“What Cyclists Neglect” New Article In Globe: Well Intentioned Poorly Executed

Written by Boston Biker on May 10

Doug Most wrote an article in last Sundays Globe Magazine.

I suggest that before you read any further you go and read his article (here), as I am going to be breaking it down point by point and I don’t want you to be confused by my ramblings.

The author would have you believe that this cyclists is being an arrogant lawbreaker, but if you look closely at the picture you will see that the law breaking is rampant from all user groups. Why then is the article singling out cyclists?

Let us tackle his arguments one at a time.

Argument 1: If cyclists want to be respected as vehicles they have to follow the rules.

While Most doesn’t come right out and say it, he is making this argument throughout the article. I agree fully. As cyclostat put it very elegantly in his recent blog post “As much as I hate to say it, it’s shit like running red lights that is going to make the difference in the end. Heart and minds, you assholes. That’s what we need.” I think Most is spot on with this and I personally have written at length on the subject (1,2) It is the rest of the article that I disagree with.

Argument 2: If you don’t wear a helmet you are at best stupid and at fault in a crash.

Most writes the following:

When I heard about Hunt’s death, my heart went out to his family, and to the bus driver. Then I had one question, which was answered by this line in the April 9 Globe story: “Hunt, who was not wearing a helmet. . . .”

Not wearing a helmet? While cycling on Huntington Avenue, alongside trolleys, buses, cars, and those treacherous tracks?

His focus on the status of helmet use is the flaw here. He seems to be implying (very strongly) that if you are not wearing a helmet and you get hit by a car somehow it is your fault. While I agree fully with his point that every rider should wear a helmet, and I do think it is stupid to not wear one, the law in this state says that after you turn 17 you no longer have to wear a helmet. If a driver does something illegal and runs you down weather or not you had a helmet on does not make that act more or less illegal.

The author admits that no one really knows what happened in the accident (or at least no one knows yet), so what is his point? If the bus driver did something illegal then the status of Eric’s helmet use is irrelevant. Is he trying to say that Eric was somehow at fault because he didn’t have a helmet on? Was he saying that by not having a helmet on Eric was asking for it? I really can’t see the logic in his argument. The operator of every kind of vehicle (including bicycles) has a duty toward being safe around the others using the road, the amount of safety equipment that that other users have does not change that duty.

This point can be illustrated perfectly with a little critical thinking. Lets say you are in a car and you run a red light and hit a pedestrian, was that pedestrian somehow at fault because he wasn’t wearing full hockey pads? What if a semi-truck fails to stop at a stop sign and hits a car, was that car driver more at fault because they didn’t have side impact air bags? You see my point. It is strange that we have this double standard for bicycles.

He also goes on to say the following:

Wear a helmet. You don’t look cooler without it. It’s $50. Are you worried about hat head? Plus, and I say this as a driver, drivers will be less inclined to be angry at you if they think you actually care about safety. A helmetless rider is an arrogant rider.

(i added the bold)

Really? You think people will treat you better if you have a helmet on, and you think not wearing one is arrogant. Wouldn’t a better argument be “lets treat everyone with respect, and follow the rules” (an argument he seems to be trying to make, I say “seems” because I had to work hard to pluck any sort of cogent arguments from this article). Again the foolishness of this argument can be examined by changing the user group. Are drivers arrogant when they don’t wear a seat belt? Are walkers arrogant because they don’t wear armor? Of course not.

They might not be adopting every method they could to stay safe but they are not arrogant. I would say that they are being ignorant, or foolish, but not arrogant. Arrogant implies that that they see themselves as better than others. I don’t care how snotty someone is acting, you still have to follow the laws, you can’t run them over because you think they are being uppity.

Even implying that this might be a reason why someone is getting run over is mind boggling. This line of thinking boils down to “she was wearing a short skirt, so she had it coming.”

Argument 3: Cyclists should by default give larger vehicles the right of way.

Most says that:

I bike a lot, on some bad roads – Columbia Road in Dorchester, Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, Mass. Ave. And I do stupid things on my bike. I’ve gone through red lights after looking both ways, biked the wrong way up one-way streets, biked on sidewalks.

But when I see a bus ahead, I slow and wait or ride up on the curb to get around it. And if I’m on a narrow or crowded street, I stay far right or even pull over to let it pass. What I don’t do is assume the bus driver sees me, assume he’ll wait, or assume she’ll let me pass.

