Why helmets?

As a one-time motorcycle owner, I am aware of the defensive properties of a good motorcycle helmet. The gentleman who sold me a Honda Hawk explained it in detail. You must realize this was a motorcycle helmet, not a bicycle or hockey helmet.

The main thing a motorcycle helmet will do is, if you fall off the bike, you will not likely get a concussion. That’s a fall of maybe five feet, more or less, onto your head. The helmet can not protect you in a forty kilometer crash into a solid wall. A sharp point or edge will cut it, a wall crash will crush it. It is not magic.

A second benefit, also important, is that a real motorcycle helmet has a face shield. Should you strike, say, a bee at 100 kilometers per hour, it could blind you. The helmet’s shield will in this case defend you.

That’s all you can expect from a very expensive motorcycle helmet.

Helmets worn by cyclists are of equal, or likely much less, protective value.

So, here’s today’s dumb question: as the cycling season starts up early this year, maybe during March Break, there will be injuries because bad things happen to good people who either don’t pay attention or are the unlucky victims of others not paying attention. In many of these injuries, the report will add at the end, “and wasn’t wearing a helmet”.

I suggest this phrase should be removed from all incidents where the protective power of a standard helmet would have been totally inadequate to prevent injury. It is misleading. It’s a bit like saying, and he wasn’t going slower, or, she wasn’t driving a larger car. It has no bearing on the reality of the situation.

So that’s today’s dumb question: why do accident reports always mention this? X wasn’t wearing a helmet?

2 thoughts on “Why helmets?

  1. As a long-time commuter cyclist, this bugs me a lot. Studies have proven that the way to keep cyclists safest is to have them out in numbers and have cars learn to share the roads with them (not to mention have cities build bike-friendly infrastructures like bike lanes). I believe this is more effective than helmets at keeping cyclists safe, I believe it because I read it somewhere (can’t recall where) and it sounds like common sense. That’s why bike advocates in Toronto resist there being a helmet-law for adults–it would decrease the numbers on the road. All of this is to say: bikes are the minority and the mentioning of a helmet’s absence is victim blaming or a scare tactic – a cheap shot either way if you ask me.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I will add a cynical observation.
      There is a bike lane on The West Mall from Dundas nearly to the railway bridge north of the Queensway. I have rarely seen a bicycle on this road. When I have, 97% of the time I was riding it. There is no possible justification for this bike lane. So, why was it put in? Cynically, I think it “counts” as a bike lane, but is in an area where a bike lane does not threaten car traffic’s domination of the road. During a strike, cars parked in the bike lane with impunity, something that could not so easily happen downtown.
      I’m saying, this bike lane exists as part of a statistic: we implemented so many kilometres of new bike lanes. In stupid places.
      As for blaming the victim for not wearing a helmet, yes. It is a cheap shot.

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