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Helmet Promotion Hurting Cycling Adoption?

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Here’s some Coffee Talk for ya…

There’s a theory that seems to be supported by strong evidence that promotion and enactment of helmet laws tend to DECREASE cycling in the targeted population.  Why?

  • Because the “public service” campaigns often hinge on the dramatic dangers of not wearing a helmet, literally scaring parents and kids into NOT cycling.
  • People really like “Do as I say, not as I do” type laws. In other words, public support for helmet laws is usually high in surveys, but when it comes down to it, those same people don’t want to be told what to do.

In actuality, countries or regions that have enacted mandatory helmet laws saw marked decreases in cycling.  The societal cost of such legislation increases dramatically via decreased activity, less healthy citizens and the associated “healthcare” costs that ride shotgun with such trends.

Don’t just take our word for it.  Cyclehelmets.org pretty much lays it bare, and Copenhagenize has a great post on the subject.  And, we’ve got the 7 reasons the UK’s National Cyclists Organization (CTC) used to successfully lobby against a mandatory child helmet law there after the break…

  1. The principal threats to children’s lives are obesity, heart disease and other illnesses resulting in large part from inactivity. Cycling has a key role to play in preventing these illnesses. Less cycling through a helmet law would aggravate the situation.
  2. Cycling is a healthy activity, and the likelihood of serious head injury is widely exaggerated.
  3. Cycling becomes safer the more people do it. Encouraging cycling is by far the most effective way of reducing risk of injury.
  4. Helmet promotion deters cycling and leads to poorer health.
  5. The benefits of helmets are greatly over-stated.
  6. Many other everyday activities could benefit more from helmet-wearing than cycling.
  7. A helmet law would make it a crime for children to take part in a health giving activity.

So, what’s the answer?  Well, the consensus among these parties and a few other sites that have commented on this seems to be that promotion of helmet wearing should be left to the helmet manufacturers and retailers.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that for avid cyclists, a helmet is a smart choice, and I make sure Sweetie and little Bikerumor juniors don them before we go for rides.  As for mandatory legislation, I’ll revert to my ol’ standby:

Less government, mo’ betta.

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14 years ago

Freakin’ hilarious photo, and well said!

14 years ago

“People really like “Do as I say, not as I do” type laws. In other words, public support for helmet laws is usually high in surveys, but when it comes down to it, those same people don’t want to be told what to do.”

Another way to say this is people like to tell others what to do. I suspect much of the support for helmet laws comes from people who wouldn’t be caught dead on a bike with or without a helmet.

14 years ago

seems to me that motorcycling hasn’t decreased since Helmet laws started being implemented. No? And the societal costs of fewer dead pricks on motorcycles is debatable..but there is plenty of info to suggests that in this case, helmet laws are ‘good’. I’m not necessarily for bicycle helmet laws per se, but maybe this is, like you say ‘a product (marketing) problem, not a hairstyle problem (i.e. cooler looking helmets).
As far as avid vs. newbs wearing helmets- I’d reverse it: more experience, less helmet. Less experience, more helmet…newbs are a danger to themselves and have little ability to discern the danger of their bad riding…generalization, obviously.

14 years ago

I do not support a law that demands me to wear a helmet. In Illinois there is no such law for motor cycles. Why would you enact a law for bicyclist?
There should be a campaign promoting helmets because it a good idea instead
In the 1970s hardly any one wore a helmet and now most people do. Not because there is a law but because they are now aware on the dangers of not wearing one and now will not ride without one.
Maybe there should be a law on obeying the rules of the road instead so we will not have so many accidents.
I see bike riders run red lights routinely and do other stupid things too. Your best protection from injuries is safe riding not a helmet.
By the way I always wear a helmet while riding my bicycle and my motor scooter.
Not because of some law but because it’s the smart thing to do.

14 years ago

Great Coffee Talk Post… here’s my $0.02

I ride at a local “family friendly” off road trail regularly, and I pass families where mom and dad are helmet-less and the kids have helmets on (we have a 16 and under helmet law). While it is good that the kids are wearing helmets, it kind of bothers me that mom and dad are establishing an idea that as you get older, you don’t need to wear a helmet. This bothers me mainly because thought isn’t given to the reasons behind helmet laws (at least that’s how it appears to me when talking to parents at our bike shop). It is for these reasons that “the dramatic dangers of not wearing a helmet” are so dramatic. When I was younger, I used to play outside, climbing trees, running through the woods, jumping my bike off everything I could find, etc. It is incredible to me that I never broke any bones or somehow permanently maimed myself! But, ‘kids will be kids,” as they say, and as my parents experienced, and I experience with my own son, kids will engage in potentially harmful experiences as part of growing up. It doesn’t frighten me to think of the worst-case scenario, which is the picture that many parents have when you start talking about helmet safety. What I try to remind these parents is that, as the article states, the likelihood of serious head injury is widely exaggerated.

On the other hand, it really gets under my skin when I other experienced cyclists taking the role of “helmet police” to newcomers to the sport – using fear to motivate them to wear helmets under the guise of trying to protect the trails from lawsuits… “…if someone falls and cracks open their skull, they could sue the park and all these trails would get closed down…” While I can understand this concern, people who aren’t wearing helmets are not typically doing so out of malice, and should not necessarily be treated as such.

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