Monday, September 19, 2016

Bike Helmets Cannot Prevent Brain Injuries

Perhaps the most deceptive misconception that bicycle helmet manufacturers and proponents like to see in the media and from public (even if they avoid making the statement themselves) is that bicycle helmets prevent brain injuries. Those who profit from helmet sales and those who genuinely believe they are saving lives by pushing bike helmets often prompt these lies by emphasizing that helmets “can” prevent “head injuries.” Note that a cut to the scalp is a head injury. Brain injuries are different, though most readers don’t make the distinction.

Many supposedly scientific studies readily skew data to force their intended outcome of showing bike helmets do protect brains, but each of these have been debunked, usually finding that deaths were from other causes and data sets were lopsided. But many people simply want to believe that helmets prevent brain damage, even though no such device on the outside of the head can prevent the brain from impacting the inside of the skull. Our brains are suspended in fluid. Upon impact, whether the skull is protected or not, the brain will hit the skull. Simple physics.

Unfortunately, we must look to other activities where helmets have been tried in order to find sincere efforts to question their use or at least effectiveness. Here in the U.S., the National Football League (NFL) has been forced by injured players and their families to admit that no helmet can stop concussions. Instead, they are finally engaging a concussion protocol that takes players out of the game after a blow to their helmeted head.

The article linked in the above paragraph about the NFL notes that there could conceivably be a helmet that lessened brain injury but the design would require 15 inches (38 centimeters) of foam wrapping the entire head. Another potential design could mimic single-use motorcycle helmets – full head, heavy shell – and even their manufactures admit they cannot prevent brain injury. We can safely assume that most cyclists will not want to wear such a helmet, especially since the risk of a cyclist banging their head is no more likely than that of pedestrian’s and far less likely than those is cars.

The latest sport to ditch helmets is boxing. This interests me because I have recently taken up the sport and love it. I learned last week from our coach that we need to focus our punches on our opponent’s head. And yet, the Olympics banned headgear for male boxers this year citing an increase in concussions since headgear was made mandatory. They show that boxers began leading with their head more, similar to studies that show an increase in risky behavior by helmeted cyclists. I also wonder if the increased diameter of the boxers’ heads increased potential for contact, much like a bike helmet increases the chance of a cyclists’ head hitting the ground or the object they collide with.

Let’s hope that bicycle helmet manufacturers and proponents will soon follow American football and Olympic boxing in admitting that their product cannot prevent brain injuries. It’s time for more honesty on this topic!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Are Bicycle Helmets Holding Us Back? A Great Article

This recent article from Momentum Magazine is written by a U.S. public official who dared to notice helmet-free cyclists in Europe, then ride without one when he returned. For that simple, personal choice he was chastised and reprimanded. Too bad he didn't have one of these buttons:

He was also inspired to research and write a great article about the bicycle helmet problem in North American. Please take the time to read it, and enjoy.

Are Bicycle Helmets Holding Us Back?

Written by: Shaun Lopez-Murphy

Three years ago when I was the Bicycle Coordinator in Minneapolis, MN, I became involved in a controversy over a bicycle helmet – or lack thereof. After a trip to Europe, where I had ridden with the non-helmeted masses in three of the safest bicycling nations on Earth – Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands – I had declined to top my noggin.

I didn’t realize it but I had become one of the first U.S. public officials to question bicycle helmets openly, telling the local newspaper in an interview, “I just want [bicycling] to be seen as something that a normal person can do … you don’t need special gear. You just get on a bike and you just go.”

Locals immediately criticized me. The pro-helmet cry was passionate and full of concern over traumatic brain injuries, which is not unusual when bicycle helmet policy is debated. Soon after, I was told to start wearing head protection while bicycling on the job.

Continue reading...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Bike Helmets Least Effective for Safety

Today's article on Tree Hugger jumps on a ridiculous bike helmet ad by the American Auto Association (always good for botching bicycle safety).

The great thing about this article is that the author offers a far better way to look at bicycle crash prevention--construction zone safety. Here's an excerpt:

"...So on a construction site one makes sure that there are safe routes, protection from dangerous equipment, picking up the crap and keeping everything in good order, and lots of fencing to keep people who are not construction workers away from those who are. Then there is education and training of the workers, strong enforcement of the rules, and good maintenance of the tools..."

Nice insight.

But whenever I read an article about bicycle helmets, even if it starts off showing how ineffective helmets are, I wait until the end to rejoice. For some sick reason, authors of articles that expose the truth about bike helmets, tend to wrap them up with a guilt-ridden paragraph or two stating their ingrained opinion that cyclists still should wear a helmet no matter what the facts show.

