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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

bike helmets

Notice something strange about this picture?

She's not wearing a helmet! (gasp!)

It was probably taken in Europe - likely The Netherlands. Almost everyone cycles in The Netherlands - hardly anyone wears a helmet. And guess what? They are generally living to tell the tale.

When I grew up no one wore helmets.  We all did just fine.

But then, when I grew up, we roller skated without shin guards and we had playgrounds where we played without the supervision of parents. My parents were pretty busy with adult stuff - kids did kid stuff - it all worked out and I'm still alive and healthy.

Today we live in a fear-based society - everyone is afraid of something and a lot of corporations are cashing in on that fear by selling products (like bicycle helmets) that are supposed to make you safer. What they are really doing is making you even more afraid. As in, "Oh my gosh, I have to wear a helmet when I ride my bike - this must be a pretty dangerous thing to do."

My friend, David, who has been working in China for a number of years now, has been on a campaign to get the Chinese to wear bike helmets. Until very recently I thought this an admirable goal. I mean, bike helmets are great right? It's like seat belts and air bags - we take this stuff for granted.

Maybe we shouldn't take everything quite as much for granted. I have been researching the subject for the last couple of days, doing my best to find the most unbiased studies showing the pros and cons of wearing bike helmets. "Unbiased" is a tricky concept in an argument that has ardent supporters on both sides.

The more I read the more I drifted to that anti-helmet side - to my immense surprise.

This TED talk has pushed me over the top:

I am reminded of something my ex-husband said to me many years ago. I was about to go off on a solo hike in Strathcona and he very seriously stopped me and told me about all the dangers of bear encounters. That day, for the first time, I was afraid while I hiked. Let me tell you how much that ruined my favourite activity. I was and still am furious with him. It is easy to acquire a fear and terribly difficult to eradicate it once it has made a home for itself in your psyche. I still do it - I still hike on my own - but for quite a while fear was my companion.

I don't think any of us should live like that. Ever.

Let's get back to critical thinking. Who benefits when we are afraid? Certainly not you or I. Life is a risky business. There is no such thing as protection from every eventuality.

Down with helmets!

double gasp.


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  2. I'm rather disappointed in you Goody. This is not taking a neutral position on bike helmets. This is actively campaigning to discourage their use, and undercut those who promote them.

    In our rather extensive discussion of this subject, you said that you have no use for anecdotal evidence. Well, what is "We all did fine" but anecdotal evidence of the most egregious kind? Were you ALL fine? Do you have any idea how many kids of your generation ended up with brain damage because of head injuries in bike accidents?

    Hey, when I was a kid, no car had air bags or seat belts. But we were did fine. Every single kid I knew did fine. Great logic.

    More upsetting than this is the fact that if just one person reads your article and then rides without a helmet, and happens to be the rare person who does suffer brain injury as a result, you can put a notch on your computer keyboard and chock up one victim of your opinions. Of course you'll never know, so this isn't likely. But I really expected you to act more responsibly.

    In your last email you said that you had not gone completely over to the anti-helmet side. This post of yours certainly contradicts that statement. As I said earlier, you have not responded to one of my arguments. You post the TEDx by Mikael without mentioning that some of the information he gives, such as the bald assertion that helmets are only tested on the crown, is flat out wrong, and all of it is rhetorically questionable.

    You don't have to be a person who lives in fear to see the merits of wearing a bike helmet, no more than you need to be a person who lives in fear to wear bear bells when hiking in grizzly country.

    As I said, I'm disappointed in you Goody. I expected better of you.

  3. not nearly as disappointed as I am in you - quite vitriolic - your pre-emptive blaming of me for a brain damaged life smacks of religious fervour (ironically)

  4. Well, it doesn't mean you're a bad person. :-)

  5. I should apologize for saying I'm disappointed in you, Goody. My comments should have been about your post, and not about you.

  6. apology accepted - I don't mind debating views adn issues - that's healthy stuff - but it should never get personal. I don't care how wildly your views differ from mine (and that's rare - I agree with your views on most things), I will always love and respect you,

  7. That said, perhaps your readers would be interested in the other side of the issue. Here is a link to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute who do a pretty good job of destroying Mikael Colville-Andersen's arguments.

    Personally, I think they treat him rather gently. To devote two years of his life to discouraging helmet use is... strange indeed. And his conspiracy theories are downright loony. Do you really think the car industry feels threatened by bicycles, and therefore is behind the push for helmets because helmets (in Mikael's fevered imagination) discourage bike use? That's a bit far fetched, wouldn't you say? A bit of a round about attack on bike use? Mercedes has just unveiled their own bike design. It's beautiful.

  8. yeah - I don't much like the conspiracy theories. Still - paying attention to stats only - I'd say wear a helmet if you want to or (by law) have to. I would.