Bicycle Helmets



Bicycle Helmets are strongly recommended, by doctors and by city and campus officials, for anyone who bicycles in Davis or anywhere else. They are also legally required in California for bicyclists under the age of 18. Head injuries are the biggest cause of death in fatal bike accidents and a major type of serious injury in non-fatal bike accidents ([WWW]NHTSA Fact Sheet). Bicycle helmets prevent most head injuries and lessen many others. Doctors can repair many kinds of damage after a bicycle accident, but they cannot repair brain damage. Even a simple concussion is a type of brain injury; whether or not it leads to hospitalization, it may still involve insidious (meaning medically undetected) long-term brain damage.

Make sure that your bicycle helmet is in good condition. Throw the helmet away if it is damaged in an accident, or if it is weathered; replace it at least every five years. Sizing the helmet and adjusting the straps are tricky but important steps; the helmet and strap should be snug without feeling tight.

The helmet debate

Just as with motorcycle helmets and seat belts, there is some public debate as to whether it is important to wear a bicycle helmet. The scientific consensus, based on both case-control studies and ergonomic theory, is that bicycle helmets are important. Exactly how important they are and how to best design a helmet are a matter of continuing research ([WWW]University of Washington Med school review).

Much of the debate is about bicycle helmet laws rather than about the merit of helmets. There is a libertarian argument that laws should not unduly protect people from themselves. This is one reason that bicycle helmets are not generally required for adults in the United States, and it is part of a continuing debate over motorcycle helmet laws. Few people would argue that children should not be protected from themselves, and that is why bicycle helmets are required for children in California.

It is true that bicycling is about three times as safe per mile of travel than walking in the US, as measured by fatalities ([WWW]Pucher and Dijkstra, 2003). That makes bicycling less safe per hour, or per trip, because bicycling is about 5 times as fast as walking. Protecting pedestrians and bicyclists are both major public safety challenges that require many partial solutions. Even though helmets are not a good solution for pedestrians, they are an important solution for bicyclists.

It is also true that the rate of reported head injuries increased from 1991 to 2001 in the United States even though bicycle use fell in the same period ([WWW]New York Times, July 29, 2001). A common time trend does not imply cause and effect and it is open to many possible explanations. For instance, doctors may diagnose a type of injury or illness more thoroughly or more liberally over time, so that a problem appears to get worse when it is actually only getting reported more.

The [WWW]Wikipedia page on bicycle helmets is a better place to pursue the general debate over bicycle helmets and helmet laws than DavisWiki. The comments section of a DavisWiki page is a better place for debating than the main section, then gather them up and put them in the top as cogent points. Of course, since there are no rules — except that you *must* wear a Wiki helmet when debating on the wiki — feel free to ignore that.


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(undated) These testimonials have been moved to the comments section.

2007-10-26 15:01:16   Bicycle helmets are only for professors. They have so much invested in that noggin, it's actually worth protecting. Otherwise, bike helmets aren't cool. —BrentLaabs

2007-11-02 22:29:48   The amount of misinformation on this site regarding helmets is ridiculous. Several people here have suggested that helmets save lives when there is no evidence whatsoever that would support such an assertion. In fact, to the contrary, research has shown that as the rate of helmet use goes up, the rate of head injuries rises as well ([WWW] This is not at all surprising when you consider that helmets which meet current standard are only designed to prevent direct hits to the head at speeds of 12 miles per hour or less. Consequently, the most a helmet can do is to save you a few stitches or bruises if you fall off a bike; helmets offer practically no protection in serious accidents where one's life is at stake.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, cycling is no more dangerous than walking([WWW] I am sure none of you wear helmets when you walk, why then would you wear one when riding a bike? —Maitl

2009-08-02 12:17:21   I've noticed that the students around Davis (18 and younger, not the students at UCD) wear helmets that are solid, almost spherical, appear to be made of metal or a hard plastic, and have no ventilation. Everyone over 18 wears styrofoam helmets. Anyone know why the kids are wearing different helmets than the adults? Is there a law about this? Do they offer more protection? It doesn't seem like it would be much fun to wear a helmet with no ventilation in the Davis summer heat... —IDoNotExist

2009-08-02 14:11:30   So do they make regular, ventilated helmets in kids sizes too, or do the kids just have the BMX style helmets available? —IDoNotExist

2010-02-26 23:42:18   I once flipped over forward on my bike. My head bounced around three times on the pavement - I shudder to think what would've happened if I didn't have my helmet on me.

Best part besides being alive? My bike survived and still works to this day! Compared to my Target bike in freshman year, which crumpled as I was biking uphill one day. —AlexanderHo

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