(again I added the bold)

First, if you want to convince people of your argument don’t admit that you don’t follow any of your own advice, second what? Is Most saying that as a biker every time a vehicle that is larger than a cyclist (which is by default almost all of them) wants to use the road the cyclist should pull over and let them pass? Or that cyclists should ride up on the sidewalk/curb to get out of their way? Most spends a lot of the article talking about how bikes should follow all the same rules as cars, and then instructs people to NOT follow the rules with regards to the flow of traffic. It can’t be both ways.

Not only is this suggestion of giving buses the right of way against the law in regards to road sharing, it can also be dangerous. If you are hugging the curb, and pulling over regularly to let vehicles (even buses) pass you you are going to be putting yourself into a lot of bad situations. You could get tangled in road cracks, pop a tire on debris, get squeezed by right turning vehicles, get doored, hit a pedestrian leaving the sidewalk, etc. etc. Not only that but you will also be forced to re-merge with traffic after every right hand pull over.

Bicycles are vehicles, if a bus is behind one they have to wait! Road users are forced to wait for things all day long (red lights, stop signs, pedestrians, other cars, ambulances, trains) they need to mentally include cyclists in that list of things that they “don’t honk at when it is in front of me”.

Argument 4: Biking is so dangerous that you had better be dressed like a disco and fear for your life every day you ride.

I fully agree that a good set of lights and some nice visible clothing is going to go a long way towards letting motorists know where you are, and I also agree you shouldn’t be wearing headphones or sandals when ridding your bike. However, the way Most describes it if you don’t armor yourself with every safety device known to humanity you are asking to be run over and killed.

Again I think this boils down to the “short skirt” argument. Somehow implying that if you don’t use every safety device that is available to you, you are somehow asking to be run over. It is the law in Massachusetts that you have to have a white front light and a red back light when you ride your bicycle. If a cyclist doesn’t also choose to wear a neon green safety vest, they are not asking to be run down.

Road users (ALL OF THEM) have a responsibility to NOT RUN OVER other road users. From pedestrians to cyclists, to dump truck drivers, all road users are tasked with the responsibility of following the rules of the road. You don’t get to stop following the rules if someone else is not using side impact air bags, or wearing a safety vest.

Conclusion

I think Most is very well intentioned. He is saying a lot of things I agree with. He is trying to get cyclists to take a greater responsibility for their own actions (IE. red lights). He is trying to get people to wear helmets, he is also trying to offer general safety practices regarding driving a bike in the city (he just happens to be wrong). The problem is that he continually puts the responsibility of safety solely on the cyclists. That’s simply not how our system works. Road users have the responsibility of safety for other users. Every time a car doesn’t cross over the white line to smash into oncoming traffic they are acting responsibly. When you use the road you put your safety in the hands of every other person out there.

If you fail to wear a helmet, but still follow the law, it is NOT your fault if someone hits you. You did not ask for it, you did not somehow put yourself in more danger by failing to use every kind of safety device available. This might sound crazy, but think about it. If you have a helmet on and are following the law are you somehow making people less likely to break the law? Does wearing a helmet make other road users behave themselves? Will a drunk driver stop drunk driving because he knows that cyclists will be wearing helmets? Of course not.

What you are doing when you wear a helmet is preparing for the event of a crash. You are taking a precaution to ward off the possibility of injury. You are in a way anticipating that others will break the law. You are NOT however giving other road users permission to break the law. Not wearing a helmet decreases your ability to ward off injury, but in the exact same way doesn’t give other road users permission to break the law.

This article was well intentioned, but poorly thought out, and generally misguided. I also felt it was a bit condescending. It is clear from both statistical studies and general observation that all road user groups are breaking the law in a rampant manner. Singling out cyclists to heap warnings and condemnation on doesn’t help.

The subheading of the article is “After a fatal crash, they want more respect on the road. They need to earn it.” (“they” meaning cyclists) If everyone is breaking the law why do cyclists need to “earn” respect? Why don’t car drivers and pedestrians have to “earn” respect?

Because that is not how our legal system works. Everyone has the full protection of the law at all times. You don’t loose that protection because you didn’t wear your helmet, you also don’t lose that protection if other people making the same transportation choice you are break the law. Car drivers don’t lose protection and respect because some of them don’t wear seat belts and run red lights, neither do cyclists.

The entire article starts off on the wrong logical footing, and just gets worse from there. The few good parts are lost in a sea of accusation and poor logic. Seems like the globe is bound and determined to have consistently poor bike coverage. (remember this and this?)

