Enough with the Smashed Watermelons! Helmet Mania Is Scaring Kids Away from Biking

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When I spoke at the Velo-City Conference in Austria a few years back, the speaker before me declared that  helmet laws are so cumbersome and they make biking seem so scary that instead of keeping kids safe, they’re simply keeping kids from biking.

Well that shocked me. I’ve always loved helmets and insisted upon them for my kids…who, come to think of it, are not avid bikers.

Now along comes this brilliant piece by Sue Knaup, Executive Director of One Street, an international bicycle advocacy organization. Like the Velo-City speaker, she, too has found that “overzealous bike helmet promotions are undermining efforts to increase bicycling.”

As with all of us at Free-Range Kids, she is not anti-safety. She’s just examining another place our quest for perfect safety is taking us. This piece ran on The Bike Helmet Blog.  (There sure are blogs for everything.) Love to hear your thoughts!  (Boldface, mine.) – L.

Are Helmet Programs Scaring Kids Away from Bicycling?

by Sue Knaup

When I was in elementary (primary) school in the 1970s, my friends and I rode our bikes as naturally as we walked. We might walk to the house next door, but a journey of any farther distance was obviously done by bike – duh, no discussion. Also no helmet. And no finger wagging at “improper” riding methods.

The only bike safety course I recall was in fifth grade when the teachers cleared our paved playground to show us braking distances. A car was brought in and set at one end of the playground. At the wave of one flag, the car took off. At the wave of another, the driver slammed on the brakes. Tires squealed and blue smoke billowed. The distance was marked between the flag wave and where the car stopped. Then we each got our chance on our bikes and the braking distances were compared. The whole exercise took about half an hour, but it stuck with us because it was cool and involved us in the discovery of the message. From then on, we gave cars a lot more room.

We never went through bike rodeos or learned hand signals or got lectured about our heads splattering like dropped melons. How did we survive? Quite happily, thanks. And with those happy memories of riding as children we became proud adult cyclists.

As I found myself involved in bicycle advocacy, bicycle safety programs gave me pause. I get twitchy anyway around the term “safety.” To set something out as “safe” is simply a lie. We all know that it is an impossible aim. And yet bike safety programs propagate along with their escalating assertions that if cyclists do this or that they will be safe.

I understand that certain riding behaviors will increase the likelihood of a cyclist reaching their destination unharmed. But these behaviors are easily taught through exercises like the one I enjoyed on that playground. We weren’t frightened about any potential outcomes, only shown a bit of physics so we could change our riding behavior to accommodate them. The same could be done to show riders why riding with traffic is a better choice than riding against it.

Yet today’s bicycle safety programs go far beyond physics and most land squarely on an irrational assertion – that all cyclists must wear a helmet all the time in order to be “safe.” Not only is this a lie, it does nothing to teach cyclists better riding behaviors so they can avoid a crash.

Taking this message to our schools is a dramatic change from my experience as a child. I wonder how my friends and I would have responded if we had spent that half hour watching our teachers drop melons and eggs as if they were our heads as we rode our bikes. I hope we would have been independent thinkers enough to call bullshit and just continue to ride. But we sure wouldn’t have learned about braking distance and the whole thing would have been a negative, miserable, and scary experience.

Do an internet search for kids bike safety videos and you will find countless, proud examples of melon drops. Look for kid’s bike safety brochures and you will find many with scary titles like “The Dangers of Bicycling.” This is the backdrop teachers are now expected to use when discussing bicycling with their students.

Never mind that bicycling is one of the least likely ways to suffer brain injury. Find a few charts that show this clearly on One Street’s Bicycle Helmet page. I’ve never seen a melon drop video made for children who ride in cars, but that would be the more logical reason for searing this horrifying image into children’s memories.

Never mind that frightening children into wearing bike helmets does nothing to show them how to avoid a crash.

And never mind that bike helmets are only designed to withstand crashes up to the speed reached by falling over from a standstill. They do little if anything to prevent brain injury in most crashes. See my previous post “My Bike Helmet Saved My Life!” for more details on this misconception.

More importantly, I am concerned that bicycle safety programs are scaring our kids away from bicycling. If children aren’t riding, we are losing our next generation of adult cyclists. The evidence is frightening in itself:

Kids who buck the trend, perhaps because they are independent enough thinkers to call bullshit on these scare tactics, are losing the Safety in Numbers protection we enjoyed as kids. We rode in packs, which made us very visible. But my pack was just one of many packs of bike-riding kids in my town and others around the world. Drivers expected to see kids out on bikes and drove accordingly. Now to see even one kid riding a bike is a surprise.