Not this one! To my joy and relief it ends with this:

"...If the American Automobile Association was really concerned about cyclist safety, it would be telling its members to slow down; it would be supporting the installation of bike lanes even though they might lose a driving lane here and there; they would work to get people out of giant pickup trucks and SUVs with big flat fronts that are disproportionately deadly, and they would support Vision Zero campaigns. But instead we have this."

How refreshing.

Read the article and enjoy!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Concussion, the Movie

I watched the recently released movie, Concussion last night. It’s a nice, fictionalized story about the man who revealed the debilitating results of repeated head trauma in American football. It’s certainly worth watching for the storyline, but as a fan of American football, I was disappointed with the lack of detailed information. The film includes nothing about the steps the National Football League has taken to try to prevent this problem. Perhaps this is because the film is only about this man and the time during his discovery.

However, the film did offer a few benefits for the bike helmet problem. For one, it was refreshing to spend two hours amidst a topic that is encased in helmets, without the slightest assumption that helmets would offer anything toward a solution. There are many scenes showing football players slamming their helmets together, which hint at the helmets actually worsening the problem.

There’s even a scene where the doctor shows his girlfriend the problem by holding out a sealed glass jar that contains water and an egg as he explains that a human brain floats loose in fluid. He then shakes the jar repeatedly to demonstrate what a football player’s brain goes through. Of course the egg breaks. I very much appreciated this as a needed twist from the misuse of eggs in terrifying children into wearing bike helmets.

Anyway, I can recommend the movie as good entertainment, but don’t watch it expecting to garner many gems for fighting bike helmet laws or promotions.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Bicycle Helmets – Today’s Bloodletting

(I wrote this article seven years ago. So sad it remains relevant today.)

Bloodletting seems a distant absurdity to us and yet, just a few hundred years ago, we lost George Washington because he trusted its rhetoric over logic when he agreed to it as treatment for a nasty cold. With only a few quiet voices protesting the countless deaths caused by bloodletting, the practice continued well into the 20th century. Today’s bicycle helmet promotions and laws hold an alarming resemblance to the pronouncements used by the bloodletters. When an illogical practice is presented as the only means of safety and dismissal of the practice is equated to certain death, even the most brilliant leader can succumb to its absurdity.

Myths about helmets charm countries most where bicycling is not commonplace. In these countries, helmet rhetoric has escalated to the point where those not familiar with bicycling believe that if you so much as swing your leg over a bicycle without wearing a helmet you will smash your head open. In such places, those who ride a bike without a helmet are chided by onlookers at every turn for their reckless, irresponsible behavior.

Where did these chiders get their information? Most helmet propaganda is originally published by insurance companies, health practitioners and government agencies who have avoided countless law suits by blaming bicyclists in crashes for not wearing a helmet, sometimes even when their injuries or death did not involve injuries to their head.

While many studies have shown that bicycle helmets do little to prevent major head injuries beyond minor skull fractures and lacerations (Curnow 2001), a few poorly executed, misleading studies are the only ones to have reached mainstream distribution. The most common bit of jargon of them all is that “cycle helmets prevent 85% of head injuries and 88% of brain injuries” when in fact, where helmet use is high, there has been no detectable reduction in head injuries. See this link for a good overview: .

Helmet rhetoric that sets bicycling out as far more dangerous than it is, is the greatest hindrance to programs for increasing bicycling. A great deal of truthful yet catchy promotions will be necessary to counter this noise. Remember, bloodletting was “common sense” for 2,000 years! One of the best examples for illustrating the truth is this fun quiz on the dangers of bicycling:

Mandatory helmet laws often follow the spread of bicycle helmet rhetoric, adding the weight of the law to the idea that bicycling is more dangerous than any other form of transportation. In fact, as you will have found in the above quiz, if these laws took a realistic approach to their attempt to prevent head injuries, all pedestrians and car drivers would be required to wear helmets as well. And, it seems, a law requiring the wearing of helmets inside the house would also be a good idea.

Helmet laws also present another barrier to potential cyclists who already see many barriers to starting cycling. Mandatory helmet laws add to this list and thus prevent many new riders from starting. These laws have also been proven to decrease numbers of current cyclists thus increasing the potential for crashes by hindering safety in numbers. This theory has been proven to show that a motorist is less likely to collide with a person walking or bicycling when there are more people walking or bicycling (Jacobsen 2003).

Bicycle helmets may provide some protection against minor skull fractures and lacerations, but they do not prevent major brain trauma that happens within the skull. In fact, because bicycle helmets are soft which increases friction in certain crashes, unlike motorcycle helmets, some studies have shown that they can cause neck and brain injuries from rotational motion (V J M St Clair, B P Chinn. 2007).

So, in minor crashes, bicycle helmets can assist in preventing minor injuries, though the potential of their doing harm in a major crash must be considered. Like bloodletting, which, in retrospect was found to have unintentionally benefitted a few lucky survivors because they were later discovered to have high blood pressure, helmets have surely prevented nasty gashes and painful skull fractures.