EDIT: Bike snob NYC agrees with me, this article is well intentioned but seriously flawed…


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29 Responses to ““What Cyclists Neglect” New Article In Globe: Well Intentioned Poorly Executed”

  1. By Grim on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    At one point in my crusade I would have been inclined to take more care in constructing a clear, concise and polite argument against logic like this, but at this point I have only one reaction.

    Eat my shit.

    The three.. THREE times I’ve been hit by buses, I was in the bike lane, wearing a helmet, obeying the law. I was passed on the left by a driver that was obviously speeding to catch up on their route, which then jammed on the brakes and swung quickly right AS IT WAS PASSING ME, to enter the bus stop. It was the middle of the day each time – no bloody chance could they have not seen me.

    I’m sick to death of them making this sound like my fault. I’m done with words. It’s time for war.

  2. By Adam Pieniazek on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    I think what Most is trying to get at is that a big chunk of people who use the road (cyclists, pedestrians and motorists) don’t follow the letter of the law (or sometimes even the spirit of the law). He’s basically advocating for defensive cycling, because others on the road are primarily looking out for themselves and so should cyclists.

    In other words, sharing the road is great but in Most’s POV it aint’ happening and we should be prepared for that. I’ll agree with that point, but then it’s not the sole responsibility of the cyclists to be preparing for poor conditions. There’s things we can all do. Pedestrians can stop blindly stepping out into the street from behind cars. Cyclists can help drivers by making themselves more visible (which may include taking the lane in some situations). And motorists can help everyone by slowing down and not trying to beat every red light.

    Education and enforcement would be great, but in my opinion there’s simply too many motorists who are unprepared for driving correctly. If we’re going to suggest cyclists should take on more responsibility, I’d like to see government licensing agencies take on more responsibility too. When they “bless” someone with a license, it should actually mean something (that they’re prepared for the road), instead of being a formality as it is now.

  3. By CYCLER on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    Hear Hear! A well written rebuttal of the flaws of that article. It’s too bad that the Globe doesn’t have a bike correspondent who writes as well.

    While I wear a helmet 99% of the time, the helmet promotion at the “bike Safety summit” really got under my skin, especially in the aftermath of Eric Hunt’s death.
    While a helmet will protect your head in a variety of situations, it does nothing to prevent the massive internal injuries caused by being run over by a bus, and to bring up the lack of a magic styrofoam hat in the context of that sad accident is insulting and does clearly imply that it was the victim’s fault.
    Bicycles on the streets have to put up with and anticipate so much bad behavior, to have that kind of insult added to injury is infuriating.

  4. By stemcellular on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    Wow, I’ve only been hit by a bus while in the bike lane twice. Glad I keep telling myself that the statistical chance of being hit again is negligible.

    Anyway, this was my response to being quoted in the Sunday article:

    So here’s the thing. Should cyclists follow good practice, including the use of helmets, lights and proper attire? Of course. Should they also follow traffic rules? Definitely. In my conversation with the author this topic was easily covered and agreed upon. However, the point I tried to make (but which the author failed to address)is that when all rules are followed and something still happens, such as when an MBTA bus runs over a cyclist in the bike lane, proper sanctions should be in place by the MBTA to hold the vehicle operator accountable, esp. since many MBTA buses have 360* video cameras that can document the incident.

    I’ve seen cyclists do some stupid things in this city, however, it pales in comparison to what I’ve seen from automobiles and MBTA buses (I bike, drive and take public transportation every now and again) considering their potential to kill. I agree with the author that we should do more to increase safety, whether that includes wearing helmets or, for the love of God, using turn signals. However, we also need to increase sanctions for those that fail to play by the rules, including MBTA operators that seem to feel they are above the law.

  5. By William Furr on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    I have seen arguments against wearing helmets in the comments of this very blog and in the forums that were *extremely* arrogant, with one person comparing helmets to training wheels. The thinking goes, apparently, that only novice cyclists, cyclists who *aren’t as good as I am*, are the ones who need helmets, not me.

    That’s incredibly arrogant, and foolish, and stupid, and risky, and… Similar thinking occurs to the driver of a car when they choose not to wear their seatbelt. “Oh, it’s uncomfortable, I don’t need it because I’m a good driver, I’m only going around the corner, etc..”

    It doesn’t matter how good you think you are at driving or cycling. When the shit hits the fan, either due to no fault or your own or because you’re not as good as you think you are, you’re going to be wishing you were wearing that helmet/seatbelt/hockey pads/whatever.