This mess bothers me to no end. I can hear all the bike safety schoolmarms justifying their strict doctrine with their belief that if just one life is saved the reduction in bike riding by kids is worth it. Bullshit. No one can claim they saved a life with a frightening safety message. The life, rather the person in charge of that life, needs a whole package of knowledge in order to make the decisions that will keep them from harm. With that full package, including the knowledge of how safe riding a bike actually is and how little protection a bike helmet offers, the decision to wear a bike helmet will be the last on their list for crash avoidance tactics.

Even as I wallowed in the sorrowful heap of fearmongering materials to write this post, I was cheered by one hopeful discovery from, of all places, Detroit. Awhile back some fearmongers had passed a slate of ordinances criminalizing any kid in Detroit who dared pedal a bike in the streets. As I waded through the muck left by similar fearmongers all over the world, I came upon the uplifting news that Detroit has repealed all their restrictions on youth cycling. While it was a sad occurrence to begin with, this repeal may be a sign that people of all ages are finally calling bullshit on scare tactics that do nothing but frighten away our next generation of cyclists. Thanks Detroit!

Are you fed up with fearful tactics that could be scaring kids away from bicycling? Do you have childhood memories that cause you to question their claims? If so, please offer them in the comments section. A solution may take many small steps like the one in Detroit, but the more people who stand up against these scare tactics, the more small steps will be taken until kids can finally ride free again. — Sue

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Smash enough watermelons and biking starts to look like bungee jumping into cement.

Smash enough watermelons in “Wear Your Helmet!” videos and biking starts to look bungee jumping into cement.

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93 Responses to Enough with the Smashed Watermelons! Helmet Mania Is Scaring Kids Away from Biking

  1. elizabeth July 24, 2016 at 6:30 pm #

    I never wore a helmet. I do now for my roller skates, but that is because im off balance and a big chicken.

  2. elizabeth July 24, 2016 at 6:34 pm #

    still don’t need a helmet for a bike because even as a kid I was able to see through the safety bull. I have a statistically higher chance of getting stuck halfway up drop zone at kings island than I do of getting a real injury just going down the street on my bike. (kings island is an amusement park near where I live. drop zone uses electromagnets instead of cables, lessening the chance of a deadly fall should the ride break down.)

  3. James Pollock July 24, 2016 at 7:00 pm #

    When I was a child, Evel Kneivel was at the height of his popularity. That means we built ramps and jumped our bikes over things. However, despite the fact that Evel wore a helmet, the idea of helmets for children riding bikes had not yet become a thing. So we did fairly dangerous things, with bikes that were not designed for it, without helmets.

    That said, wearing a helmet was part of riding a bike when my daughter got one. She’s not an avid biker, but… I think… wearing a helmet is not related. Rather, the problem is that in our neighborhood, the places she’d want to go are either A) close enough to easily walk to, or B) too far to bike to, with not a lot sitting right in the butter zone. Now that she’s at university, the town and university are both extremely bike-friendly, but she lives close enough to campus to walk regularly, and biking doesn’t help with the biggest problem… when it rains, it rains on bikers and walkers alike.

    When I was young, kids were put into cars and MAYBE strapped in with a lap belt, which had more to do with keeping the driver undistracted than keeping the passenger(s) safe in the event of an accident. I remember the government TRYING to get people to use safety belts by dropping mandates on the car-makers to get people to use them… the buzzer that wouldn’t shut up unless the seatbelt was buckled, causing people to fasten them and then sit on the fastened seatbelt, those motorized shoulder belts that nobody ever liked. Putting kids into a proper safety cocoon? Crazy! Just toss ’em into the back of a station wagon, they’ll be fine!

    I think there’s a decline in childhood use of bicycles, not because the kids (or parents!) are afraid of them. I think bicycling kids are a casualty of the decline in unstructured free time for kids, combined with the rise of additional screen time (in my childhood, very few children spent any time at all in front of a computer screen… kids that are inside playing Nintendo are not outside riding bikes. Nintendo tried to fix this by inventing the GameBoy, but it wasn’t until Pokemon were geolocated that the kids are pulled outside to catch ’em all.

  4. Theresa July 24, 2016 at 7:51 pm #

    I only hate one bike rule that some places have. No riding on the sidewalk. You should wear a helmet and it is a lot safer to ride on the sidewalk with not much traffic but our government can be overly bossy about stupid stuff.

  5. Tanya July 24, 2016 at 7:55 pm #

    I’m glad for this article and it explains much about how I’m seeing more and more people in my city (most ages) forgoing helmets.