Bicycle helmets can be a good choice for someone concerned about minor head injuries as long as they understand their helmet’s limitations for preventing major head injuries, not unlike choosing to wear knee pads and gloves. However, some studies have shown that helmeted bicyclists take more risks than those not wearing a helmet (Pless IB, Magdalinos H, Hagel B. 2006). Thus, whenever a potential helmet benefit is mentioned, the potential of a helmet causing neck and brain injury, as well as this risk compensation, must always be included for bicycle helmets to be presented in a truthful light.

Another important point to understand is that helmets do not prevent crashes. Improved road and pathway conditions, driver and bicyclist education, better protections for cyclists and increased numbers of bicyclists through safety in numbers, prevent crashes. Too often government officials, health practitioners and insurance companies grasp at helmet laws as a quick and cheap solution that removes them from liability and the responsibility of providing quality provisions for bicyclists.

Helmet laws and overblown promotions also set in place a ready-made blame-the-victim reaction. Each time a helmetless cyclist is in a crash, their bare head becomes the focus even if the driver deliberately hit them and their injuries were not head related. Remember that whenever one of these laws is presented, it is from a knee jerk reaction, either to a recent crash or fabricated rhetoric, usually by officials seeking to avoid liability, framing the argument as making crashing safer.

Let’s replace our helmets with thinking caps. If we can agree that increasing bicycling is in the best interest of our people and our planet, it’s time to shift our promotions and policy efforts away from the illusion of safer crashing and into reshaping our communities into places where everyone knows the safety of bicycling.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Aussie Situation Worsens

One of the top reasons any of us fight bicycle helmet laws is that they set a foul stage for more anti-bicycling laws. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening in New South Wales, Australia with proposed laws that will stop many more people from bicycling and make criminals out of those who do.

This urgent alert dropped into my email box this morning:

"You have probably heard about the anti-cyclist New South Wales government and their new laws and higher fines. It's presented as a "trade-off" for a 1 meter passing law, but that makes no sense - if a law is worthwhile then it shouldn't require a bad law to justify it.

Increased penalties include:
- Not a wearing helmet (from $71 to $319)
- Running a red light (from $71 to $425, 500% increase)
- Riding dangerously (from $71 to $425, 500% increase)
- Not stopping at a pedestrian crossing ($71 to $425, 500% increase)

Making it compulsory for adult riders to carry photo ID at all times.

There is no evidence that higher fines or compulsory ID will make anyone safer. There is plenty of evidence it will turn people away from using the bicycle for transport.

Sign the Community Run petition, whether you live in NSW or not, it concerns you. Compulsory ID is an idea that needs to be stopped now. By the way, it's not just any photo ID. If you don't have a NSW driver's licence,   you must obtain specific cycling ID from a NSW government department before you can ride a bike in NSW. So if you aren't a NSW resident, don't think about visiting - cycling there will be illegal for you.

For NSW residents, cycling ID and higher fines are just another barrier to the convenience and ease of using a bicycle to get around. This government has ripped up cycleways in Sydney and is now looking for other ways to make cycling less popular. Overall result? More traffic congestion and higher health bills as exercise levels go down.

If this anti-cycling government succeeds in having the NSW Parliament pass this new law, it could spread, just like bicycle helmet law spread after Victoria became the first jurisdiction in the world to make helmets compulsory. We need to stop it now, so lend your support by signing the petition organised by at "

Until we can wipe overzealous bicycle helmet promotions and bicycle helmet laws from this planet, we are going to have to spend valuable time mopping up the messes they create. But we've got to do it. Please sign the petition and offer your support to these battered bicycle advocates. Thank you!


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Aussie Fund for Helmet-Free Cyclists

Seems like Australian bicycle advocates are gaining some momentum in their fight against their mandatory bicycle helmet law. I posted about a potential overturn of the law last summer in my post called Australian Mandatory Helmet Law Challenged. That decision has been deferred until June 2016.

But that doesn't mean it's nap time for the advocates fighting the law. They've started a fund to pay the fines of cyclists ticketed for riding without a helmet. Here's their intro to their fundraising page:

"Help us make bicycle riding normal in Australia again.

In the early 1990's Australia introduced an all ages, nationwide ban on bicycle riding without a helmet.
The result on normal bicycle riding has been devastating. Thousands of everyday people simply stopped riding. Only sport cycling has survived.

It's now 26 years later, and despite a mountain of evidence against mandatory helmet laws , the Australian government has never actually evaluated the effect of the law and the ban is still in place..." READ MORE

Take a look and drop them a donation to keep their spirits up as they wait for that next big challenge to their unjust law.