14 August 2009

Copenhagenize Safety Poll

Let's do some behaviour cartography.

By all accounts, the risk of head injury is the same, or lower, on bicycles than it is as a pedestrian or a motorist. And the risk of drowning while swimming or bathing [on, for example, a beach not in the bathtub] is much higher than dying in a bicycle accident. This, of course, is all great news for cyclists. Well, it's not really news, it's well established statistics.

So I was wondering what the results of a spot of logic mapping would be.


Anonymous said...

Why no option for sometimes wearing a helmet while bicycling. Most people I know are like this:

mountain biking - helmet
running errands - no helmet
club rides - helmet
leisurely recreational rides - no helmet

Will it help me if I get hit by a car? Probably not. Will it help me if I get hit by a dog? Quite possibly. And the second case seems more likely.

Gordon Inkeles said...

False premise. "The risk of head injury" is certainly NOT the same for pedestrians and motorists.

Mikael said...

For starters, google "head injury risk pedestrians compare cyclists"

see you in a week or so. there's quite a bit of reading.

Captain Easychord said...

What about the "I sometimes wear a helmet on longer rides or bad weathers" option?

Last fall I skidded out in the rain avoiding a car that ran a red light. It was the one day I decided to wear a helmet.
I broke my collar bone and the helmet, but it was the difference between a headache and relearning the alphabet.
Probably wouldn't save me if the car had hit me, but it made all the difference.

ModelCarGuy said...

" Anonymous said...

Why no option for sometimes wearing a helmet while bicycling. Most people I know are like this:"

Because the purpose isn't to learn anything, or acknowledge any valid difference of opinion. The purpose is for Mikael to make snide comments about ideas he doesn't happen to agree with.

But I'll play along, a little.

I always wear my helmet when riding my bike.

After 4 years in the Coast Guard, I always wear my life jacket when boating.

Tom said...


Could it be possible that you head would never made contact with the ground if you were not wearing a helmet?

You collar bone acted as a "crumple zone" that absorbed most of the energy of your fall. The extra centimeters in that the helmet added to the circumverence of your head may interfered with your body's natural protection.

I am always available to anyone to provide an analysis of incidents that I have not seen. Just let me know.

Saschi said...

If head injury is unprobable in a bike accident why then did 4 people I know break their bike helmet in bike accidents the last ten years? Discount two for riding too fast or on too skinny tires on German bike pathes (inherently dangerous), but the typical accident where a car turns left and downs the bike rider is one where the biker is thrown on the front of car, mostly whipers. I would like to wear a helmet in this situation. Granted: it is the car thats dangerous here, granted experience can avoid this accident (often) but anyway.

Mikael said...

at no point has anyone said that head injury while cycling is 'improbable'.

Mark said...

The point is not that head injury is improbable while cycling, it's that head injury is just as probable (or even more probable) in other common activities and no one is encouraging/enforcing helmet use for those activities.

Mikael said...

I could have included "do you wear a helmet because you have a pet" or "do you wear a helmet when gardening" and so on... but the list would have been really long.

Anonymous said...

I know plenty of people who've been in bicycle accidents and one who's died (not wearing a helmet). I don't know anyone who's drowned, and I live near the beach. This of course is anecdotal, but you haven't given us any specific numbers or metrics either.

I can't really imagine why some people are so opposed to helmets in the first place. Is a $20 helmet outside your budget but not a $400+ bike? Are you that concerned about getting your hair messed up? What is it?

For some of us even a marginal increase in safety is woth the $20 and messed up hair. If you don't think wearing a helmet is warranted, by all means, ride without a helmet. Let the rest of us make up our own minds.

Anonymous said...

"The point is not that head injury is improbable while cycling, it's that head injury is just as probable (or even more probable) in other common activities and no one is encouraging/enforcing helmet use for those activities."

Care to provide some numbers?

ModelCarGuy said...

"Blogger Mikael said...

I could have included "do you wear a helmet because you have a pet" or "do you wear a helmet when gardening" and so on... but the list would have been really long.


Or, you could have included "Do you wear a helmet because you've read the pros and cons and believe there is a good case made for wearing one?" But that would require acknowledgment that people can have a different point of view and still be intelligent.

Although somewhat frightening, it might also be eye opening for you to consider, just possibly, that the other guy might be right once in a while.

Anonymous said...

I wear a helmet when I drive; it's called my car.

I wonder if you're against seatbelts, too.

Anonymous said...

1. I've never seen any evidence that head injury rates are higher for pedestrains than cyclists. Feel free to prove me wrong.

