The Online Voice of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Great Helmet Debate Burden
Do you wear a helmet when you ride? Should you wear a helmet when you ride? Should the government poke its nose in with helmet laws? Do helmets really improve safety or, more importantly, crash survival?

The recent Grist article "Helmet Wars: A gripping account of the great bicycle helmet campaigns" begins to explore some of the sides of this issue, and provides a number of links to excellent resources on both sides. Check it out, and tell us where you land on the helmet issue.

Whether you think bicyclists should or shouldn't wear helmets, make sure to follow the law in your area. Washington has spotty mandatory helmet laws, which vary by region. Check this WSDOT list if you aren't sure whether you're in a mandatory helmet region or not. And if helmets strike you as oh-so-uncool, you can always follow Momentum Magazine's instructions for how to turn your helmet into two different kinds of mohawks (zip tie or fuzzy).


  1. I wear a helmet and have since the days of those leather hair nets. I took a fall that but for the grace of god didn't kill me but scared me enough to always wear one.

    Sure the breeze feels great through your hair, but when that concrete is coming up fast toward your head and you have one chance to tuck and roll and take a bit of the impact on your head you'll be glad you are wearing one.

    Watched a neighbor's kid ride smack into a parked car with helmet. Kid walked away a bit dazed but no trip to the emergency room.

    Besides it's not the speed, it's the height. A 6ft fall on your head can kill you.

    And a helmet is like $25. It's less than a replacement chain for gripes sake.

  2. Oh, the other argument for helmet laws is that no matter whether you have health insurance or not, we will scrape what is left of you off the pavement and take you to a hospital. If you are severely injured you could easily become a ward of the state, thus taking tax payers money to care for you for the rest of your life. Thus the state has an interest in keeping you safe.

    I'd prefer that there were plenty of cycle tracks so that bicyclists and drivers didn't have to interact, and that there were enough cyclists out there so that drivers were aware of us, but until that happens a $25 helmet that the state requires you to buy is a reasonable tax on bicyclists.

    Plus I find that it's a good place to mount lights even if the lights add to my risk of head snap by increasing the surface drag when I hit the pave.

  3. I won't debate, I wear them but I know what a helmet will do and will not do.
    Here's what I would tell parents when teaching kid's bike safety classes," Never tell your child to wear a helmet so They Will be Safe. Helmets provide a limited amount of protection under limited conditions. Children live in a world of magic and fantasy. When you tell them the helmet will make them safe,they think it becomes a magic shield to protect them"
    At the same time though, I would stress that the lower speed, lower impact fall that children do routinely is just what the helmet is best at protecting.
    Wear yer helmet, can't hurt, might help.

  4. All of us should ride (and drive a car) such that a helmet isn't necessary. But seeing how accidents happen, I think wearing a helmet is a good idea. I slipped out on ice last winter, even though it was 38F and you'd think that it wouldn't be a problem - and broke my fall with my head. My head injury would have been much worse without the foam hat strapped on - just saying.