Helmet Debate

The helmet debate – must we?

I’m already annoyed. And somewhat bored. This topic has been going around in circles forever, and I don’t see any end in sight. Or do I? If the helmet law was repealed, would Australians forget about it in short order and move on to the next bit of fodder for their holy indignation? As it stands, this isn’t going away. Not until the law does.

RideOn has just produced an article on the subject, and it’s author claims that the “debate about Australia’s helmet laws has just intensified.” I haven’t heard anything, but I’m a bit socially deaf. There doesn’t seem to be anything in the article to suggest that they have heard anything either. In fact, there is nothing new in the article at all.

A summary of the article goes like this:

  1. Start with a story of a hapless cyclists who innocently falls prey to a potential head injury. Be careful not to involve a motor-vehicle, as that would highlight the wrong issue. This is about helmets, not road safety.
  2. Mandatory helmet laws are not popular world-wide (this graphic is not part of article – I got from Wikipedia). Many people around the world oppose them. Various annecdotes provided, including the real issue being better infrastructure, reduced cycling participation, better infrastructure, and better infrastructure.

    Mandatory Helmet Laws Worldwide

    hint: the red countries make helmets mandatory

  3. A stats argument. Some people say participation went down after helmet laws were introduced. Others say it still went up. Various arguments for both sides. Mention some unsucessful attempts by some in Australia’s government to relax the law.
  4. Injury statistics. Some say helmets obviously save lives. Others say the downward injury trends have nothing to do with helmets.
  5. Helmets make people think cycling is dangerous. That’s bad for cyclings image. Helmet laws actually make cycling more dangerous. Various reasons presented. Then it says that people who don’t wear helmets aren’t helping their cause because they are more likely to be drunk and/or disorderly at the time. Rebels.
  6. Some kinds of cycling and some places to cycle around (in? through?) are more dangerous than others, making helmet use more or less relevant depending on the context.
  7. Commuters in Melbourne have no problem wearing a helmet. Even the Danes are wearing them more! Aussie youths aren’t, resulting in half of them not wearing them while colliding with motor vehicles between 2001 and 2009. No mention of how that effected injuries, or even how many were injured or hospitalized.
  8. Finish.

Got that? Good.

Wait… was there an argument made there? Did I miss the debate just getting real? Did it just get real up in here? Do I need to put on a helmet?

I’m confused, except to say that this is exactly how the debate ends up going every single time. Which is to say, in circles. I’m starting to think that helmet law debates are the same kinds of debate as those about who’s Diety is the real one. The difference is that there are statistics for the helmet debate. We can get all science-y with it. The problem is that statistics can be used to say whatever you want them to. You just have to ask the right kind of questions to get the right kind of answers, and then isolate the data to conform to your desired results.

Here are some possible solutions (with varying degrees of realism).

One: Let adults decide whether or not to wear helmets. Me? I’ll wear one, because I think it’s a bit silly not to when riding in traffic, or at speed anywhere, actually. Or at slow speeds off-road. Or at slow speeds where other things are at speed. There is a problem with this though (not really, but let’s just go with it). What else should we let adults decide to do or not do? Stop at red lights? Wear seatbelts? Why does no one get upset about The Man making me wear a restrictive seatbelt when I am in a car? And why not in a bus, now that I think about it?!? Is it because buses are less at risk of a collision that may render the passengers injured? Could we then argue that the use of helmets is related to the chance of injury? Could we not then argue that if we make cycling safer, then there will be less need for wearing helmets? And, could we not then argue that if safer cycling conditions will mean safer cyclists, then shouldn’t we just be aiming for safer cycling conditions instead of making sure we all wear a helmet whilst using our countrys potentially dangerous roads filled with tons of actually oopsie-prone drivers? (hot tip: I just blew someone’s mind there)

Two: Let people not wear helmets if they want to, but then not cover their medical expenses when a helmet could have prevented the injury. Kind of like how smoking should be dealt with. If you’re stupid enough to do it and know the risks, then have at it. Just don’t expect me to pay for it in the end. I know, this introduces a pretty giant grey area where fault is impossible to assign, but the idea is there. Leave me alone already.

Three: Make everyone wear a helmet and shut up about it already.

Four: Shut up about it already.

Actually there are only two possible solutions, generally. Or maybe not, but I’m getting tired and don’t have the time to be creative enough to think of others. In any case, options One and Two are the same, so either make them wear one or don’t. It’s just a bit weird that helmets have become the poster child for the survival of human kind as far as roads are concerned when there are plenty of other things that are far more dangerous. Like careless and inconsiderate drivers. Give me a ticket for not wearing a helmet, but let the driver run down and potentially permanently alter the course of a persons life or end it, and lets just call it a day because it was an accident.

As for the argument that drivers should have to wear helmets if cyclists do (because it is just as dangerous), I’ll say this: I’m pretty sure, but not totally sure, that automobile safety features have been designed with the aim of keeping the head and the important bits from hitting anything other than an airbag these days, thereby making helmets, if not totally irrelevant, then definitely less so. If everyone drove around in 1940’s style deathmobiles with no crumple zones, seatbelts, or a soft surface in sight, then sure, a helmet would probably be kind of useful. So you can shut up about that too.

In the end, it seems as though I am just as guilty as my accused of writing words for you to read that have not provided any real conclusion. Except for this: shut up about it already. I might come back to this with a more detailed exploration of the ins and outs and whathaveyous and all, but for now, I’m bored with it. Just go away. Go ride your bike or something. And maybe take your helmet with you. No, don’t hang it on your handlebars as you ride, like the rebelious badass that you clearly are not (hint: if  you were, you would not have one on your handlebars at all, and would be in a constant state of epic-wheely-ing and pulling sweet skidz). That just makes you look like a 13 year old who is way too cool for… well, the helmet his mom purchased for him and made him wear.

Rant over. For now.


P.S. If shutting up about it necccessarily means that the law has been repealed, then I guess my conclusion has been drawn after all. Hooray!

Title Image: Mads Bødker/Flickr