Thursday, July 28, 2016

Streetsblog discourages cyclists from wearing helmets

The Big Lie about helmets in chart form

A bicyclist was killed and another injured in a car-bicycle collision early Monday morning on Fiddyment Road, west of Roseville. On Tuesday, authorities confirmed the decedent was 47-year-old Richard Elmer Lawson, of Rio Linda.

According to Sgt. Tammy DuTemple of the California Highway Patrol, Lawson was struck by a vehicle around 6:26 a.m. on Fiddyment Road, south of Athens Avenue and north of west Sunset Boulevard. DuTemple said Lawson was not wearing a helmet and was pronounced dead at the scene, appearing to have died from blunt force trauma...(emphasis added)

We don't know if Lawson was a Streetsblog reader, but that online anti-car, pro-bike publication does a disservice to its readers when it downplays the importance of wearing a helmet when riding their bikes. 

A Streetsblog story last month, Why Helmets Aren’t the Answer to Bike Safety:

Better street design and getting more people on bikes — not blind faith in helmets — are the keys to making cycling safer, recent research has shown...Of these countries, the U.S. has the highest rate of helmet usage among cyclists — around 55 percent — but also the highest cyclist fatality rate per distance traveled. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, where helmet use is practically nil, cycling is much, much safer.

While this is just eight data points, higher helmet use seems to be associated with higher fatality rates. Intuitively, that makes some sense. The more dangerous an activity, the more people feel inclined to take steps to protect themselves.

Despite the high rate of helmet use in the U.S., helmet campaigns have clearly failed to make cycling as safe as it should be. If anything, they’ve distracted from the much more important work of designing safer streets and reducing motor vehicle speeds in cities (emphasis added)

A comment to the irresponsible Streetsblog story makes the obvious point about helmets:

...Helmets are meant to protect you from a head injury IN THE CASE of an accident, they are not meant to prevent the accident from happening. Head injuries can lead to death or worse, and the laws of physics apply the same in the Netherlands as they do in the US. A helmet won't stop a driver from spilling oil on the street or from texting while driving. But when you slip on this oil or this driver hits you, the helmet might determine if you end up with a few broken bones and bruises or weather you are going to loose the ability to read silly graphs on Facebook due to death or worse a debilitating head injury.

From the Streetsblog story:

"Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, where helmet use is practically nil, cycling is much, much safer." 

Well, maybe. A quick web search turns up this:

The Netherlands has the most cyclist deaths in Europe as a percentage of total traffic. Over the past years a quarter of people killed in traffic accidents in the country were cyclists. The worldwide average is 8 percent, according to accident figures the European Commission published. According to the figures, there are 570 fatal traffic accidents in the Netherlands per year, of which 185 of the victims were on bicycles. Hungary and Denmark are next on the list, with bicycle riders accounting for 16 percent of the fatal accidents...


"The more dangerous an activity, the more people feel inclined to take steps to protect themselves."

Yes, indeed. That's what Streetsblog and bike advocates hate about even discussing the helmet issue: the accurate implication that riding a bike can be dangerous, infrastructure or no infrastructure. 

But the Streetsblog writer---and the crudely deceptive chart on top of the story---goes too far with this: "higher helmet use seems to be associated with higher fatality rates," as if wearing a helmet somehow actually caused accidents. Hard to believe that even the fanatics who write for Streetsblog believe that. (I've asked this question before: How dumb does Streetsblog think its readers are?)

A New York City study found that "Nearly all bicyclists who died (97%) were not wearing a helmet. Most fatal crashes (74%) involved a head injury."

People who deal with the facts about safety understand the dangers in riding a bike, like insurance companies and the Centers for Disease Control: "While only 1% of all trips taken in the U.S. are by bicycle, bicyclists face a higher risk of crash-related injury and deaths than occupants of motor vehicles do."

The Vision Zero slogan masquerading as a safety policy isn't working for either San Francisco or New York City.

I wasn't surprised to learn that wearing a helmet when you ride a bike is controversial here in Progressive Land.

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