  6. Anne July 24, 2016 at 8:10 pm #

    In our neighborhood, no one wears a bike helmet unless they’re just learning to ride, or maybe if they’re planning to head across the 55 m.p.h road to the other part of the town. It’s a pretty free range neighborhood in general. The kids who can’t go to the park alone stand out. It’s a middle to upper middle class suburb, where you’d typically find helicopter parents, so I really think parents are heavily influenced by what they see other parents allowing.
    My oldest has sensory issues and would avoid riding his bike if he had to wear a helmet, so I quickly got over my own fears and let him join the helmetless crowd. My middle child also rides without a helmet in the neighborhood. My youngest is still learning to ride and crashes every time, so I make her wear her helmet despite her protests.

  7. BJ Toepper July 24, 2016 at 9:10 pm #

    Its weird that we single out cycling and other wheeled activity for helmet use. Comparative head injury rates between walkers and cyclists are almost equal according to Wikipedia, but we expect only one of these activities to come with a helmet. We ARE scaring kids off by requiring a helmet, and we should stop.

  8. SteveS July 24, 2016 at 9:50 pm #

    Most of the older (age 12+) kids don’t seem to bother with helmets. That being said, many of them don’t seem as interested in bikes as previous generations.

  9. pentamom July 24, 2016 at 9:50 pm #

    I don’t know how old Sue is, but I’m 50 years old and they taught us hand signals and had rodeos when I was a kid.

    Not that her points are entirely invalid, but teaching kids “bike safety” isn’t all that new. And I don’t think she should be so twitchy over the world “safety” — no, nothing can be completely safe, and yes, the word gets overused but it’s a valid concept that there are ways to teach people to be safer in doing activities, and I can’t think of a better and non-cumbersome term to use.

  10. Jessica July 24, 2016 at 11:16 pm #

    I live in Utah, where there aren’t even helmet laws for motorcyclists and we see kids biking all the time, with the racks at the local elementary school loaded with bikes and scooters when school is in session. I think helmets only being rated for falling at a standstill is pretty funny, since the only time my boys seem to fall off their bikes is when they’re stopped and forget their bike can fall over (especially the 4yo who just got his training wheels taken off). I firmly believe basic traffic and safety should be taught, but mandating helmets (and off sidewalks) can make bicyclists less safe, since it’s been shown that drivers are less cautious around bikers with helmets.

  11. Anna July 24, 2016 at 11:52 pm #

    The studies that were originally used to promote helmet laws were pretty weak – they basically showed that kids riding bikes at parks with their parents get less head injuries wearing bike helmets, and not at all that mandating helmets across the population improved any overall outcomes.

    From what I understand, the places that went ahead and mandated helmets have demonstrated pretty poor results: i.e., huge decreases in bicycle ridership (sometimes by as much as 30% or 40%) but no significant decrease in head injuries. Given the greater fitness more biking would presumably promote, the overall public health effects would seem to be negative.

    There are a number of possible reasons: there’s some evidence drivers are not as careful of helmeted bicyclists (driving closer to them, for instance). There’s also the fact that decreased ridership itself is the biggest threat to bicycle safety, because it makes motorists less likely to be on the lookout for cyclists.

    Personally, I bike a lot, both for fun and for practical purposes and I never ever wear a helmet – luckily I live in a state with no helmet law. I just don’t see sufficient reason to do so and find it very unpleasant. After all, unlike a six-year-old, I don’t fall off my bike for no reason, and in most collision-type accidents that could happen to me, a helmet is pretty much irrelevant.

  12. Tim Gill July 25, 2016 at 1:36 am #

    Good to see you tackling this emotive issue Lenore. About 10 years ago I looked at the issue of cycling and children in some detail, including the question of helmets. My conclusions echo those of the author of the piece you share here. Anyone interested in the report can head here: http://www.ncb.org.uk/media/443203/cyclingreport_2005.pdf

  13. Denise July 25, 2016 at 7:09 am #

    I grew up in Detroit and rode all the time with no helmet, no hand signals, no lectures. I’m 70. Now in the burbs, everyone has a helmet, knee pads, gloves, elbow pads – IF you even see someone on a bike. But, good news here, if you ride a motorcycle, Michigan canned the helmet law.

  14. Silver Fang July 25, 2016 at 7:49 am #

    I think it’s sad that so many have fallen for the snake oil propaganda. Bicycling isn’t what it was when I was a kid.

  15. BL July 25, 2016 at 8:32 am #

    @Denise
    “I grew up in Detroit and rode all the time with no helmet, no hand signals, no lectures. I’m 70. Now in the burbs, everyone has a helmet, knee pads, gloves, elbow pads – IF you even see someone on a bike.”

    Up to the age of (almost) 9, I lived in suburban Detroit.

    No helmets or knee pads. A few lectures, I think.

    By the time we moved, I had the run of a “section” (exactly a square mile, the way the Midwest was surveyed into 36 sq mile townships) surrounded by four-lanes which I couldn’t cross, on foot or by bicycle.

