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.