Note: When I refer to the helmet law below, it is actually a Public Health Regulation, law is just easier to say.
Riding a bike is so safe that wearing a helmet or not should not be the issue. What we need is more people on bikes, period. That is the only thing that will increase public safety.
As a bike shop owner you would assume that I would be a Zealot regarding helmet use. Well I am not. In fact sometimes I don't wear a helmet. It depends on the trip and on what type of bike I am riding. Any person that rides a heads-down bike (most road racing bikes and many mountain bikes) should definatly wear a helmet! On the other hand if you ride a heads-up European (comfort or hybrid) style bike for daily transport in the city, then a helmet should be optional. Understand that I never recommend not wearing a helmet. But I don't preach it either.
Also as a shop owner, to limit my liability, we never refer to riding a bike as safe (even though it is!). However I can say this: it is safer than playing baseball! It is also more than twice as save a riding in a car. Cruise the links below for more info and statistics.
In King County (including Seattle) it is now mandatory that cyclists wear helmets. An unwise law by any standard because it is unenforcable and decreases the number of cyclists. Many people, for whatever reason, do not want to wear a helmet. The lifetime risk of not getting excercise is much greater than the miniscule risk of head injury from riding a bike. Basically we view this law as a dress code. The wording of the law is also vague. It does not specify where you have to wear your helmet. You could wear it on your knee (You are much more likely to injure your knee in a wreck than your head)! The law defines a bicycle as having wheels larger than 16 inches. It also defines a bike as having 2 or 3 wheels. So should pedicab drivers and passengers wear a helmet too? The bike at the right is not a bicycle by the definition of the law because its wheels measure 15.5 inches. Therefore, you are NOT required to wear a helmet while riding it! Most 16" kid's bikes have wheels that measure 15.5" in diameter.
Fact is, people are safer on a bike (with or without a helmet) than in a car. Society is safer the more people ride bikes. You are more likely to hit your head with a helmet than without! Helmeted riders take more risks. A bike helmet offers no protection if you get hit by a car. If you really are serious about wearing a helmet and you want it to have the most protection, then you should wear a motorcycle style full-face helmet. They offer true protection from high speed crashes. The wimpy styrofoam ones we all wear and sell should be cosidered no more safe than a baseball cap when it comes to hitting your head.
See also our Drive Less page.
Here are some links to pages about helmet safety:
Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
Public Perception and Reality
Perceptions of Bicycle Safety
Make your own decision and don't live in fear!
Wednesday 8th December 2004
Lid law land agrees that health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks In the early 1990s, Australia became the first country to introduce compulsory cycle helmet legislation. A new report from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau agrees with Mayer Hillman: despite speeding cars and thundering juggernauts, it's healthier to cycle than not cycle. Admitting that helmet compulsion is still "contentious", the ATSB reveals that "the vast majority of cyclist deaths occur on public roads and involve a motor vehicle," the type of crash profile cycle helmets are not designed to protect from.
35+ cyclists die on Australian roads each year, but 'Cycle safety: a national perspective', published yesterday, said that while the risks of cycling should not be ignored, they must be considered with the benefits.
Regular cycling had been shown to have health benefits, including reducing heart disease, obesity and hypertension.
"The overall community benefits gained from regular cycling are likely to outweigh the loss of life through cycling accidents," said the ATSB report.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is a branch of the Australian government's Department of Transport.
The ATSB found the number of cyclists killed on the roads was seven times fewer than the number of pedestrians, but there's no helmet compulsion law for pedestrians.
The report also cites the 2003 findings of P. Jacobsen that the more cyclists on the roads - with or without helmets - the safer it is for all cyclists.
"While it would seem logical that encouraging cycling would lead to an increase in cyclist deaths and injuries, a recent study found this was not the case in a number of European and Californian towns and cities. The study found that an increase in the number of cyclists in these towns and cities was associated with a reduction in the rate of deaths and serious injuries."
In a footnote, the ATSB report says that data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that "the vast majority of cyclist deaths occur on public roads and involve a motor vehicle."
Most cycle helmets are designed to withstand an impact equivalent to an average weight rider travelling at a speed of 12 mph falling onto a stationary kerb-shaped object from a height of 1 metre. See notes below
Elsewhere on the ATSB website, but not cited by 'Cycle safety', there's a road safety research paper that demonstrates that many lives would be saved if motorists wore cycle helmets.
'Prevention of Head Injuries to Car Occupants: An Investigation of Interior' concludes that "protective headwear, similar to a soft shell pedal cycle helmet, is estimated to be much more effective than padding the car in preventing cases of fatal brain injury and in improving the outcome in cases of severe brain injury."
Here's an abstract of the study: http://www.atsb.gov.au/road/res-exec/cr160ex.cfm
DOWNLOAD 'CYCLE SAFETY' HERE: http://www.atsb.gov.au/road/mgraph/mgraph17/index.cfm
Cycle helmets offer excellent protection for low-speed, off-road crashes, the type common in mountain biking, but most cyclist deaths follow crashes with cars: cycle helmets are not designed to protect cyclists in these types of crashes:
The last words of 'Protective capacity of bicycle helmets', by NJ Mills of the School of Metallurgy and Materials, University of Birmingham, are: "a bicycle helmet...cannot protect the head in a high velocity direct impact."
Some years later, in an updated report, 'Reassessing bicycle impact protection', NJ Mills and A Gilchirst came to this stark conclusion:
"Helmets are likely to be effective unless the cyclist's head strikes moving vehicle at an excessive relative velocity, or has an oblique impact into street furniture with an excessive velocity component."