  16. DrTorch July 25, 2016 at 8:36 am #

    As the author points out, there is no instruction given to new riders on how to avoid crashes (or minimize them).

    Which leads me to the point- has anyone investigated the consequences of reduced hearing and visual awareness while wearing a helmet? I believe there is a high probability that bicycle helmets are actually _less_ safe. But we know challenging the status quo about safety is a dangerous activity unto itself.

  17. C. S. P. Schofield July 25, 2016 at 8:54 am #

    Something else to consider regarding helmets;

    They constitute something the child has to carry about when off the bike. This makes biking to the shops, the arcade, the mall, or the playground a good deal more annoying. Also, while attempts have been made to circumvent this, I have yet to see a bike helmet that doesn’t make the rider look like a dork. And if you think that isn’t an issue, you’ve forgotten too much of your childhood.

  18. Emily July 25, 2016 at 9:12 am #

    I had a neighborhood paper route from age 12 to age 18. The ONLY time I crashed was when a kid ran out from behind a parked van, and I hit him quite a lick before falling off my bike. But no head injuries to him or to me. Six years is a long time, and some of those streets were quite busy!
    The idea of wearing a helmet in the South Georgia heat would have been enough to make me seek other ways of earning pocket money.

  19. Jenny July 25, 2016 at 9:41 am #

    It may be that the “smashed watermelons” approach to talking about helmets is scaring people away unnecessarily–I don’t know, having never seen a video like that. But the idea that the solution is to stop encouraging people to wear helmets is throwing out the baby with the fear-mongering messaging. I am an avid biker and so are my kids. We all wear helmets for the same reason we wear seat belts in the car–you can’t (and shouldn’t try to) avoid all risk in life, but you can take easy painless steps to be somewhat safer.

  20. Coasterfreak July 25, 2016 at 9:58 am #

    I have never worn a bike helmet as a child or an adult (I’m 46) and although I did have my share of spills while riding a bike, never once did I hit my head. All injuries I’ve ever received from falling off a bike (mostly skinnings of whatever body parts hit the ground) would not have been prevented by wearing a helmet. I subscribe to the idea that in the event of an actual accident — like being hit by a car while biking — what might happen to the top 1/4 of my head is probably the least of my worries.

    And I HATE those watermelon smashing videos! Unlike a watermelon, we have a nice, hard skull in our heads. The human head does not splat on the ground due to a fall from a bike. In order for a human head to smash open like that, it’s going to have to get run over by a vehicle. In that case, I seriously doubt a plastic-covered styrofoam dome is going to make much of a difference.

  21. Brooks July 25, 2016 at 10:14 am #

    I think it should depend on the setting. Around the neighborhood? Probably not needed. On the road, mountain biking, going at speeds? Probably. As someone who has worked in the rehabilitation field a long time, I’ve seen plenty of head injuries – some from a bike crash. Rare, but a helmet can prevent, or lessen the impact.

    Years ago a friend and I were riding and some redneck through a full beer bottle at us. The bottle hit my friend’s helmeted head, broke open, and threw him off the bike in a nasty tumble. Had he not had a helmet on, it would have been a severe injury.

  22. Jennifer July 25, 2016 at 10:39 am #

    I have three boys 16, 13 and 10, all avid bicycle riders, to get to their friends houses, get a sandwich at the local shop, go for ice cream on their own. They do not wear helmets (cue the gasp from my contemporaries). They ride bikes with other boys whose mom’s do not require helmets. The 13 year old can log up to 10 miles a day. My experience has been that kids who are required to wear helmets are avid video game players.

  23. Ann in LA July 25, 2016 at 10:42 am #

    Biking is also a precursor to driving: you learn the rules of the road, how to interpret cars’ behaviors, gain an internal map of your neighborhood, and get to explore beyond walking range. We went to the mall, went to a large park several miles away, and broadened our range as we got older.

    I see this with our kids. The oldest just turned 16 and has no desire to learn to drive–and she never learned to ride a bike either. She has to learn everything about the roads from scratch, and isn’t used to going any further than the corner store on her own. Her range from home is only a couple of blocks. She’s never had that freedom of a large range. Why does she need to drive a car?

  24. BL July 25, 2016 at 10:46 am #

    @Ann in LA
    “Her range from home is only a couple of blocks. She’s never had that freedom of a large range.”

    So glad I’m not a kid in this era.

