Friday, May 22, 2009

11 Helmet Wearing For Drivers And Bicyclists

I think I have made it clear many times on this blog why asking the question 'Shouldn't automobile drivers also wear helmets?" should not be an excuse for not wearing a helmet while cycling. It is naive and a little silly. Its like saying ..."I'm not doing this because my big sister Molly isn't going to either. Period" . And it seems to me as if authors from other blogs do not appreciate a car for what it is, and how it is different from a bicycle.

If car drivers were to wear helmets, it is likely that one or more of the following may happen :

1. It could affect visibility of the road.

2. The helmet could hit the inner ceiling of the car when worn by the driver so it maybe necessary to adapt existing car design to a helmeted rider, an exercise which could cost into the thousands for any manufacturer. For the same reasons, a helmeted driver would find it more difficult to turn his head and look over his shoulder before changing lanes.

3. Getting pulled over by a cop if he believes you wore the helmet to actually drive faster. For the same reasons, what are the chances that actually wearing a helmet in your country, state, or city hasn't been deemed illegal by law enforcement? Have you checked into this?

My point is that if wearing a helmet in a car leads to more safety hazards than not wearing one, isn't it a little counter-productive?

Comparing a modern car with its sophisticated control, comfort and safety features to a bicycle is like comparing apples and oranges. They're two different breeds. As it is, a car driver has plenty to expect in terms of safety. He has a seat belt, a considerable portion of metal, leather, polymer and plastic around him, he has airbags, he even has an intelligent control system on his car to monitor all this for him (rear view monitoring, inter-vehicle distance monitoring, cruise control, anti-lock brakes are just a few of the advances we have made in terms of crashworthiness). An automobile is constantly evolving in terms of electro-mechanical design to prevent car crashes. For example, just look at what the Japanese have done over the years.

What does the bicycle have in terms of safety?

Not much.

Think about that for a minute.

In fact, you can only design a bicycle to such a degree that it is stable at all speeds (no shimmy), rides comfortably, corners well, puts the rider at an appropriate center of gravity and affords proper weight distribution between the two wheels to aid in braking. Riding a bicycle at 30mph with modern performance cycling clothes and then falling off it is like stripping down to nothing in a car and deliberately jumping out of it. Think about that for a minute also.

Another important point is that a car has four wheels. It is inherently stable. But a bicycle has two wheels and is a single track vehicle which is statically unstable . You cannot ride a bicycle unless you propel it upto a certain weave speed. Otherwise, you will certainly fall sideways, tumble, and take a hit. That hit could be on your head.

This is the problem faced by beginning bicycle riders. They aren't willing to ride fast to gain that stability advantage, neither do they have the skill to ride slow and use lean and other body movements to balance themselves. When they fall, they either have to quickly (like clockwork) learn to free themselves from the bicycle or fall in such a fashion such that they avoid landing on their heads. In most cases, beginning riders can't do this. Moreover, at high speeds, any rider irrespective of experience cannot do this any better mainly due to how fast things happen. Have you ever crashed at 40 mph going downhill? You'll certainly appreciate this more then. See, the human body can only react so fast.

Should bicyclists wear helmets? It is advisable. Should they be forced to? No. Should car drivers be forced to wear helmets so that cyclists could be comforted that they're not alone in doing so? If car drivers don't do so, should cyclists make that an excuse for not doing the right thing themselves? No. I think it is a silly and purposeless exercise. But as we have it, people will bring up more and more excuses to not do something that is for their own safety and the convenience of others in society. When they are miserable, they poke their nose into other people's business, complaining and giving them a hard time as well. I think humans come built-in with this fundamental flaw. It is too hard to fight. As cyclists, is it any wonder why we share this love-hate relationship with motorists?

Live and let live, people.

P.S : In spite of my discussion above on the automobile, I'm proud to be a cyclist. I've never owned a vehicle and boy, it feels good. Have a good weekend!


Statisculation And Sporting Prejudice In Anti-Helmet Propaganda
History : John Paul Stapp, Pioneer In Airplane and Automobile Safety (Thanks to Alloycowboy)
New Safety Features To Prevent Car Crashes
History of Automobile Safety Design
Automobile Crashworthiness
Inter-vehicle Communications May Save Lives
How Rear-View Cameras Work
How Anti-Lock Brakes Work
Airbags and Seatbelts Important In Preventing Spine Fractures

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  1. Ok, I was with you until your last line. You never owned a car? While I'm a big fan of being eco-friendly, I just cannot live without a car right now. Maybe if I moved to a city where everything I need is within 10 miles, then I'll consider doing without the car.

