the physical activity they can get. Riding a bike has an advantage over other forms of exercise in that it doesn’t always feel like a chore. While contributing to better health, riding a bike can be social, relaxing and fun, even to the most un-athletic humans.
Bike riding, with an emphasis on safe riding practices rather than helmet use, should be promoted as the safe mode of transportation and leisure it is. If reality and perception were to align, more people would be willing to ride a bike, which would mean safety in numbers for those already riding.
More bicycles on the road would lead to more attention paid by drivers to cyclists, more road-sharing and perhaps even safer bike lanes — all things that have a greater chance of lessening bicycle accidents than shaming helmetless cyclists ever will.
Until then, I’ll be riding with my unfettered hair blowing in the wind, ringing my bell cheerfully in the direction of those who tell me I should be wearing a helmet.
I'm 5'10 and 130 lbs yet all nearly all of their clothes ...
Monsanto calls the shots and makes record profits, ...
This is really interesting. The author has a very ...