  25. Antje July 25, 2016 at 11:08 am #

    I’m an avid biker, and have always been. I used to hate wering a helmet, until I was abput 40. But since a helmet saved my life (when slipping on black ice and slamming my head on the pavement HARD), my coworker’s life when a deer jumped across the bike trail and hit him in the head with a hoof (even with the helmet he was unconscious for half an hour – without the helemet his skull would have been shattered), and another coworker’s life in an accident with a car, I have become an ardent supporter of bike helmets.
    It breaks my heart aht my son doesn’t like riding his bike. But I do not think it has anything to do with the helmet – in fact he is the one insisting to wear it (he’s 12 now, and has been riding a 2-wheeler since he was 3). To him it’s just like wearing a seat belt in the car, it’s just part of the activity, and doesn’t bother him at all.
    The problem is simply that there aren’t packs of kids out riding anymore, because of the lethal mix of video games and helicopter parents. And biking alone just isn’t fun for him. He rides to the ice cream shop 2 miles away occasionally, but biking around the neighborhood just isn’t a thing in our area, and I honestly don’t think helmets have anything to do with it. He has friends whose parents don’t insist on helmets, and those kids ride even less.

  26. Anna July 25, 2016 at 11:50 am #

    “Had he not had a helmet on, it would have been a severe injury.”

    Sure, there are accidents that happen where a helmet would help. But the question the linked article asks is whether those cases are frequent or likely enough to justify the need for a helmet using normal risk analysis, and the answer (at least to me) is no, not really. Statistically, from what I’ve seen, there’s no more reason to put a helmet on when biking than there is to put a helmet on when walking on the sidewalk, climbing a flight of stairs, or even (some statistical analyses suggest) driving or riding in the front seat of a motor vehicle. But for some reason, society currently considers helmets essential for the one activity and not for the others.

  27. James Pollock July 25, 2016 at 11:56 am #

    “Which leads me to the point- has anyone investigated the consequences of reduced hearing and visual awareness while wearing a helmet?”

    Bike helmoets don’t cover either your ears or your eyes, so… probably not much.

  28. BL July 25, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

    Here’s some real bicycle safety advice:

    http://bicyclesafe.com/

  29. Randi July 25, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

    I’ve been on a bike since I was 7 and I’m 64 now. I’ve never hit my head in my countless falls; only a lot of scraped knees and elbows, plus the occasional bruised hip. I wear a helmet if I’m riding in crazy traffic, but not if I’m on a trail or paved bike lane.

  30. Qute July 25, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

    There’s a mix around us of helmet wearing and non-wearing people. We also live in a highly diversified community in terms of the socioeconomic spectrum. While there are plenty of exceptions on either side of it I’ve noticed people lower on the spectrum are likelier to ride more often and not use helmets while those on the higher end of the spectrum look like they’re getting ready to compete in the Tour de France when they do ride but ride less often. The kids more or less follow the same pattern.

    My kids all HAVE helmets but I leave it to them to decide if they’re wearing them. They’re all teenagers (well — and now some are grown but it’s their issue now not mine) and I’ve noticed my youngest who is 13 will NOT wear it if he’s running over to his buddy’s house two blocks away but DOES wear if he’s headed to one of the parks about 2 miles away. He’s determined what feels right and I’m okay with that.

  31. Becks July 25, 2016 at 12:41 pm #

    The idea of helmets putting kids off cycling rings true for me. I’d also say it’s true for adults as well as kids. My oldest child is 10 so we’re firmly in the generation of helmet wearing for kids. When he was learning we bought a helmet for him and he wore it with no resistance however when my 2nd child was learning, oh man, she resisted everything cycling related even the cycling itself but in order to get her on the bike I decided to forget the helmet. She found it so uncomfortable with the straps around her ears and the helmet would gradually be pressing on the tops of her hears. Once she was free of that we could focus on riding and it worked. I’ve never gone back to helmets and since they still cycle on the pavements I’m happy with that. Once they go through cycling proficiency and are on roads I’ll rethink it before I decide what’s best. I don’t wear one even when I’m on the road but I’m a driver too and very aware of the rules of the road. Plus I’m confident on the road which I think counts for a lot. That’s not to say an accident won’t happen of course but I like to just get on my bike and go without being encumbered by helmets and other gear some might say is necessary.

  32. Aimee July 25, 2016 at 12:43 pm #

    I guess the reason I hate helmets so much is that it squishes my wavy hair and makes my head sweat a LOT, so that it look ridiculous whenever I get where I’m going…..I know, vanity vanity, but if I am fussy about my hair in my 40s, how much fussier must teen girls be??! And I’m in total agreement with the poster who wrote that a kid having to lug their helmet around looks/feels like a dork. My high-school-age son’s helmet wouldn’t fit in his locker…. so guess who suddenly lost interest in riding his bike to school?!

