Bicycle Helmets and the Dumbest Vox.com Post So Far

Joseph Stromberg wrote an article for Ezra Klein’s new explainer site Vox.com titled “Stop forcing people to wear bike helmets.” The author insists we shouldn’t be forced to wear bicycle helmets because there’s no real danger in exposing our bare noggins to everything from cars, SUVs, tractor-trailers, guard rails, trees, telephone poles and, you know, pavement.

Full disclosure: I’m an avid cyclist and I’m maniacal about wearing a helmet, even when I’m not riding roadside. At the same time, I also don’t believe people should be forced to wear one. However, I would never make that case by minimizing the dangers that our skulls face from threats literally lurking around every corner. If it wasn’t for a bike helmet, I might’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury when I was hit by a car back in 2008. Everyone, regardless of age or skill level, will eventually crash if they ride enough. It’s inevitable, so why not wear a helmet, especially given the obvious naked vulnerability of bike riding?

Stromberg quoted statistics showing that helmets only reduce the chance of head injuries by 15 to 40 percent. That’s not insignificant. I don’t care if it’s five percent. If wearing a helmet will keep my brain inside my skull cavity, then I’m wearing one. But Stromberg goes on and on and on with charts and graphs and vague numbers that may or may not point to why wearing a helmet isn’t 100 percent fool-proof — all leading to the conclusion that we shouldn’t be forced to be safer because there’s no guarantee of safety.

Firstly, of course there aren’t any guarantees. Helmets aren’t impenetrable space-age apparatuses that can withstand a punch from the Hulk. But they help. A lot. And if you pick out a good one from a reputable bike shop, you’ll barely notice it’s there.

Secondly, how many states have bicycle helmet laws? 21 states, but that’s only for children under 16. Not a single state has a helmet law requiring everyone to wear helmets. Not one. In other words, the only people being forced to wear helmets are children, and in fewer than half of the U.S. We also force children to go to school and to wear seatbelts, I don’t think helmets are too much to ask.

Put another way: Sean Hannity also thinks that “goofy” helmets aren’t necessary, and if Hannity thinks helmets are stupid (except for his kids), we should absolutely wear one.

[W]hen I grew up, all I did was ride my bike. I never wore a helmet. Ever. Not once. Not one time. Guess what? I had newspapers. And guess what? I went over the handle bars. My friends pushed me into cars, we pushed each other into cars. We survived. I mean, it just looks — it’s embarrassing.

The ending of Stromberg’s article is arguably the dumbest part of all. Here’s Stromberg’s “personal note” coda:

I’m a daily bike commuter and a long-distance tourer, and suffered an accident a few years ago in which my helmet was dented — though it’s hard to say whether it “saved my life.” I’ve lately begun wearing a helmet less, and despite the cold stares from other cyclists, am feeling better and better about it.

Chances are, yes, he would’ve dented his head instead of his helmet — yet he’s riding more and more often without a helmet, and feeling “better about it.” So hey, kids, if you want to feel great about riding a bike, leave that helmet at home!

And besides, who cares if the sport with the most head injuries is bicylcing, or that the CDC claims that 26,000 children and teens every year suffer traumatic brain injuries because they weren’t wearing helmets? You wanna feel better about it, don’t you? You’ll feel better… until you don’t, but hospitals have excellent pain-killers, so at least there’s that.

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  • https://twitter.com/peternocturnal peternatural

    Wow, the author (and commenters) missed the point. The risks of head injury per hour are about the same for biking, walking, and driving. Y’all might be right that bicyclists should wear helmets, but then shouldn’t you insist that pedestrians, drivers, and their passengers do the same?

  • Aaron Litz

    How about we just encourage Mr. Idiot here prove he’s a Big Strong Man and go ahead and not wear his helmet, and the sooner we will all be able to live without reading more of his idiocy. He can show the world just how much harder his head is than concrete and pavement, while at the same time serving as a valuable lesson to children by demonstrating exactly why they should wear helmets.

    “Only” fifteen to FORTY percent? ONLY 40%?? Does this guy not understand math? Wow.

    “Only about 1 out of every 7 to maybe about half. No real difference,”

    I will translate his entire argument: “I am such a MAN I don’t NEED your wussy helmets, ‘cuz I’m TOO TUFF to get hurt!”

    I’m glad he feels “better” about it.

    I weep for the state of math and science in this country.

  • Draxiar

    I never wore a bike helmet as a kid either and I rode everywhere. I don’t even know if helmets were available. I’m very lucky to have not had any major accidents…came close a few times. I’m now back into biking (years later) and I wear it all the time. Not only is it safer but I often ride bikes with my daughter and it sets a good example of respecting the potential hazards of the surrounding environment. It’s dangerous business going out your door.

  • JozefAL

    Hey. I wonder if Mr Stromberg also feels that football helmets are a dumb idea? I mean, in touch football or flag football, no one (except the dorks) needs a helmet so why use the silly things in “tackle” football? And brain injury? Hmph. As if football players have brains to injure. And it’s not like their heads are always getting hit anyways.

