To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets

Elisabeth Rosenthal, writing for the New York Times:

In the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as pretty near God’s truth. Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke. Cities are aggressive in helmet promotion.

But many European health experts have taken a very different view: Yes, there are studies that show that if you fall off a bicycle at a certain speed and hit your head, a helmet can reduce your risk of serious head injury. But such falls off bikes are rare — exceedingly so in mature urban cycling systems.

She goes on to point out that helmets—and helmet laws—discourage people from riding, whether that be their own bikes or bikes from sharing programs. I think she has a good point—I crashed a few times in my younger days without a helmet and emerged unscathed, noggin-wise—but we’re a long way from undoing decades of helmet evangelism. Plus, traffic in many parts of the U.S. is anything but bike friendly. For now, I’ll be sticking with my helmet.

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