  33. Naomi July 25, 2016 at 12:46 pm #

    Another article along these lines, trying to convince *adults* that bicycling is safe. Or, at least results in a longer life expectancy than riding around in a car.

    http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/06/13/bicycling-the-safest-form-of-transportation/

  34. stacey July 25, 2016 at 1:03 pm #

    Why the Dutch don’t wear helmets:

    http://www.treehugger.com/bikes/why-dutch-dont-wear-helmets.html

  35. Becks July 25, 2016 at 1:03 pm #

    I could have written my post more succinctly sorry! and sorry in advance of all future longwinded posts 😉

    But yes, Aimee I agree. Sad as it is, if I’m going to cycle somewhere – shops, work, cinema, wherever – then when I get to my destination I want to look and feel like a normal person. When I first got back into cycling a few years ago I got a helmet and waterproof stuff etc etc and I found that just a quick errand became a big deal. I’m lugging around helmet and backpack with all manner of cycling stuff I’m it. Forget using a handbag! When I decided to go more European I cycle a lot more!

  36. Nicole R. July 25, 2016 at 1:13 pm #

    I think helmets turned bicycling from transportation into recreation. Instead of a way to get from place to place, bicycling became an activity in itself, complete with uncomfortable equipment. Kids still ride, but I do think they ride less when helmets are required.

  37. Sarah B. July 25, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

    Wow. My daughter (14) is an avid bicyclist. This weekend, with temps in the 90’s, she biked from our home in Silver Spring, MD all the way down to the Potomac Harbor in D.C., and back. Solo. She had to navigate a route through our neighborhood, across a couple of busy intersections, through another neighborhood, and then onto a bike trail for the rest of the way. She had her cell, water, and some money. She loved it – I loved seeing her feeling of accomplishment, and her awe at the beauty of the nation’s capital. My husband and I love biking and have taken all three of our kids together on biking expeditions to local trails. People think we’re crazy because we take them through the neighborhood, across busy intersections, and beltway ramps. But we teach them how to do it, we stress safety above all else, and instill in them the confidence to make good decisions. And yes, she wears her helmet. This morning, on my way to drop her at camp, she had me drive along the route so that I could see how I could bike to work. That’s going to be our next bike outing. Bikes are freedom for kids too young to drive. Don’t kill their natural desire to explore and share their adventures when they come back.

  38. SanityAnyone? July 25, 2016 at 1:53 pm #

    I still feel dumb wearing a helmet to model use for my kids. They can save a life for biking or skateboarding, although I doubt they protect your neck.

    Anyway, my concern is the laws around them. If my child leaves his helmet behind, can someone call CPS on me or the police? The laws might endanger parents and families more than they help kids in this climate. Helmet use is still good training, but does it have to be a law?

  39. Dean Whinery July 25, 2016 at 2:09 pm #

    Good grief! How did we survive?
    Back in the olden days (1974), my Cadette Girl Scout troop decided to do a week-long bike trip…it had already been their norm to ride 20 miles each way for weekend camping at a local Boy Scout camp several times a year.
    Following several more strenuous practice rides, 40-some girls, ages 11-14, and three or four adults saddled up and rode from Los Ángeles County to Sea World in San Diego, each night camping at GS sites or on the beach. We did have to sign a waiver that we would not sue if run over by a tank as we rode along a road on a Marine Corps facility.
    Our only “casualty” was some bruises when one Scout fell off her bike. We took her to a nearby doctor who determined that all was okay, adding “Kinda dirty, though,” as he washed his hands after checking her out.
    Oh! Yeah! There wasn’t a helmet in the whole troop.

  40. NY Mom July 25, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

    Get kids out of cars and onto bikes.

    My town is building bike lanes.

    We are moving in the right direction.

    I would support repeal of helmet laws.

  41. Angela July 25, 2016 at 2:49 pm #

    While I agree that using scare tactics to get kids to wear helmets is detrimental, I don’t think getting kids to wear a helmet is that big of a deal. My kid bikes a lot, and he wears a helmet with no argument because he’s always worn a helmet. To him, it’s normal, so it’s not an issue. And while helmets may not offer a lot of protection in the way of brain injury, I’ve wrecked my bike and put a big gouge in my helmet. With no helmet, that would’ve been my head. So it still prevents stitches, pain, etc–things that I imagine might put some kids off biking if they went through it. There’s got to be a happy medium here, right? To encourage helmet-wearing without terrifying people?

  42. Buffy July 25, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

    “When I first got back into cycling a few years ago I got a helmet and waterproof stuff etc etc and I found that just a quick errand became a big deal.”

    Not to mention running those errands with “helmet hair”, possibly “sweaty helmet hair”!

  43. BL July 25, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

    @SanityAnyone?

    “Helmet use is still good training, but does it have to be a law?”

    Anything that isn’t forbidden must be made mandatory.

  44. andy July 25, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

    @Angela The need to put on and off helmet prevent the causual “slide down, hop on bike, drive few meters, jump down, play pirate for a minute, jump on bike …” style small kids like.