    Regarding the last point, with lights and safety vests, I can see where he’s coming from. I was driving back into Cambridge from a trip last night, and I saw a “cyclist” (I use the term loosely) going the opposite direction. He was weaving back and forth unpredictably, had no lights, one cracked reflector, no helmet, and was wearing black. At night, on a Cambridge city street. Frankly, I can’t think of anything else that guy could do to *increase* his chances of getting hit by a car.

    If he was hit by an overtaking or turning car, whose fault is it? Probably the driver’s, but in that case I really can’t be sure.

    Is Most really “blaming the victims” here? It sounds to be more like he’s saying that you can’t control the behavior of others, only your own. Cyclists in general need to step up and take more responsibility for their own safety. Make it easy for drivers to see you. Don’t give them any BS to feed the cops when they hit you (“Oh, he wasn’t wearing a helmet, didn’t have lights, etc.”). Don’t give them an inch to use against you.

    While changing the attitudes of Boston drivers may be the biggest thing we can do for cyclist safety, not using the tools we already have available to us undermines that very goal and is foolish and dangerous to boot.

  6. By I Ride in the Woods on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    Hypothetical question: If a bicyclist is riding on the wrong side of the road (i.e. against traffic like a runner/walker should), do I have the right to hit them? If they were a car traveling at slow speed I’d consider it, and then sue them for every penny they have.

    Alright, so I wouldn’t run anyone over, but as a driver and cyclist, the first point is the most important one. I’ve had two incidents recently where, while driving and going to make a right turn, a bicyclist has been on the side of my car. In an intersection. That’s a great way to get run over. And if they were a car, the accident would be their fault. Same with the geniuses who ride on the curb and then ride through crosswalks.

    Hey, I break laws too, like riding the wrong way on empty one ways, but if you don’t have enough sense to follow the laws that are there to keep you from getting killed, you shouldn’t be on a bike. I see way too many people every day who can’t follow the basic rules of the road.

  7. By Swirlygrrl on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    Gotta love how that picture features a suicyclist, yes … who is the focus … but also the usual jaywalking sheep ambling out between vehicles and motorists with massachusetts cracker-jack-box licenses who have their cars stopped wayyyyy over the stop line. Why is the cyclist “the lawbreaker” here when they are all stupid? Oh, it’s okay – the drivers have cars and are more imporant!

    Never mind that every last one of these ignoramouses probably has a driver’s license – which means they had to know little or nothing if they got it in this state.

  8. By Boston Biker on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    I Ride: While you might not like it, and while it might be dangerous, it is totally legal for cyclists to be on the right hand side of you at an intersection. Did you use a turn signal? Did you look?

    Also, why would you even think about running someone over? Even if they are breaking the law, slowing you down, acting like an asshole, and stupid, why would you feel it is ok to harm and/or kill another person?

    You are going to get to your destination more or less at the exact same rate so why is it ok to harm others in the process?

  9. By Kerry on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    First of all, anyone who slows down and pulls over to let a bus pass has never, ever actually done any biking around buses. Does Mr. Most have any idea what’s going to happen 30 seconds after a biker lets a bus pass? That’s right: the bus is going to pull over at a stop, at which time the biker will have to pass the bus, until a minute or two later when the bus’s greater speed allows it to overtake the biker, until the bus pulls over and stops AGAIN, and the biker passes it again, and so on until infinity, or someone makes a turn. This is THE most infuriating thing about biking near buses (besides the fact that they never look for you, but I take that for granted), and the “pull over and let ’em pass” idea completely takes away Mr. Most’s potential biking cred right off the bat. Additionally, this idea completely contradicts the argument that bikers should follow the rules of the road. Pulling over to let a bus pass is NOT something that a car would do. So why should a biker do it? If bikers are expected to follow the same rules as other vehicles, they should not be expected to offer special treatment to buses in this way.

    And the entire idea that bikers need to “earn respect” is fundamentally ludicrous. This is, essentially, arguing that human beings somehow need to “earn” the right not to be killed. As someone who both drives and bikes, I consider myself well acquainted with both camps, and I will fall on the bikers’ side, every time, no matter what supposedly stupid thing a biker is doing. Because killing someone–even just injuring someone, even just knocking someone off a bike–is never, ever worth being self-righteous about the privilege of driving.

    What are drivers looking to gain by being assholes to bikers? If the end goal is killing people, everyone loses in the end. I rarely agree with Globe commenters, but in this case I think one of them actually summed up the entire situation really well: “When the cyclist loses – so do you.”

  10. By Aaron on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    Globe article was bad enough. . . Then I read the comments. Big mistake; it reaffirmed the fact that there are a LARGE group of self-centered assholes in this city, cyclists, drivers and pedestrians alike.

