Friday, March 27, 2015

Bike helmets and safety

Danny DeBelius/NPR

The assumptions underlying the recent LA Times editorial on bike helmets make it impossible for it to shed any light on the subject (Require bike helmets? There's not enough safety data):

This much is obvious: Wearing a bicycle helmet is safer than not wearing one. But so far, the evidence is mixed on how much safer it is. A bill in the Legislature to mandate helmets for all bicyclists is based less on evidence of significant benefit than on the mantra that it's worthwhile if even a single life is saved.

Apparently the editorial writer didn't bother to check with State Senator Carol Liu's office on what her mandatory helmet legislation is actually about---preventing injuries, not just fatalities.

The evidence on bike helmets isn't at all "mixed'; it shows overwhelmingly that helmets help prevent injury and death among cyclists (See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this).

According to a New York City study (Bicycle Fatalities and Serious Injuries in New York City, 1996-2005), "Nearly all bicyclists who died (97%) were not wearing a helmet," and "Most fatal crashes (74%) involved a head injury."

I think it's very unlikely that the state will pass Liu's legislation, but her proposal at least is based on a recognition of the problem. 

The LA Times editorial:

The intentions behind SB 192, authored by Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Canada Flintridge), are laudable, and many of the objections raised by bicycling enthusiasts are laughable---such as the idea that mandatory helmets would make bicycling appear more dangerous and thus discourage people from trying it.

Actually, that objection by bike zealots isn't "laughable" at all, since there's truth in the claim, though they themselves are clearly in denial about how dangerous riding a bike can be. That's why Nicole Gelinas got a ration of shit when she worried about bikeshare injuries (Bikeshare customers have to bring their own helmets. Since few do, it leads to more head injuries as per the graphic above). 

And that's why Noah Budnick doesn't want to talk about his cycling accident---a solo fall that didn't involve a motor vehicle---that put him in intensive care for nine days. 

They understand on some level that riding a bike is dangerous, and they clearly think the risk is worth it. But if would-be cyclists---and the parents of children---were informed about the real dangers, converts to BikeThink would be a lot fewer. 

Instead, riding a bike is being sold by City Hall and the MTA as a green, win-win deal for everyone: cyclists get a boost in self-esteem by practicing a PC, environmentally benign transportation "mode," and the city gets cost-free help in dealing with traffic congestion.

An earlier post on bike helmets and safety.

The Snell Memorial Foundation

As the above graphic shows, most cycling accidents don't involve motor vehicles. They are "solo falls."

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At 3:35 PM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

"A bill in the Legislature to mandate helmets for all bicyclists is based less on evidence of significant benefit than on the mantra that it's worthwhile if even a single life is saved."

Interesting that the people wielding this argument against the bicycle helmet law are the same people ignoring the same parallel argument as it pertains to Vision Zero(ish).

At 10:24 PM, Blogger Mark Kaepplein said...

Interesting that the same public health agencies that have traditionally argued against use of motorized two wheeled vehicles based on dangers currently urge use of non-motorized two wheeled vehicles. Anyone claiming the science isn't settled on global warming is mocked by the same people claiming the science isn't settled on bike helmets! No hypocrisy here!

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Same thing with child seats in motor vehicles that are rightly required by law. But it's supposedly okay for people on bikes to haul their children around on city streets in those flimsy canvas trailers or in a piggyback harness of some kind. Fortunately no children have been killed yet by this kind of negligence. It will take a fatality to start a serious public discussion about this kind of child endangerment.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Mark Kaepplein said...

Rob, requiring child seats isn't such a clear case. Requiring them has put more big SUVs on the road that are hard to see around, do more damage to small cars in crashes, roll over easier, drink more fuel, and thus also pollute more. Its back breaking to get kids out of seats in low, small cars or fit more than two seats in small cars so big SUV/van buying is incentivised. Actual death reductions from use of these seats is fairly small, especially for all the added costs and countering problems (which are not accounted for at all). Even without child car seats in a motor vehicle, children are far more protected than on a bicycle seat or trailer.

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Okay, but, like bicycle safety, car seats for children aren't only about fatalities but about reducing injuries to children.

At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i ride bikes a lot and have had 2 major accidents. I was wearing a helmet both times. I got a concussion with the helmet, and probably would've dies without it. the second accident tore pieces of my helmet off and that wouldve been my actual head. helmet law should be mandatory. its mandatory for motorcycles. why not bikes?

At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Shirley R. Keeler said...

Where to bike with kids? If you're borrowing the bike in the city, your choices are a little limited. We went to Brunau, the big park across from Sihlcity, which has a wide, relatively flat path along the Sihl river towards Adliswil. You could ride for a couple hours or more along this path, if you were so inclined. It's an easy trail for young kids riding their own bikes (like 5+ yrs old). It's along the river, with lots of places to stop for

At 2:29 PM, Blogger Mark Kaepplein said...

Why aren't bicycling shoes required to have reflective material on the back and outer sides? Regular bike pedals are required to have reflectors. Racing pedals don't have reflectors, so the shoes should be required to. Many running shoes have retro-reflective trim, but almost no cycling shoes. Cycling shoe manufacturers clearly not doing their part to improve safety and keep customers rather than have them die or injured bad enough to stop riding and buying shoes.


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