Do bike helmet laws really save people?
A really balanced and thoughtful opinion piece from the Washington Post. The answer is not nearly as much as the helmet law proponents would have you believe:
Helmets are sometimes said to reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent, but that statistic comes from a 1989 study that has not been replicated. “Studies in the last 20 years have calculated that helmets prevent 10 to 40 percent of head injuries,”
But this is in the context of states which do not have such laws, deciding whether or not to introduce them, and mostly they will only apply to children.
“No one would argue that helmets don’t decrease the risk of injury,”
Actually I think I might. For instance I often see cyclists who have a helmet on that will not do anything to protect them. That is because they do not wear them properly. Add to that the poor design of even the best helmets – which have not changed very much since standards were established – which do very little to protect against concussion. Moreover, many people do not replace their helmets often enough – or when the helmet gets damaged. If you have a helmet on, you won’t get a ticket is about the best advice I can give people here. But I am not at all confident that in the event of a collision the helmet will make a great deal of difference. What we do know is that helmet laws reduce the number of people cycling – and they deter the safest cyclists. They also get in the way of successful bike sharing programs, which otherwise are very good news for getting more people to cycle. The big killer these days is not collisions – its the diseases caused by inactivity: obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The metabolic syndrome of industrialized high calorie food (loaded with salt, sugar and fat), high levels of car use and widespread computer use for work and (with tv and video games) leisure time. Helmet laws make people think that cycling is dangerous, when not cycling is more dangerous. While the US can still avoid most of the silliness by sensible analysis of the Canadian data
overall rates of head injuries were not appreciably altered by helmet legislation.
we have the much harder problem of getting rid of the law we have. And at the same time persuading children that they ought to wear helmets – and that we need much better helmets, which people can wear if they want to.
PS And also see Feds Withdraw Claim That Bike Helmets Are 85 Percent Effective from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association as well as this post from Gordon Price on what ought to be the definitive study from New Zealand