    Anyways, I'm 100% with you on the whole helmet thing. As you know, I was in an ugly car/bike crash. The helmet saved my life. Another argument I've heard is that "well, how come you still got a stage-3 concussion if you were wearing a helmet?" They don't think about what would have happened if I wasn't wearing one. DEATH, duh.

    Car drivers.... helmet.... DUMB IDEA! Just like you said, they got all that extra crap in the car to protect them. If they die in a vehicular crash, a helmet most likely would not have saved them. Look at one of the new cars (I forget which make/model). It's now equipped with anti-crash technology. It prevents you from rear-ending or backing up into anyone. Bicycles can't do that!

    Motorcyclists should wear a helmet all for the same reason as you mentioned bicyclists should. Great post Ron, I enjoy reading them!

  2. Anonymous10:57 PM

    Interesting points on helments. It seems as though the topic is always a passionate one.

    If a car is considered a tool, and you follow the slogan "right tool for the right job", then the car is used prudently and isn't wasteful. Example - I need to go to the store that's 1 mile away to get groceries. I'll use the bike for that. But, I need to pick up mom and dad on the way to church today. I'll need the car for this job.

    But not having a car would seem to be a huge logistics puzzle. I would have to live close to everything I want/need to do. Work, church, school, doctors for me and my spouse and the kids, stores, etc. I could live on a bus line but then I'd have to find all the items just listed close to bus stops. And I live in a town with no bus service so I couldn't live here but would have to move .... See what I mean. A car erases all those variables.

    It's doable for sure, I just don't know if I would have the ability to figure it all out.


  3. alloycowboy1:07 AM


    I want you to check out this website and read the article. It's really interesting!

    Lets see if you can figure out the connection between your last blog entry and the article.

  4. Very well written. Normal car drivers like you and me could probably get away without wearing a helmet if we wanted. Oh...sorry I forget you don't drive!

  5. Alloy : That was one of the most exhilarating pieces of writing I have read in some time. Infact, I had never heard of Colonel Stapp before. Indeed he has given a lot to the automobile in terms of safety. What's on your mind?

  6. Interesting post. No way car drivers would ever be forced to wear helmets - people would be screaming in the streets over it.

    A friend of mine, years ago, spent some time working at a head injury rehab place. Many of the people there were due to car accidents.

    I rode bicycles for years, as a kid and adult, with no helmet. Never hit my head once. Later, as helmets became the norm, started wearing one and continue to do so - at least 99% of the time. I've wacked my head twice pretty good while wearing a helmet - glad it was there.

    I'm also a motorcyclist - well, was anyway. Dirt bikes and motocross as a kid, street bikes later. Never put my helmet to the test, but always wore one. You'd be insane to ride a motorcycle without a helmet. Even normal street speeds are well above the serious injury stage.

    Still - should you be forced to wear a helmet? On a bicycle - no, that should be a personal choice. I also think helmet laws can reduce bicycle use for regular, non-cyclist types. The more of us, the better.

    Forced use on a motorcycle? I have mixed feelings on that. I consider it in the same league as seat belt laws - in the end, a good thing.

  7. Stephen M.9:43 PM

    How about all car drivers wearing seatbelts instead of helmets. That should help.

  8. I'm astounded by your PS -- you've never owned a car! That's marvelous, Ron. I can understand people who feel a need to own a car (I'm one of them) but I applaud folks like you who make the choices to live car-free.

  9. Fritz : It requires some amount of determination. And as I tell my friends, without a car, be prepared to ride Lots! But I happen to actually like doing that!

  10. Anonymous4:00 PM

    You're fishing with the big hook here. The fact that an Australian government study that showed the benefits of motorists wearing helmets set the University of Adelaide to work to design a helmet that would save motorists lives kind of negates your guesswork.

    A federal government and a respected university thought it worthwhile to research helmets/visors for motorists. They don't do such things unless there is a good reason.

    I'm sure you've read the study in question so you really should have mentioned it in your post.

  11. Anon : Yeah, where are the helmets for motorists. I don't see any wearing out on the road.

    Besides, I don't think its a bad idea. But cyclists trying to address the issue of their own helmet woes by lobbying others in society to implement helmets for motorists maybe losing sight of perspective. Keep perspective in mind and that's all this post is about. Nothing is said about research studies and other funda.


Thank you. I read every single comment.