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Old July 7th @ 12:05 pm   #1
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From: In that old blue chair...

Motorcycle: FXB12RR
Interesting article about bicycle helmets. With all the discussion about Nevada looking at an "option" for motorcycle helmets. The last paragraph says it all.

There was a dent in the side of my bicycle helmet after an inattentive driver collided with my Marin Novato on the Ontario Street bikeway, hurling me to the pavement. I concluded that my injuries would have been a lot worse had I not been wearing it.

As a lifelong cycling commuter, I have worn a helmet since the early 1980s, long before legislation made it mandatory in British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the mid-1990s. My support of laws requiring cyclists to wear helmets was strengthened by this painful experience. After all, if wearing a helmet reduces the number and the severity of injuries, enforcing rules that all riders wear them would seem to be good social policy. That thinking led the City of Vancouver to juggle logistics to ensure users of its proposed bike sharing scheme, modelled on Montreal's Bixi program, will wear helmets in compliance with the law.

Unfortunately, there are flaws in this line of reasoning and assumptions that are not backed up by evidence.

Colin Clarke, a mechanical engineer and British cycling advocate, has argued that the helmeted head will be subject to more impacts than a non-helmeted one in part due to the larger size of the helmet compared with the bare head. A near miss for a bare head may have an impact force of 70 per cent of a direct impact for a helmet wearer, he claims. Furthermore, while helmets may offer adequate protection from skull fractures, they may increase the risk of brain damage from "rotational shearing forces" given the greater number of impacts for helmet wearers. Helmets, especially if they're improperly fitted, can also throw a rider off balance or impair vision and hearing.

According to a 2003 article in the American Heritage Invention and Technology magazine, a surge in bicycle helmets from 1991 to 2001 -- to the extent that 69 per cent of child cyclists and 43 per cent of adult cyclists wore helmets by the end of the period -- was accompanied by a decline in ridership and an increase in cyclist accidents, resulting in 51 per cent more head injuries per cyclist.

Was this an illustration of moral hazard? Did wearing helmets give riders a false sense of security, resulting in riskier behaviour? Or perhaps traffic conditions, aggressive motorists or faster, lighter bikes are responsible for the elevated injury rate and mandatory helmet laws kept it lower than it otherwise would have been. We don't know.

Surveys in British Columbia in 1995 and 1999 indicated an increase of 7.5 per cent in cyclists over that time frame. But 1995 was much wetter than 1999, the population had grown by more than 200,000 and Vancouver had invested in more cycling infrastructure. Accounting for these variables, one study estimated that the helmet law discouraged cycling by 28 per cent.

One source cites statistics from Western Australia where head injuries fell by 11 to 21 per cent when helmet requirements were put in place, but cycle use fell by 30 per cent or more, meaning the risk of head injury increased for those who continued to cycle.

In Canada, the claim of a 45-per-cent reduction in the head injury rate for provinces with helmet laws compared with provinces without them failed to adjust for the level of cycling activity. A study that compared six-year periods on either side of the helmet laws in the four provinces that have them calculated a reduction in fatalities of 37 per cent and a reduction in cycling of 20.5 per cent, for a net reduction in fatalities of 20.4 per cent. In provinces without helmet laws, there was a reduction of 29.5 per cent.

An examination of hospital admissions reveals that admissions fell by 10 per cent over a 12-month period for provinces with helmet laws, while provinces without helmet laws saw a reduction of 22 per cent.

Clarke cites research showing that life-years gained by cycling outweigh years lost to accidents by a factor of 20 to 1. If five per cent of cyclists stopped cycling because of helmet laws, he said, any benefit from helmets would be lost. With estimates of cycling being discouraged by roughly 20 per cent, helmet laws would appear to do more harm than good.

If that is the case, helmet laws infringe civil liberties without any justifiable purpose, a breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In the Netherlands, there is high a rate of cycling and a low rate of cycling injuries. Virtually no one wears a helmet. There is, however, a vast cycling infrastructure that keeps bikes and cars apart. We need more study to determine whether the helmet law is achieving its objectives and, more importantly, to develop a comprehensive plan to improve cycling safety. In the meantime, I'll continue to wear my helmet.

Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Read more: Wearing a bike helmet might not make you any safer


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