The bicycle helmet debate is weird. I wear one all the time, but people who live in cities that are safe for cyclists, like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, rarely do. So really the debate should be about building safe infrastructure, not arguing about helmets. But somehow the helmet triggers an emotional reaction among non-cyclists.
In the Guardian, Nick Hussey writes Why my cycling clothing company uses models without helmets, with a subhead “The debate about helmet use is too often toxic, puts off new riders and obscures more important issues, argues the founder of Vulpine” (a cycling clothing manufacturer)
He starts with some comparables to the helmet debate, such as walking into a fast food restaurant and yelling at kids for eating fast food, or into a bar and yelling at a guy having a third pint. Or into someone’s house and telling them to get off the sofa. Yet people for some reason have no problem yelling at cyclists: GET A HELMET, DARWIN FODDER.
That’s more or less what the infamous helmet debate has become. Shouty strangers shouting at other shouty strangers for choices that don’t affect the first shouty stranger’s life.
Hussy goes on to note that the helmet arguments, like those about high-visibility clothing, scare people off bikes.
The big problem is cycling is considered unsafe by thousands who might otherwise have taken it up. Pushing a black and white agenda that helmets and hi-viz are vital says, “BE CAREFUL OUT THERE! CYCLING IS DANGEROUS!” For the most part it isn’t. But a sedentary lifestyle? Now that’s dangerous.
Lloyd Alter/ In Copenhagen, almost nobody wears a helmet./CC BY 2.0
He really wants to put the helmet issue to bed and to get people onto bikes, and the facts are that city cycling where there is good infrastructure is not dangerous. Hussey and all of his models wear helmets when they are out there doing serious road work; that is standard and accepted. But urban practical cycling as transportation and exercise:
Let’s put our effort into saving lives by getting bums on saddles. To do that, cycling must be a friendlier, more fun, less scary place. Arguing amongst ourselves about a safety device that saves relatively few does not help save the many.
Read it all in the Guardian and of course, the 837 comments calling him an idiot and saying that insurance shouldn’t cover head injuries that happen when you don’t wear helmets. Tell that to my mom– lots of people get head injuries, not just cyclists.
Interestingly and probably coincidentally, Susanna Rustin writes in the Guardian on the same day: Car fumes are killing us. So why isn’t anyone telling us not to drive? She notes that air pollution kills 30,000 people per year in the UK, from heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and other diseases. Imagine how much less there would be, and how much healthier the citizens would be, if people actually rode bikes instead.