    Bike plus interrupting play to put on/off helmet means that the kid does not play with bike – just uses it to get there and back. Maybe a round or two. Tricycle or scooter gets to be used way more while bike is just lying there. When we started to ignore helmet need during play, bike became used too.

    Helmet for adult school aged kid also means that you can not simply slowly drive to work without messing up appearance. It may sound frivolous, but people do judge you by appearance. A kid raised to think that appearance matters or someone (esp women) who’s work requires semi-professional look will be less likely to drive bike to school.

    I can drive bike slowly in normal work cloth without sweating with no adjustment need when I come, not with helmet.

    As for helmet promotion without fear mongering, people seem to not choose helmet when risk is not graphical and exaggerated. Even you talked about stitches as if they would be expected result of biking.

  45. SteveD July 25, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

    Risk assessment is the key.

    People fall down stairs and kill themselves.

    BUT…

    Falling down 3 steps is not like falling off the stairs of a very tall fire tower in a state park.

    What seems to be missing with the biking topic is that not every biker will be at risk because who, what, when, where, and how much, has everything to do with whether or not a biker “might” have an accident.

    I’ve had this webpage on my bikepath website for many years:

    http://bikepath.eftisland.com/html/helmets_-_yes_or_no_.html

    But few people care about this issue because the general public would rather believe a superstition about biking dangers.

  46. Workshop July 25, 2016 at 3:21 pm #

    Where I live, I don’t feel safe riding a bicycle. Granted, I live out in the country. The roads here are mainly two-lane, and (being in the country) travelled at high rates of speed.

    My sister-in-law and her family live in a town, and can ride their bikes through neighborhoods and on bike lanes/side walks.

    Remember that whenever FEAR is used to sell something, the “something” is probably not needed.

    The worst bike accident I saw involved a driver hitting a cyclist. The cyclist ended with broken ribs and a broken collar bone, and a broken leg, if I remember correctly. Head injuries were the least of his worry. This one data point does not in any way mitigate the fact that some injuries might be prevented by wearing a helmet. But a helmet does not solve the issue of bad drivers.

  47. Anna July 25, 2016 at 3:23 pm #

    “Helmet for adult school aged kid also means that you can not simply slowly drive to work without messing up appearance. It may sound frivolous, but people do judge you by appearance.”

    Yes, and also, whether anybody’s judging me or not, I like to look nice and not have my hair look like a squashed mushroom all the time. I use a bike for most of my daily getting-around, but that doesn’t mean I want to go around looking grubby all the time. As somebody said above, if your bike is your transportation, helmets become much more inconvenient than if you’re simply biking as a work-out.

  48. dancing on thin ice July 25, 2016 at 3:31 pm #

    I delivered newspapers by bicycle without a helmet in the 1970’s.
    I wear one today only due to having had head surgery.

    A person with a handicap in my town constantly had broken bones because she literally was a fragile child.
    At the time bike helmets were security theater because before about 1975 they didn’t offer much protection.
    Child sized versions came out in 1983.
    I’ll update her story if anyone has more specific info on helmets.

    http://mostabledisabled.com

  49. James Pollock July 25, 2016 at 3:37 pm #

    “Helmet for adult school aged kid also means that you can not simply slowly drive to work without messing up appearance. It may sound frivolous, but people do judge you by appearance. A kid raised to think that appearance matters or someone (esp women) who’s work requires semi-professional look will be less likely to drive bike to school. ”

    Depends. If you are somewhere that respects bike-riding as transportation, then looking like you just got off a bike is to your advantage. I live near one of the most bike-friendly places in the U.S. (so, probably top 90% worldwide) despite the fact that we have bad weather for bike-riding during most of the year… the problem isn’t that you have helmet-hair, it’s that you’re thoroughly drenched. In some places, this wins you respect for your dedication to an environmentally-friendly mode of transportation.

  50. heather levy July 25, 2016 at 3:37 pm #

    Bicycling as a child in the 80s in my area was done as a mode of transport mostly and occasionally as an activity unto itself. Bikes were used to get to and from school (2 miles) , a friend’s home (nearby) , or a park (anywhere form .5 to 5 miles away). On rare occasions, my friends and I would try out bike tricks.

    Today, bikes are used as an activity in most parts of the U.S. Kids go out on their bikes for 20 minutes with a helmet and ride up and down the streets for a bit until they get bored and then go inside. It is no wonder that children don’t cycle when all we do is let them go back and forth on their own streets. If we allowed children to use bikes as a mode of transport the way they were when we were children we might see more bike activity.

