Should Helmets Be Worn? The ideas behind the ‘controversy’ of the Dutch and bicycle helmets
Conventional wisdom in the bigger part of the world tells us that the helmet is a must if we want to ride our bikes safely. If someone were to suggest otherwise, you might wonder if they’d rather wear a tinfoil hat instead.
Putting an extra layer of protection around your soft head gives it at least a slight fighting chance if it were to do battle with the pavement. Right?!
But it’s not quite as cut and dry as we think.
What Do The Dutch Think About Wearing Helmets?
In recent years there has been much controversy over the laws of wearing a bicycle helmet while cycling, and the bicycle-obsessed Dutch have decided NOT to wear one.
In most countries, a mention of a “Dutch Reach” is likely to bring up mental images of questionable google searches, but don’t get too excited, in the land of the tall the Dutch Reach is a strategy to stop cyclists getting knocked off of their bikes.
So why in a country that demands such high safety standards are they opposed to something that will protect the old melon with such ease?
Helmets Don’t Protect You Against Crashes
Most cyclists don’t die from independently falling off of their bikes. 92% of cyclists die because cars smash into them.
“there is no bike helmet ever developed that will protect you against the impact of a car travelling at high speeds. It’s impossible to make such a helmet and it’s unlikely that there will ever be one developed.”
The Dutch and bicycle Helmets: what are they doing?
So, instead of fear mongering about the importance of helmets the Dutch are concentrating on the environment. The reasons are because it’s not cycling itself that’s dangerous. It’s the context in which cycling occurs.
If bikes are cycled in an environment that is safe, then they’re much less likely to have an accident. This is why the Dutch have an incredible infrastructure which sees minimal slow moving traffic and separate cycle lanes.
If you enforce helmet law on cyclists, you’re telling people that cycling is a dangerous activity. People thinking cycling is dangerous increases the likeliness of them choosing to drive, subsequently making the environment more unsafe.
What’s worse is if people stop cycling you start seeing other side effects such as heart disease, obesity and other rubbish things associated with the lack of physical activity.
Why I Started To Change My Mind
When starting out with this post, I was of one opinion that “helmets = safety” but as I read more into the subject I began to sway my view.
Things need putting into context. Looking at the data driving is far, far more dangerous than cycling. With this in mind, why isn’t it the law to wear a helmet while driving? It could stop something from being a minor incident into a catastrophic disaster. Suggesting to wear a helmet in a car sounds foolish, but it isn’t foolish to suggest so on a bike.
In some countries, it’s the law for children to wear helmets on bikes. However, children are more likely to receive traumatic brain injuries on foot than if they cycled. If you were to put a helmet on a child while they walked around your garden people would think you’ve lost the plot.
Why has cycling been singled out? Why are people allowed to cross the road with their bare head exposed?
Here’s a quote from Copenhagenize which I think says a lot:
“- Helmet advocates sell helmets and use fear to do so.
– Bicycle advocates sell cycling and use science and positive messages to do so.”
My opinion is that helmets are a good idea. However anecdotal it may I’m sound it seems obvious to me that getting hit in the head with a helmet on will hurt less than without.
But I guess it’s thinking like this that got us into the situation we’re in today. Using flaky science to enforce a law is questionable at best. Ultimately I think the choice should come down to the rider.
So in the words of a spoilt teenager who’s annoyed at his parents, “it’s my life I’ll do what I want.”