2. Drivers don't need helmets because they have SEATBELTS, AIRBAGS, and CRUMPLE ZONES, not to mention that they are SURROUNDED BY A STEEL CAGE. Of course, you're free to wear a helmet if you like; I'm not going to try to argue you out of it. Oh, and motorcyclists (which are more analogous to bikers anyway) are required to wear helmets (at least where I live).

3. Yes, swimming can be dangerous, but less so if you take precautions like swimming with other people, swimming when there are lifeguards on duty, not swimming in rough conditions, and watching for rip currents. And many younger swimmers often do use floatation devices. I'd imagine many people who don't take such precautions--and as a result drown or nearly drown--are also people who bike without a helmet.

Just a cyclist said...

Mikael, it looks like you manage to actually hurt some peoples feelings and for no apparent reason with these small hard-hat tidbits. Cool experiment, keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Mikael takes an elitist position when it comes to other people's safety. Why should he care if you slam your unprotected head against a curb or a car door at 20 mph?

Denmark has good biking but the people are really dull. Yes, the women are cute, but like the men they need to get drunk in order to have fun. Both sexes are terribly earnest and have no sense of humor. Any attempt at wit draws a puzzled stare: they simply don't get it.

Witness the heavy handed attempt at "discussion" here. Let's have a "poll." What fun!

Just a cyclist said...

I'd say that the ones with the elitist safety position are the ones with far less liberal views on cycling than what Mikael has. Yes, the hard headed ones.

Bethany said...

As your first commenter said, I would use my helmet if I went mountain biking, but I don't wear one to run errands or when I ride to work. Mountain biking involves more risk of bodily harm. While a helmet won't keep me from breaking my neck, it may save me from abrasions, cuts, etc. which I could happily live without.

May I say, though, I don't really understand why you keep beating this dead horse of an issue. It's illegal for me to ride without my helmet here, but I do it anyway. I don't care whether or not anyone else does. What more is there to talk about?

bentguy said...

I don't wear a helmet... ever... and I live in a province (British Columbia, Canada) that followed Australia's brilliant example of implementing a law based on... well, nothing. The police here don't enforce it except on special occasions like Bike to Work Week, the opening of a new bike lane or pedestrian/bike bridge and of course when they are really, really bored.

I am waiting to get my first $29.00 ticket so I can challenge it in court but the cops don't seem to want to give me one.

I ride a recumbent, have proper lighting when required, always give pedestrians the right of way and signal my turns. I have never had a serious accident (or any accident that involved my head) in 40 years of cycling and that includes 150 to 200 kilometers a week of commuting as well as cycle touring that includes crossing Canada.

When drivers yell, "Get a helmet!" I respond, "You first!" When other cyclist who can't seem to stay on their bikes try to give me safety advice I give them a tip of my ball cap and ride on.

Great blog Mikael.

Anonymous said...

Cycle helmets are not made to protect the head in the case of collisions. Only in case of falls up to 12 mph.

fietsploitation said...

The other day I fell while walking on the beach and injured my knee requiring a visit to the ER. When my coworkers saw me hobble in to work the next day some of them automatically assumed I had been in a bike accident. Not to sound too cynical but it sometimes feels like they are waiting for me to get injured on my bike because in their minds BIKE=DANGER!

So when I jokingly said I should have been wearing my beach walking helmet I got some chilly responses.

Niki Lea said...

Okay, but have you seen these? So cute.

I wear one daily for many reasons: I don't mind them, I have a child now, it's the law in my province, my sister-in-law is a doctor, and my husband and mother-in-law also work in hospitals. Wearing a helmet is really second nature for me.

Mikael, I really enjoy your blog and hope you don't take this as an attack on your point of view. Even though I wear a helmet seven days a week, I understand the reasoning behind your argument.

Mikael said...

Have you seen these, Niki? Motoring helmets. For real.

Thomas Nielsen said...

After 30 years of road racing and almost as many years with MTB and cross country, I can't say that I give a flying toss about statistics. What matters to me is that *I* don't become that 1 in a million appearing in some ludicrous spreadsheet somewhere. I have had my share of crashes, albeit most in the woods, and a few of them would quite definitely have resulted in some form of injury had I not been wearing a helmet. Okay, I may be guilty of causing the stats to bend but at least it isn't *my* head that is hurting.

Incidentally the last accident here in the area had a fatal outcome. A fractured skull from hitting the head on the ground. But not to worry. That means that we are all safe now - statistics have been fed their number. There are a million safe rides ahead before the next casualty.

Copenhagenize.com is a truly marvellous blog but this one sided crusade against helmets is slowly becoming, well, unbecoming.