  11. By I Ride in the Woods on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    Boston Biker: Directional was on, and I saw the biker both times, they coming up behind me. I didn’t turn, as we would have been in the same place at the same. In both cases they tried to pass me, on the right, through an intersection. If that’s legal, that’s news to me.

    As for the second point, as I said, I would never actually run someone over. My point is, if a car was on the wrong side of the road, what kind of fine/punishment would they receive for that? Why do bicyclists feel they can get away with it? I saw someone do it on the Riverway recently, which is barely wide enough for traffic, and has a bike path along the side of it. If that was a car, the driver would be in jail.

  12. By Boston Biker on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    It is legal for a cyclist to ride down the right side of stopped traffic (doesn’t make it safe), bikes are allowed to take the full lane (don’t need to ride on paths, or bike lanes), also they can be ticketed for all the same offenses you can get tickets in your car.

  13. By hackneyed sojourn on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    I wasn’t wearing a helmet while reading the Globe article, but I could feel the blood rushing to my head; maybe we should have a dialogue on decreased newspaper revenue and the effect it may have on the quality of their copy.

  14. By 100psi on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    We’re living in an exciting and sometimes difficult transitional period in Boston cycling.

    Time is needed for newbs to become experienced cyclists, and for motorists to get accustomed to more cyclists on the roads.

    There will be accidents, near accidents, and vulgarities exchanged. But ultimately, I think all the growing pains (insert Kirk Cameron joke) will make for better city streets.

    But the cities and the Feds need to transform street infrastructure more quickly in order to keep up with the growing number of bicycles.

    15 billion (and counting) was spent on the Big Dig. Yet there isn’t one protected bike lane or bike traffic light in Boston, Cambridge, or Brookline. This makes me mad and sad.

  15. By hackneyed sojourn on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    And just to mention- that photograph could be a Rorschach test for all viewers. If the right lane is right turn only and the cyclist intends to proceed straight ahead, he’s exactly where he should be.

  16. By mtalinm on May 10, 2010 | Reply

    yeah there are some poorly-chosen words in this article (e.g. “arrogant”) but I think we kid ourselves if we think that PR campaigns alone are going to change motorists’ opinions of cyclists. there are simply too many of us who ride recklessly.

    we *do* need to earn respect, as unworthy-of-respect as many motorists are.

    I was reminded of this yesterday when I saw someone riding through kendall square with no helmet and texting using both hands. sadly it was not the first time I’ve seen reckless behavior like that, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time.

  17. By teeheehee on May 11, 2010 | Reply

    I don’t think I have much more to add, pretty much all has been said to “correct” a well-intentioned but tragically misguided article. Whatever happened to the most simple, elegant approach to life which I’m pretty sure we all learned at a very young age – the answer to all of life’s problems and interactions: the Golden Rule?

    One of the frustrations I have is that there are many camps of cyclist which this (and many other articles) try to lump together. Some folks learned to ride in rural environments and have different (probably poor) habits in an urban setting; cultural differences can be witnessed as sharply as the language barrier cuts; the poor and disenfranchised won’t see the point of doing things the same way as an athlete on the road; even my European contacts have habits I find questionable, and they are used to the model of bicycle inclusion often trumpeted as the ideal.

    It is far too easy to get, and keep, a driver’s license. The most dangerous situations on the road, including distractions such as cell phone use of various kinds, are ticket-able offenses that go unwitnessed or ignored by authorities. Humans shut down many of their inhibitions when they surround themselves with steel, plastic and glass shielding. Poor behavior in the street is not duly punished (for any class of road user), and there is little to no reward for extending courtesy – which means we’re all being trained to do the wrong things. Streets aren’t designed for humans. Bus drivers are trained and then released into the wild, where they proceed to unlearn and supplant their behaviors with street-wise tactics that are less safe – attitudes and driving styles become hardened when subjected to the fire.

    The exact same things hold true for cyclists. Many have been hardened by the environment (throwing down the gloves and preparing for war!), and once a mind has been so conditioned it becomes difficult to change. That’s all human nature.

    I took up riding for several reasons. What I benefited most from it: less stressful commuting, reliable and effective transport, 24-hour availability, cheapness, healthier attitude and habits, no more gas, respect for nature, time to think, introduction to new communities, appreciation for doing physical work, impetus to learn local traffic laws (I’m from out of state), finding amazing places, gaining more control over life’s little (and not so little) demons, and in general a different perspective on all matters in life.

