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Bike Helmet Politics

TheWashCycle poses this simple question:
I wear a helmet. But let me ask this question, why is riding a bike without a helmet dumb?
I think a good answer is: it's dumb because in the United States, bicyclists are almost always assumed to be at fault in a car/bike collision. If the bicyclist doesn't have a helmet, it's all too easy to argue that the bicyclist is reckless and probably deserved what he/she got. Sad but true.

Journalistic reporting on car/bike collisions is particularly bad. Many authors revert to the "phantom driver" description or use third person passive to refer to the things "which had been hit by an out-of-control car". Check out any article reporting on the death of a cyclist and I'm confident that if the cyclist died, the language makes the counter-factual suggestion that if only that person had been wearing a helmet, they would still be alive.

I've seen pictures and videos of bicyclists in Amsterdam and Copenhagen and other European cities and it always amazes me that almost none of them wear helmets. It's basically the polar opposite of the pictures I see out of San Francisco or Portland, where everyone has helmets.

Ultimately, I think the primary value to wearing a helmet is a combination of culture and politics. Until American society is willing to accept that a bicyclist isn't automatically at fault in a collision, wearing a helmet is really one of the few things the cyclist can do to hedge their bets against being taken by a legal system that is badly biased against them.


Dave Reid said…
I don't wear a helmet, though I will if required for special events, but it seems to me that requiring people to wear helmets on bikes limits new riders. Cost and image.

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