Ah, the helmet silliness. Bryan G. wrote: 'You can talk about freedom, but when non-helmeted riders end up needing lifelong care, who pays for it? When your actions affect the public pocketbook then the public has a right to impose limits on your freedom. By the way, I love the site. Keep up the good work.'

Thanks Bryan, glad you like it. Thanks for reading. But I hope you didn't take out a HELOC or anything to buy that argument. I don't think it holds soup and I'll tell you why.

First of all, there is really no solid evidence out there that supports what seems to be your underlying assumption, that universal bike helmet use would save the public money. In fact, let's back it up a bit. There is not much evidence to support the assumption that universal helmet use would even result in measurably lower head injury rates for cyclists, as crazy as that will sound to many people. Population studies in places where helmets have been made mandatory or have become wildly more popular over the years show an increase in the head injury rate about as often as they show a decline. Nobody can say for sure why this is so. People point to risk compensation, bad data, oblique impact, lame helmet standards -- all sorts of possible mechanisms to explain this troubling situation. It's likely there is a complicated stew of mechanisms at work, including things we haven't even considered, but the end result remains. For whatever reason, helmet use doesn't register as a statistical positive in population studies.

For more on this statistical ambiguity check this 2006 article by D.L. Robinson on the BMJ site: NO CLEAR EVIDENCE FROM COUNTRIES WITH MANDATORY HELMET LAWS. See also Riley Geary's letter to BMJ. (Of course there is a lot more available from the I.C. RESEARCH PAGE and elsewhere.)

One thing these studies do show with unfortunate clarity: mandatory helmet laws are associated with decreasing numbers of cyclists. For people like Bryan, concerned with the public welfare and health care and the costs to the taxpayer, this is a very bad thing. A decrease in cycling means a decrease in the public health, because cycling is an extremely beneficial activity, helmet or no. Some of the ex-cyclists will replace their lost physical activity with some new form of exercise, some will not. If a mandatory helmet law causes an increase in heart disease, strokes and various diseases associated with inactivity it will have a negative impact on public health costs in addition to being random junior varsity nazi crap.

Just for fun, and to allow me to engage in further skewering of Bryan's argument, let's assume that he's right -- that a bare-headed cycling population would indeed be more burdensome to the public. Just how expensive could that be in the grand scheme of things? Anywhere near the public cost of unhelmeted motorists severely injured in accidents? Why pick on cyclists, approximately one percent of public road users, if you're looking to save public money, that's what I'd like to know. If helmets are as beneficial as you say, slap them on all the motorists and save a hell of a lot more. Even with the seat belt laws in effect, motorists could clearly use additional tools to help them stay out of the ER. And while you're at it, mandating or outlawing certain behaviors in the public interest, let's go after the biggies. Of course I mean eating habits and sloth. That's where the big money is. I hope Bryan isn't sitting on the couch with a bag of Cheetos and a spare 20 pounds around his middle, because in New America that kind of thing will be fined up the yang. At 50 pounds rather severe punishments kick in as determined by the Office of the Public Interest on a case-by-case basis. Case officers will be randomly visiting residences for site auditing and drawing of various fluids. And bicycle commuting, of course, will be mandatory. How does that sound? It's all in the public interest.

As ridiculous as this notion of outlawing love handles and bad eating habits may sound, the idea of outlawing unhelmeted bike riding is actually far more ludicrous, because the public has nothing real to gain by doing so.


If you like photography, and who doesn't, check out Karen Santiago's NYC shots recently added to the PHOTO PAGE. I am proud to host these beautiful pictures, some of which make me feel like I should go hang out in an alley and try to sell fake Rolexes from the inside of a long gray overcoat.