    These arguments are nothing new. These conditions did not just appear. Time is always working against us, because the greatest obstacle we are facing is breaking down the convictions of our peers who feel they are just as right, and justified, in their way thinking as we do. And as any time logic flies in the face of fanaticism there is an uphill battle to confront; only now we may have some support in upper government that wasn’t there before, and this needs to be coddled and wooed rather than vindictively attacked with “I told you so” and “too little, too late”.

    Respect on the road is a fickle thing. No one takes the time to recognize it when it is there, and it’s lost immediately and irrecoverably over anything from the most disastrous to the most mundane of things. Pick your path, pick your battles, pick your friends, but don’t pick on others without walking their path, fighting their battles, communing with their friends for a day. May the Golden Rule be applied.

  18. By patrick on May 11, 2010 | Reply

    Hunt, who wasn’t wearing a helmet = well, did you see how short her skirt was?

    But this is Boston, where I see a friendly, courteous driver as often as an accurate weather forecast. = boys will be boys

    the victim-blaming in this article is out of control, and you could drive an MBTA bus through the holes in Most’s logic. and he even tries to pass himself off as a cyclist experienced to give advice on urban riding, suggesting the way to deal with a bus on a narrow street is to get far enough to the right so it can squeeze by with inches to spare, lose you in the driver’s blindspot, and then make a sudden right to pick up passengers.

    and kerry has it right: no one needs to EARN the goddamn right not to be killed because some self-centered asshole with a false sense of entitlement has places to go and a license to operate a deadly machine.

    so, no, Most’s intentions are not in the right place.

  19. By Mark Chase on May 11, 2010 | Reply

    Bikes are under a microscope right now because there are so many bikers out there. It’s great to see, but we have a PR problem on our hands. I’m trying to get more conversations like this going via a new website: civilstreets.org

  20. By Marianna on May 11, 2010 | Reply

    @100psi, there is a bike traffic light in Harvard Square, so you can cross Mass Ave from Harvard Yard to Church Street. I think having one is more comical than zero. Harvard probably paid for it.

  21. By Mark on May 11, 2010 | Reply

    If everyone were as smart as me and you, this would obviously not be an issue. Traffic laws exist because stupid people are entitled to navigate public rights of way, too — you know, the bicyclists who can’t make split-second decisions about red lights and one-way streets that don’t interfere with the movement of others, or drivers who are comfortable ignoring walkers and bicyclists and other vulnerable populations.
    Having said all that, none of this means anything with actual enforcement of any of the existing laws, which, as we all know, is not going to happen, ever.

  22. By Buster Fitzpatrick on May 12, 2010 | Reply

    As someone who has strong civil libertarian beleifs I believe that those bicyclists who are pro-helmet who claim that those who don’t wear a helmet are stupid, arrogant, foolish are just being that way themselves if not for the same reasons.
    We need be be careful not let these “safety fundementalists” turn their beliefs into law or we could see the day where street clothes could go the way of the horse and buggy due to “Orwellian” personal safety equipment laws. We need to ask ourselves how much accident survival safety legislation do we want in our lives before our civil liberties wind up being taken away? I should point that Australia which passed a bike helmet law 20 years ago has seen bike ridership drop since and reportedly has one of the worst bike infrastuctures in the world. The countries that have well-developed bike infrastructures such as Holland and Denmark tend to have reportedly much lower accident and fatality rates than we do and without the aid of helmet use. If their’s one I’ve always hated about most so-called normal American people (I have Asperger’s Syndrome) is the way some way some talk or write like if they’re safety experts on everything.

  23. By teeheehee on May 12, 2010 | Reply

    @Buster – although I agree with the sentiment that mandated helmet-wearing shouldn’t become a law and should remain a personal choice, I’d like to know if there is something you can point my way that links the Australian helmet law with decreased ridership. There are definite correlations between poor infrastructure and low ridership, but this is the first I’ve heard of a helmet law impacting ridership. I’m wondering if the infrastructure in Australia was more to blame.

  24. By martin on May 12, 2010 | Reply

    The only people who wear helmets are those who don’t know enough about them.

    People promoting helmets (including the author, and some of the commenters) haven’t done their homework.

    Do the research! It will be well worth your time.

  25. By martin on May 12, 2010 | Reply

    To elaborate on my previous comment, bicycle helmets don’t prevent serious head injuries.

    Anyone suggesting that they do so, is providing a dangerous disservice to others.

  26. By Boston Biker on May 12, 2010 | Reply

    Martin: It actually doesn’t work like that, if you are making an extraordinary claim (for instance that helmets don’t work) even though there is mountains of literature that claim that they do, it is YOU my friend that have to provide the evidence. In a similar way I could claim that a unicorn lives in my closet and grants me wishes, that doesn’t mean that you would have to go do research to prove me wrong.

