Do Helmets Really Provide Protection for Cyclists?

Why headgear on the road is important, but not necessary…

© stephenrwalli/Flickr

When we launched our new website a few weeks back, almost immediately we began to receive feedback concerning the video featured on the homepage. Designed to demonstrate the full capabilities of ShokaBell, this video shows a young woman riding her bike without a helmet, and many of our followers pointed out that this was a poor example of safe cycling habits.

The thing is that in Hungary, where we are based, helmets are not a requirement for cyclists. However, we do recognize that this is not the case everywhere, and so your comments got us thinking━should helmets really be necessary for cyclists? What are the two sides of this infamous biking debate?

Why You Should Wear A Helmet

Let’s make one thing clear off the bat. No one in their right mind would say that you absolutely should not wear a helmet while biking, or should not take certain measures to ensure your safety (and possibly others’) while on the road.

Very few people doubt the effectiveness of helmets in certain cases. It’s true that if the impact during a cycling accident is too great, no amount of helmet will save the rider. However, in most cases having a helmet could definitely prevent injury to the brain or head.

There are a whole slew of studies conducted all over the world that all conclude that wearing a helmet does keep a rider safe in most scenarios.

  • A NYU School of Medicine study published in 2015 found that “helmeted bicyclists were 72% less likely to sustain TBI [traumatic brain injury] compared with un-helmeted bicyclists”.
  • Another Danish study published in 2015 found that “there is scientific evidence of bicycle helmet efficacy with a protective effect on serious brain injury of 63–88%”.

Evidently helmets can work, and if you feel safer whilst wearing one, then by all means do! The American Association of Neurological Surgeons suggests that of all sports, cycling brings the most people to the ER with injuries, many of which are sustained to the head. So if you are an avid cyclist your helmet is your best friend━no one can argue with that.

© Yukiko Matsuoka/Flickr

Why Wearing a Helmet Isn’t Necessary

So wearing a helmet will help in many cases, there is little argument against the science. However, those who call for the repeal of helmet laws don’t necessarily say that helmets aren’t effective. Instead they question why cyclists, out of all other entities on the road, are singled out by policymakers.

While studies show that wearing a helmet can prevent brain injury, other studies show that the likelihood of actually getting a head injury while on the road is far more probable if you are in a car, or even walking down the street, then if you are riding a bicycle. If this is the case, then why aren’t drivers and pedestrians also required to wear helmets?

It seems silly when you imagine everyone in cars and on the streets wearing helmets. But if cyclists are required to wear them, then logically so should everyone else. For more on this line of thinking, check out this TEDTalk from Mikael Colville-Andersen, who very eloquently poses the anti-helmet side of this dilemma.

When it comes to helmets, people also point to the psychological effects of the headgear. When someone is wearing a helmet, they say, he or she feels safer and therefore will ride more dangerously.

According to an article published in the New York Times in 2001, “the rate of head injuries per active cyclist increased 51 percent just as bicycle helmets have become widespread”. This statistic concerns cyclists in the United States, where all states have very strict helmet laws.

Another study conducted at the University of Bath Department of Psychology found that when wearing a helmet, test subjects showed an increase in risky behaviour; a test subject’s “appetite for risk” was far great when he or she was wearing a helmet.

So by this train of thought, we are led to believe that not only is it unfair for only cyclists to have to wear helmets, but that by forcing them to do so, we might be enabling them to take more risks while on the road.

The final argument against helmets is that they promote an anti-bicycle attitude. As we noted earlier, the risk of receiving a head injury while biking is actually less than that of while driving a car or even walking down the street. So when we make only cyclists wear helmets, we are sending a very clear message, one that is anti-bike and pro-automobile.

Where do you stand?

At the end of the day, Shoka is about developing a cycling culture that is convenient, social and most importantly, safe. So while you can argue both sides of the helmet debate, it’s important to remember that taking any and all measures for a safer riding experience is of the utmost importance!

Finally, we’d love to hear your opinion on this subject. What do you think, should helmets be necessary for cyclists?

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