I *choose* to wear a helmet and noone has any right whatsoever to call me an idiot for doing so. In return I will abstain from doing the same to those who choose not to wear one. Is that too much to ask for? Now, will you please get back to writing that darn fine blog of yours - please?!

Mikael said...

From Transportation Alternatives in NYC, in a hearing against mandatory helmet laws:

The fact is, legally requiring NYC motorists and pedestrians to wear helmets would annually save about 45 motorists from death, and 5,569 from injury. While 58 pedestrians would live and 1,219 would be saved from injury. Compare this to 2 bicyclists saved from death and 151 saved from injury. Sounds crazy? It's not. Cyclists are simply a smaller interest group that is more easily burdened with an onerous and inequitable law. Some might say that motorists are required to wear seatbelts, so why can't bicyclists be required to wear helmets? Let's compare apples to apples. Helmets are not seatbelts. If helmets were comparable to seatbelts than we would be here today talking seriously about making motorists wear helmets."

Erik Sandblom said...

Anonymous 22:53, when motorists come to Swedish hospitals for skull fractures, they spend twice as long in the hospital compared to cyclists (10 days on average, compared to 4 for cyclists). The reason for this is of course that motorists go so much faster, and so greater forces are involved. Cykelolyckor är lindriga

40 000 people die in car accidents in the USA every year. That's equivalent to two jumbo jets crashing every week, with no survivors.

Anonymous said...

New name suggestion for this blog:

For the Love of APPROVED bicycle culture.

Adrienne Johnson said...

I live in a Tsunami zone- do they make helmets that float? I am not sure I can bike uphill fast enough to get away from the rising tide on my super heavy Dutch bike?

In the event of a bicycle disaster, your helmet can be used as a flotation device. Please note emergency evacuation doors on either side of the bicycle cockpit. Fore and aft exit is not recommended and will not be aided by use of floating helmet. Thank you, and enjoy your ride.

Mikael said...


le homme au velo said...

As Regards Cyclists and Helmets, in my Country Ireland Motorists Crash every Day of the Week mostly they are Fatal Accidents usually in the Early Morning. The last Horrific Accident was on a Country Road in Killarney County Kerry a few Days ago. Two Young Men on their way Home Crashed into a Wall setting the Car on Fire Killing them Instantly. This is happening all the time.

How many Fatal Accidents Happen on Bicycles ,very few and far between. The vast Majority of Cyclists on Irish Roads do not wear Helmets except the Sportive Sort.

The Real Danger is Motorists Bumping into them,Cyclists very Rarly cause Accidents and then it is Nobbish Behaviour with some Cyclists on Pavements or else going through Red Lights. I often find that those are the ones who actually are wearing Helmets.The other Day I was turning at the Crossroads on Griffith Avenue in Dublin when a Cyclist went through the Red Lights ,so I Rang my Bell at Him and Shouted at Him and Showed the Two Fingers. He nearly Collided with me, he was wearing a Helmet. On a lot of occasions I have seen the same thing, Cyclists going through Red Lights with Helmets on. The helmets seem to Suck their Brains out, I have Told them a Helmet will not Prevent you from getting Hit by a Car or Protect you from being Hurt. They look at me as if I am from another Planet. I would think it would be a good Idea for Motorists to wear Helmets as they are always Killing themselves in Spite of Airbags and other Paraphernalia.

didrik said...

I find it interesting that the pro-helmet folks always seem to feel that you are telling them not to wear a helmet. It seems very difficult to get across that you are merely bringing attention to the fact that cycling is a safer activity than most things and that it is "safe enough" not to require special protective gear. How is it so hard for people to hear that the message is not, "take off your helmet or your stupid." The message is, "cycling is safe enough, please stop telling everyone they must wear a helmet or they are fools because you are scaring them away from a healthy activity."

I'm glad you have the perseverance to keep bringing awareness to this. Especially when there seems to be a whole new batch of people with every post that are new to the issue.

On a happy note; I'm finally traveling to Copenhagen next week. I haven't been there in over 30 years. I'll keep an eye out for you on the bikeways. Maybe I can get my wife on CycleChic. ;-)

Melbourne Cyclist said...

Anonymous at 22:38 - if it's anecdotes we're after, I don't know anyone who's died in a bike accident, I do (rather did) personally know several people who've died in car accidents. Two of whom were parents, leaving behind their two little girls, and the mother died from massive head injuries.