    If you can’t muster any kind of proof we are forced to assume you are either lying or have lost your mental faculties.

    If you can produce some good peer reviewed research I would be happy to look at it.

  27. By martin on May 12, 2010 | Reply

    Boston Biker,

    I’m surprised you find my claim “extraordinary,” for two reasons. First, bicycle helmets are neither designed to nor tested for whether they prevent rotational head injuries, the primary cause of permanent brain damage. (This is indisputably true, as far as I know.) Second, there is a strong (spurious) correlation between helmet use and cyclist injuries between and within countries, which perhaps you wouldn’t expect if helmets were effective in prevent serious head injuries.

    By “helmet’s don’t work,” I mean that helmets don’t prevent permanent head injuries. I don’t consider their effect on superficial injuries is relevant.

    I began to believe this claim after reading many scholarly articles, and I keep repeating it because I think it’s dangerous to promote protective measures that don’t work. (For example, you wouldn’t students to be taught that they can avoid STD as long as they don’t have certain kinds of sex.)

    Out of the articles that support my claim, perhaps my favorite is ‘Bicycle Helmets: A Scientific Evaluation’ by W.J. Curnow (2008).

    Other articles that support my claim (from cyclehelmets.org, I have not studied most of them in detail) are:

    Bicycle helmets and public health in Australia
    Curnow WJ. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 2008 Apr;19(1):10-15
    After helmet legislation was introduced, rates of cycling declined sharply with loss of benefits for health, but the risk of casualty increased. Compulsion to wear a bicycle helmet is detrimental to public health in Australia.

    Making Vision Zero real: Preventing pedestrian accidents and making them less severe
    Erke A, Elvik R. TOI, Norwegian Centre for Transport Research report 889, 2007
    There is evidence of increased accident risk per cycling-km for cyclists wearing a helmet. Meta analyses of helmet benefit are very likely affected by publication bias and methodological flaws. Increasing the amount of cycling would decrease accident risk.

    Serious injury due to land transport accidents, Australia, 2003-04
    Berry JG, Harrison JE. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Inj Res & Stat Series No.38, 2007
    Helmeted cyclists have about the same percentage of head injuries (27.4%) as unhelmeted car occupants and pedestrians (28.5%). Wearing a helmet seems to have no discernible impact on the risk of head injury.

    Bicycle helmet legislation for the uptake of helmet use and prevention of head injuries (Cochrane Review)
    Macpherson A, Spinks A. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2007 issue 2 Art. No. CD005401.
    Unable to show that reductions in head injuries after helmet laws were result of helmets rather than decline in cycling.

    Bicycle helmet legislation: Can we reach a consensus?
    Robinson DL. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 2007;39(1):86-93.
    Suggestions for data and methodology to resolve conflict between case-control studies and trends.

    Bicycle helmets and brain injury
    Curnow WJ. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 2007 May;39(3):433-6.
    Further response on the inadequacy of the Cochrane Review to provide evidence that helmets protect against brain injury.

    Trends in helmet use and head injuries in San Diego County: The effect of bicycle helmet legislation
    Ming J, Gilchick RA, Bender SJ. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 2006;38(1):128–134
    No significant reduction in serious head injury over study period. Serious head injuries rose as helmet use grew fastest. Although one of the most popular areas for cycling in the USA, the incidence of serious head injury was low.

    Cycling and children and young people: a review
    Gill T. National Children’s Bureau, 2005. ISBN 1-904787-62-2
    “Those … who cycle should be under no illusion that helmets offer reliable protection in crash situations where our lives may be in danger. Neither should we believe that widespread adoption of helmet wearing would see many fewer cyclists killed or permanently disabled. The evidence so far suggests otherwise.”

    Extent and severity of cycle accident casualties
    Scottish Executive Social Research, 2005.
    Fewer head and face injuries with helmets, but no effect on injuries serious enough to require hospital admission or other ongoing treatment.

    Cycle helmets and road casualties in the UK
    Hewson PJ. Traffic Injury Prevention, 2005;6(2):127-134
    There is no evidence that cycle helmets reduce the overall cyclist injury burden at the population level in the UK when data on road casualties is examined.

    Investigating population level trends in head injuries amongst child cyclists in the UK
    Hewson PJ. Accident Analysis & Prevention. 2005;37(5):807-815.
    Head injuries are declining for child cyclists and pedestrians, but this is not related to helmet wearing data.