    (I hope everyone understands that much of the above was written with a good level of snark.)

  • MikeInOhio

    Two guaranteed ways to increase your chances of brain damage.

    1) Don’t wear a helmet while riding a bicycle
    2) Listen to anything that Sean Hannity says

  • Dago T

    Mr. Duggan’s tumbling instructions (at age 9) are still paying off for me, 47 years later. I have hit walls on a bike, run over cats, dogs. I had a neighbor pull out her driveway and back over me with a car. I’ve had a front wheel fall off. I ran into a guide wire I didn’t see and flipped.

    And I’ve NEVER landed on my head.

    And I’ve NEVER worn a helmet. I take that back. I wore a buddy’s motorcycle helmet for kicks once.

    Learn to fall.

    Besides, I don’t want to survive a bike accident with a severed spine, blinking once for “yes” and twice for “no” — BECAUSE I was wearing a helmet. I want to be a greasy stain in the highway.

    • Don Rusho

      I agree about falling properly, Aikido has stood me in good stead and I think something like it should be taught to every child.

      *BUT*

      You
      sound the guys in the biology department who brag “I never wear a
      seatbelt because I want to be thrown clear of the vehicle before it
      burns.” When push comes to shove, you might come to realise that you
      have not fully thought this through.

    • BumpIt McCarthy

      You should take a tour of the brain rehab unit sometime, and see the free spirits sporting their awesome punk stapled skull closures, like the woman I met who was injured in a parking lot.

      -she was able to speak, being past her third operation. She told me how torn she felt about the her that wasn’t wearing a helmet the day she was catapulted onto the pavement. She’s forever altered, will not be without pain ever again. She’s lost friends who can’t take the difference in her personality. It took her a year to be able to concentrate enough for a fifteen minute phone conversation.

      All avoidable. And btw, she’s one of the success stories in brain rehab. She’s high-functioning, able to live by herself.

      The brave assertion that you just have to know how to fall is touching in its lunatic optimism. You have to be conscious to know how to fall, too, and if some dipwad texting in his Range Rover drifts a bit, you really aren’t going to know what hit you.

    • Aaron Litz

      Bully for you.

  • Samantha George

    My best friend’s mother worked as an emergency room nurse in the years before helmet laws, you know what they call/called motorcycles in the mordant humor of the ER? Donor Cycles.

    My dad’s a biker, from an early age he was vigilant about me wearing a helmet and eye protection whether on a bicycle or a motorcycle. It was weird and unnerving to ride the small motorbikes helmetless in Vietnam. The last year I was living there, a helmet law went into effect and overnight everyone was wearing one (and not good code-rated ones), they became a fashion accessory.

  • AJ Slemmer

    Stromberg’s helmet idea made me realize…I’ve never used the spare tire in my car. That thing just takes up trunk space.

  • Sabyen91

    Condoms don’t prevent 100% of pregnancies so don’t wear condoms.

  • Jason E

    Faux machismo. He dents his helmet then decides it’s worthless? He probably should get checked for a loose screw.

  • Jane

    I suggest Mr. Stromberg spend some time at an ER doing triage for cycling accidents For those without helmets, it’s not a pretty sight.

  • mellowjohn

    about 10 years ago, i demonstrated several laws of physics while out on my bike (objects in motion tend to stay in motion, moving object meets immovable tree, etc.). ended up with a pulverized collarbone and a bike helmet with 3 large cracks in the styrofoam.
    the collarbone was fixed with surgery. the helmet was replaced.
    but i’m pretty sure my head wouldn’t have been fixed with surgery or have been replaceable.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bobcesca_go Bob Cesca

      My crash wasn’t quite that severe, but it reinforced my helmet religiosity. Also, I like your commenter name.

    • Jone_of_Snark

      I’ve had this argument with motorcycle friends. Their argument is that a helmet will only allow an open-casket funeral, so why wear one? Understandable, but I show them (with the dent in my head) that helmets for bicycle riding (horses as in my sport) will keep the bicyclists and the hoss riders out of the turnips and cabbage ward in the critical care wing.

      Had the really, really Bad Wreck on a horse. Helicoptered out … and then the helicopter crashed on takeoff, no injuries … (but that’s another story) and once out of the hospital, bought my first helmet. Couldn’t decide what I never wanted to happen again, a head injury or a tour of the critical care patients that didn’t wear a helmet :(

      • Christopher Foxx

        Their argument is that a helmet will only allow an open-casket funeral

        Their argument is simply wrong.

      • BumpIt McCarthy

        Wow. Medevac crash survivor~amazing.

        Did you spend time in brain rehab? I had a dear friend who did, and so I saw plenty that would make these breezy gamblers swallow hard.

        The wonderful part was seeing people achieving victories every day, which you don’t see in the ICU. But you find out some of them are on their third or fourth operation. The woman I spoke of earlier said that every operation sent her back to square one, and that she woke up a different person every time.

      • swift_4

        What you never want to happen again is to be in a helicopter. They go down, and a significant percentage of the pilots are nuts.