In five years of cycling, I've never had a crash. A few times I've nearly been knocked off, by motorists deliberately driving too close (sometimes swerving in to scare me). Fortunately, I expect this kind of homicidal behaviour and manage to avoid coming off when it happens. Whilst I wear a helmet because it's a legal requirement here, I have NEVER needed it - my head has never come anywhere near the ground when I've been using my bike. Even my crazy mountain biking friend has never hit his head, despite coming back with plenty of cuts and bruises all the time (he mountain bikes like a nut!) - his only major injury was a broken collarbone. As the result of a car crash.

When it comes to helmet wearing, it should be personal choice, based on an informed decision. It should not be legally required by a government that has realised that enforcing helmet use is a great cheap alternative to providing proper infrastructure, because painting cycling as dangerous means that only cyclists get angry when a cyclist is killed - everyone else shrugs and says that they shouldn't have been cycling, because it's dangerous.

Cycling is not dangerous. Proximity to motor vehicles is dangerous.

Anonymous said...

I had to click on " I wear a helmet while cycling" because I am forced to. It is mandatory in Australia. I do not choose to so your data may be skewed.

Thomas Nielsen said...

I referred to a fatality in my post. This link points to an article of said accident.


A man in his late sixties driving with his grandson in a childseat fell and suffered a skull fracture from which he died. No racing, no motor vehicles. Nothing unusual. He just fell.

I am not saying people *must* wear helmets. It is their own decision. What I am saying is, that flagging statistics like this is just as unscientific and distasteful as the way opposition flag theirs. One casualty is one too many and not just a spike in some trend curve.

The reason perhaps why the message is not getting across to me is that it is very aggressively conveyed. Because I too am a firm believer in velo power and know how a helmet law would impede people commuting on bikes. I fail to see this as the actual message. It appears much more to be a good argument in another discussion. That is not the same.

Mikael said...

Perhaps all football matches should be moved indoors, Thomas.

It's just as easy to find singular examples of accidents without helmets as with them.

Again, it's the collective body of science that must be considered and weighed and analysed, like the cycling federations in many European countries have done.

No said...

"but it was the difference between a headache and relearning the alphabet."
- really? I think you're overhyping your helmets capabilities. I think this falls into 'scaremonging' and is not supported by the population wide stats that show helmets don't affect cycle injury figures and don't affect the seriousness of head injuries.

"I wear a helmet when I drive; it's called my car."
- wrong. You are missing the point that people in cars have more head injuries than people cycling! So even with the car round you (or maybe because) you are more at risk from head injury in a car than on a bike.

Robert P said...

@Thomas Nielsen

"What matters to me is that *I* don't become that 1 in a million appearing in some ludicrous spreadsheet somewhere.
at least it isn't *my* head that is hurting."

The best way of ensuring you're not the one-in-a-million is to make that statistic one-in-a-billion, or one in a trillion.

The most likely way to achieve this is by increasing the number of people cycling.

Helmet promotion has been shown to decrease numbers cycling.

Why is this so hard to understand?

Newsflash: It's not about *you*. It's about cycling.

Saschi said...

Michael, regardless of the helmet issue: great blog! Just out of interest: one of the most common bike accidents here in Germany now are cyclists crashing because 1 is going in the wrong direction on a too narrow bike path.
I never see cyclists going the wrong direction in your blog. Dont do Danish cyclists that? Will other cyclists frown at them if they do? Is space for cyclists just wide enough so nobody has to?
If this problem was solved my motivation for wearing a helmet would certainly be lower, betcha. Would be graet if you could write an entry on that, since I recommend your blog wherever I can.

Kiwehtin said...


You do realise, I hope, that you are describing one of the most common types of pedestrian-car accidents and what happens to the pedestrian who is hit? What applies to a cyclist caught in that kind of collision also applies to a pedestrian: whether you start off mounted on a bike or with your feet on the ground walking makes no difference to what happens after you are hit.

If it were a common thing for pedestrians to wear helmets, you would also have pedestrians all over the place breaking or cracking their helmets in "ped accidents", whether when hit by cars or in bad falls due to icy walkways. The same applies to a situation where it would be common to wear stair and ladder helmets...


Taking into account the fact there is no magical difference between riding a bicycle for normal transportation (as opposed to using bikes in inherently dangerous recreations like careening down rocky, wooded slopes) and walking along or across a road with car traffic, you should logically feel it necessary to wear a helmet for the latter activity. If you feel it silly to do so, then you should similarly feel it silly to do so while riding on a bicycle.

