04 April 2008

The Great Bike Helmet Hysteria - Introduction

It all started innocently enough. Through this blog and the other one I've become more acquainted with bike culture in other countries than I ever have been before. Bike helmets don't interest me really. They're not a big part of life in cities and countries with high levels of bike usage around the world.

But I became curious. I can see how helmet usage causes such a bitter debate in some countries and I wondered why.

There are loads of things that have made me wonder, so I've decided to delve deeper into the issue.

I don't give a toss if people wear bike helmets or not. It's an individual choice. A voluntary issue in established bike cultures. If someone wants to wear a bike helmet, then more power to them. If they don't wear one, fine. I couldn't dream of having an opinion about someone's individual choice. There are many cool helmet designs on the market these days and the helmet is no longer a nerdy affair. But it sure seems to ignite caustic debates in some places.

Here's a few things that have made me curious and that I'm going to check out and research as best I can:

1. Helmet advocates always seem to quote the same statistics again and again. Where did these statistics originate? The main one is the claim that bike helmets reduce head injuries by 80-88%. What study is that based on? Surely there must be many, many studies on the subject through the years. Why don't we ever hear about them? What does the science say about it?

2. What is a helmet advocate? Why does someone choose to be one? Aren't there better things to do? More important issues to advocate? Like lobbying for bike-friendly infrastructure or awareness of bikes in traffic?

3. Is cycling really as dangerous as it is made out to be in some countries? What's all this talk about "I wear a helmet 'cause I don't want to end up dead or a vegetable". What are the risks of this happening? Scientifically speaking? Why all this over-dramatised fear-mongering? What science is it based on?

4. Why does the bike helmet issue only exist in those countries in the world with the highest rates of obesity and not anywhere else? Why is it most vocal in America? Is it the litigation culture that has created this safety culture? What's more important; getting people wearing helmets or getting people to ride their bikes?

5. I recall reading an interview with a European urban planner who said that European countries won't legislate bike helmet usage because "there is no scientific proof that bike helmets have any effect" and that "helmet legislation is harmful to bike culture and society". What's THAT all about? Why don't we hear about this angle?

I have found some great, informative and scientific websites with a great deal of studies and research paper. I'm just getting into it. I have no emotions invested in the issue since I don't live in a country that has any helmet debate. I'm looking forward to finding out some facts.

I'll post what I find as I find it.

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