    Heads up – the science of helmets
    Walker B. Cycle, June/July 2005.
    Helmets offer only limited protection in simple low-speed falls with no other vehicle involved. Helmet standards have declined greatly in recent years yet most helmets do not meet the standards to which they are accredited. The courts remain to be convinced that helmets can be relied upon to provide useful protection in most crashes.

    A rational approach to pedal cyclist head protection
    Depreitere B. Catholic University of Leuven. 2004.
    Bicycle helmets could not offer sufficient protection to the temporal area against lateral blows. There was no unequivocal beneficial effect of the helmets on the rotational acceleration of the head and on the vibration of the skull base.

    Specific patterns of bicycle accident injuries – an analysis of correlation between level of head trauma and trauma mechanism
    Möllman FT, Rieger B, Wassmann H. DGNC Köln, 2004.
    No significant difference concerning the level of head-trauma due to bicycle accident between cyclists wearing a helmet and others.

    Head Injuries and Helmet Laws in Australia and New Zealand
    Robinson DL. 2004
    An assessment of the helmet laws.
    There is little benefit to either cyclists or the community from passing laws forcing cyclists to wear helmets. Rather than encouraging cyclists to wear helmets, the laws appear to have discouraged cycling, resulting in reduced health and fitness, but very little change in the head injury rate. Indeed, risks per cyclist seem to have increased, compared to what would have been expected without the law

    The efficacy of bicycle helmets against brain injury
    Curnow WJ. Accident Analysis & Prevention. 2003,35:287-292
    The meta-analysis of case-control studies does not provide scientific evidence that such helmets reduce serious injury to the brain as it does not distinguish injuries caused through fracture of the skull and by angular acceleration.

    Hats off (or not?) to helmet legislation
    Chipman ML. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2002;166(5): 602 Although the proportion of cyclists wearing helmets increased in Nova Scotia following helmet legislation and the number of head injuries fell, the main effect of the law was a large decrease in the number of people cycling.

    Changes in head injury with the New Zealand bicycle helmet law
    Robinson DL. Accident Analysis & Prevention: 2001 Sep;33(5):687-91
    The large increase in helmet wearing as a result of the NZ helmet law has not led to any obvious change in head injuries over and above existing trends.

    Cycling: your health, the public’s health and the planet’s health
    Bloomfield A. Making Cycling Viable Symposium, New Zealand, July 2000.
    Opinion from neurosurgeon that helmets had made some head injuries worse. Need to reconsider issue as legislation has not delivered benefits predicted.

    Trends in cycle injury in New Zealand under voluntary helmet use
    Scuffham PA, Langley JD. Accident Analysis & Prevention: 1997;29(1):1-9
    In the 12 months prior to the introduction of a helmet law, helmet wearing in New Zealand rose to 84% for primary school children, 62% for secondary school children and 39% for adults. However, there was no evidence that increased helmet use had resulted in fewer serious head injuries.

    Cycle helmets: the case for and against
    Hillman M. Policy Studies Institute, 1993. ISBN 0-85374-602-8.
    At best, helmets only marginally reduce a cyclist’s chance of being fatally or serious injured. The balance of evidence does not suggest that a helmet law would reduce the level of head injuries. Similarly, encouraging voluntary helmet use is unlikely to reduce the risk of head injury. The primary means of reducing serious head injury is to create an environment in which crashes are less likely to occur.

    Do cycle helmets prevent serious head injury?
    McCarthy M, Illingworth C. 1992. BMJ: 1992 v305 p881-3
    Cycling is safe, green and healthy. The main study supporting cycle helmet use is useless as policy guidance as it compared quite different groups of cyclists. Cycle helmets do not improve safety and place responsibility for injury protection on the victim.

    Reducing bicycle accidents: a re-evaluation of the impacts of the CPSC bicycle standard and helmet use
    Rodgers GB. Journal of Products Liability: 1988 ,11:307-317
    The largest ever cycling casualty study involving over 8 million cases of injury and death to cyclists in the USA over 15 years. It concluded that there was no evidence that hard shell helmets had reduced the head injury and fatality rates. Moreover, there was a significant positive correlation between fatalities and helmet use (i.e. helmeted riders were more likely to be killed).

  28. By martin on May 12, 2010 | Reply

    By the way, Boston Biker. Thanks for replying to my comment and thanks for maintaining this blog!

  29. By Jay on May 13, 2010 | Reply

    “Safety fundamentalist” lol.

    I like to breathe, and think that you should too. I guess I’m a lung fundy.

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