Wednesday, May 16, 2007

To be, or not to be, helmeted.

My posting yesterday about cyclists not wearing helmets being given less space got me thinking. Something didn't quite add up, especially when the statistics presented by the wear-a-helmet supporter noted only fatalities with and without helmets. One needed to compare how many serious injures might have otherwise been fatal or how many minor injuries might have otherwise been serious without the helmet to really understand if the helmet works or not.

An article at and the website presents a lot of information that boils down to a helmet offering no additional protection, or rather, no statistically significant additional protection. The conclusions, I think, are still lacking in depth because there are very few effective studies that details accidents without serious injuries. But the point is really that getting struck by a car generates a lot of trauma besides any blow to the head (rendering the helmet statistically insignificant) and that the best way to avoid injury is not be struck by a car in the first place. And, in addition to safe riding practices by bicyclists, one of the better ways to avoid being hit is to have more bikes on the road. More bikes mean more bike awareness and thus safer drivers.

I'm am, however, not wholly convinced by their arguments. There can be a lot of difference between "statistically significant" and a concussion. In the Madison, Wisconsin story of the guy having his head run over by a truck, the helmet he had was statistically very significant to him. And while most of my accidents are likely not to involve a car and wearing a helmet could be that difference between a minor injury and a more serious injury, I'm not going to abandon my helmet on city streets to avoid the slightly increased risk of getting swiped by some pinhead.

They also put forward a disdain for bike trails in that they take bikes off the road, making motorists think that they own the roads and thus are less accommodating to bicycles. I can understand the theory and psychology of this but I have never been struck by a car while on a bike trail but have been struck half a dozen times by vehicles who did not "share the road." Perhaps some day, when gasoline is $10 a gallon and there are thousands of bikes on the road in Pittsburgh instead of only dozens, then wearing a helmet may become an insignificant factor. Until then, my brain needs all the protection it can get.

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