Gordon Inkelas:

Not sure what you are getting at about the risk of head injury for pedestrians and motorists. Are you relying on statistics? Are you aware of the amount of head trauma responsible for serious disability and death among car passengers and drivers? This happens because, notwithstanding the wearing of seatbelts, when a car comes to a sudden stop or suddenly changes is direction, any unsecured object inside – dog, box, laptop computer, iPod, cell phone (even if you're not thedriver talking/texting on it), you name it – becomes a missile travelling in the same speed in the same initial direction, that may also continue to ricochet off interior surfaces before coming to rest when transferring the force of its momentum (typically anywhere between 30-130 km/h)) to the head of a person in the car. Head injury also happens – with or without seatbelts and airbags, from your body and head (relatively attached to its body by a neck) being tossed around at extremely high speed and hitting the inner surface of the car and other passengers' heads, not to mention neck trauma also suffered in such cases.

For cyclists AND pedestrians hit at high speed by a car, a helmet is not designed to make much if any difference when it comes to the severity of eventual injuries. Mishaps at low speeds, including falls, can – yes (if you fall the wrong way) – lead to superficial head injuries and perhaps occasionally concussions, just like falls on staircases or ladders, on ice, or playing sports like football/soccer or frisbee. If you decide to wear a helmet because you avoid the minute likelihood you might hurt your head while on a bike, then you should by the same token also be wearing a helmet while walking across any street used by motor traffic, walking on an icy surface, climbing stairs or a ladder, or engaging in sports like the above. The risks are as remote in normal (responsible) bike riding as in these other activities, and simply because the other activities do not involve being on a bike does not make the consequences of being that statistical fluke any less unfortunate. If you insist on wearing a helmet to protect against the minute possibility of injury on a bike on the grounds it would be irresponsible to yourself not to do so, then you are logically and morally obliged to do so in all these other situations of comparable or even greater risk.

Yet another thing, in all the hysterical focussing on head injuries that is the basis of cycling helmet promotion, the fact that many pedestrians and cyclists are also gravely maimed or killed due to torso internal injuries is swept under the rug. To continue the helmet promotion logic, we should all therefore wear torso body armour for all situations where we might possibly be hit by a car while riding/walking in or across a street.

Kiwehtin said...

Another of the commenters here has complained that Mikael is being one-sided in his counter-attacks against campaigns promoting helmets specifically for cycling. In a sense, that is true. They are on one side and he is on the other. But looked at more closely, from a far more relevant point of view, it is those promoting helmets for cycling, who falsely depict cycling among all daily activities as especially dangerous and overstate the protective value of helmets, who are being one-sided. All other evidence, they sweep under the rug. Mikael, like other people who argue against cycle helmet promotion, is looking at *all the sides of the issue* and *all the evidence*. So it is a false accusation to say he is being "one-sided". To bad for helmet promotionists if a fair-minded and even-handed weighting of all the relevant evidence end up undermining every last one of their arguments.

For those who love cars and how safe they are compared to bikes, here is a clip from Wales illustrating in a very detailed manner how safe cars are to ride in. Before you look at it, remember that the consequences are the same for the passengers in both cars affected.


A last point: this video – about car safety – focusses on the consequences of carelessness. Note that it does not proposes that helmets might have protected the passengers from most of their injuries. Were this a similar video about a cyclist, it would almost without doubt push the message that you should be wearing a helmet to protect your head, and never mention anything about the need to ride carefully.

Thomas Nielsen said...

Robert P: Newsflash: It's not about *you*. It's about cycling.
I drive between 10Kkm and 15Kkm every year - on a bike (70km commute). So yes, everything to me is about cycling.

I stand aside.

Thomas Nielsen said...

...oh, and before I do so, let me just say that I read every millimeter of this blog and helmets or no helmets, I shall continue to do so. All the other stuff is absolutely brillant! Superflot arbejde!

Mikael said...

tusind tak, hr nielsen. :-)

spiderleggreen said...

What fun!

I wonder how many the Pro-Helmet folks would support a law mandating helmets?

Sean said...

My one comment is to encourage visitors to this blog to carefully and calmly read others' posts before making comments.

I don't know Thomas Nielsen or Saschi, but they posted reasonable comments and I'm discouraged to see them taken out of context, or met with needlessly snippy responses.

In his posts, Mr. Nielsen isn't advocating helmet promotion, he's advocating free choice. Regardless, whatever his point, his posts are respectful of others and don't deserve an obnoxious "newsflash" response.

Similarly, Saschi posed a question about cyclists' behavior in Denmark, which gets pulled into some disjointed response about auto/pedestrian accidents, and a hypothetical situation of pedestrians wearing helmets. Huh?

Helmets get people worked up, I understand. But, step back, relax, and think before you start typing.

Anonymous said...

Cycling infrastructure, driving habits, culture and perceptions of safety differ across the globe. It is foolish to make wearing or not wearing helmets an issue. There are more productive issues to focus on. Let's not homogenize the world.