19 August 2010

Rational Editorial from The Edmonton Sun

What a surprising - and welcome - editorial in the Canadian newspaper The Edmonton Sun, entitled Bike Helmet Law Premature.

Is rationality the new fear-mongering?

"We live in the age of the “easy answer,” of belief dominating fact, because everyone has an outlet for expression, no matter how hideously uninformed they may be.

It’s a real problem when it comes to respecting the balance between individual liberties and public safety and civility.

When the nature of a debate has become so muddied by personal and special interests, it’s usually a good time to step away from it and assess reality. A proposal for an adult bike helmet law in Alberta is one such example.

Much of what we learned about bike helmets growing up is no longer true. Accepted standards for helmet construction have changed multiple times, and even some of those certified by national safety bodies have failed miserably in testing to protect their wearers.

So we don’t really know which helmets to trust. One independent study showed the most common design of modern moulded helmet might actually be contributing to head injuries, due to the hard outer shell compressing the inner foam lining more quickly on impact than it takes for the lining to absorb the head’s impact.

It’s easy for the pro-helmet side of the debate to point to grotesque statistics, like the fact that there are about 70,000 bicyclist head injuries in North America every year. But as one U.K. statistician pointed out, you’re as likely as a pedestrian to be killed in a road accident as you are if you’re a cyclist.

There are a lot of injuries to cyclists, and there are lots of accidents between them and other vehicles. But very few of them actually result in fatalities.

So, as much as safety experts would like to follow the modern trend of framing civil liberties debates as simple black-and-white issues — witness the plethora of half-truths and outright lies associated with the anti-smoking industry, for example — the bike helmet issue is not resolved.

Comparisons with seat-belt laws are not apt. The reality is that mandatory belt laws are demonstrated to lower fatality rates in every jurisdiction in which they’ve been introduced. The same cannot be said of bicycle helmets.

Were they able to concretely provide some evidence not only that helmet laws work but that helmet standards are sufficient, this wouldn’t be a debate. The fact that it is means the word “mandatory” should come off the table."

Via: Editorial from The Edmonton Sun.
More information about Canadian helmet laws.