    That would require adults allowing children out of their sight, giving them reasonable training on bike safety and staying in a group, and having places that allowed children to be outside together without an adult without calling for police back up. This brings us full circle to free-range parenting and free-range neighborhoods.

    Kid’s won’t bike for transport until parents let them, and they won’t do that when their neighbors freak out and call CPS.

  51. JJ July 25, 2016 at 3:56 pm #

    I find it hard to accept a direct correlation between “wear your helmet” campaigns and reduced bike riding of kids from the 80’s to now. We talk about this every day on this site–most kids don’t go outside anymore, most kids are driven everywhere now. Bike helmet propaganda or not.

  52. J.T. Wenting July 25, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

    Helmets actually make children LESS safe when riding.
    Not only are the main injuries not to the head but to neck, limbs, and torso, but wearing the helmet gives them a false sense of security, causing them to take more risks and get themselves into trouble more, leading to more and more serious accidents.
    Trading a concussion from hitting your head on the ground when falling for a broken neck and ruptured spleen from riding out in front of a car suddenly becomes a thing.

    I’ve been riding bicycles for 38 years, never wore a helmet (or indeed any protection). Only biking accident I ever had that lead to injury cost me my knee ligaments, not something any protection would have avoided as I slipped on some black ice covered in sleet, and the pedal rammed itself into the inside of my right knee, the knee being pinned to the ground by me laying in pain on top of the bike.
    Maybe a full suit of plate armour could have prevented that, but do we really want to go that far with protective gear for riding a bicycle?

  53. Julie July 25, 2016 at 4:09 pm #

    As a teen I once changed lanes improperly and got hit by a car and thown across the hood. I was biking home from school at dusk. The thing that kept me alive was my backpack. Stuffed with my karate uniform and shin pads it cushioned my neck and kept my head mostly from banging into the pavement.

    Though I had a concussion, the main concern in the ER was the amount of skin that was scraped off my cheek, back and the backs of my hands. The sore places were bathed in cool saline and dressed with iodine gel. The marks on my hand are barely noticeable and my face healed without a mark.

    I remember my head flailing and feeling the cushion of my pack on the back of my neck. If I had been wearing a helmet the weight likely would have broken my neck.

  54. Ann in L.A. July 25, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

    The biggest cycling race of the year, the Tour de France, ended yesterday (going down mountains at 30-40+ miles per hour = helmets!!!) and one of the teams (Dimension Data) is partnered with an African the charity, Qhubeka: http://qhubeka.org/ . The charity aims to get as many bicycles to kids in Africa as possible.

    >> Having a bicycle changes lives by increasing the distance people can travel, what they can carry, where they can go and how fast they can get there.<> … Of students walking to school, half a million walk for more than an hour– up to 6 km each way– thus impacting concentration and learning ability.<>.. Bicycles are the most effective and economical method of quickly addressing this problem.<<

    But, here's a kicker: they also give out helmets with every bike (as well as repair tools, locks, and tire pumps.)

    Could they distribute more bicycles if they weren't also handing out helmets? I can see helmets being more important when driving on city streets, but on rural, often soft dirt roads?

    Sounds like first worlders with confused priorities.

  55. Anna July 25, 2016 at 4:47 pm #

    “Could they distribute more bicycles if they weren’t also handing out helmets? I can see helmets being more important when driving on city streets, but on rural, often soft dirt roads?”

    Probably true, but I don’t blame the charity – most likely their first-world donors would be less likely to donate without the helmets.

  56. andy July 25, 2016 at 5:19 pm #

    @Ann in L.A. I would not criticise people who give out those bikes too much whether I think helmet is necessary or not. Perfect is the enemy of good and they are already giving away more then most. Most donate nothing, so helmet or not, those people are cool.

  57. Dasy2k1 July 25, 2016 at 6:24 pm #

    I commute to work by bike and I choose to wear a helmet (here in the UK they are reccomend but not mandatory)
    I have had 3 or 4 crashes of any note (none particularly serous) always while wearing a helmet and only 1 of those did it make any difference (going over the handlebars after hitting a pothole) I can’t say for sure what difference it made but I expect it saved me from a concussion when landing face first on concrete…. (i walked away with bruises and a nasty bit of road rash)
    In all of the other cases the fact that I was wearing a helmet made absolutely no difference at all as they mainly involved bits of me other than my head colliding with either the floor or another vehicle….

    Personally I do reccomend using a helmet but I would say that safety films and the likes that go so far as to scare kids that much are counterproductive!

    The health benefits and development benefits of cycling outweigh the risk of not wearing a helmet many times over…..
    Yes it would be better if kids especially did wear helmets, but I would prefer them not to wear them if the alternative was not to cycle at all!

  58. Becks July 25, 2016 at 7:25 pm #

    Just to extend the scope of this discussion slightly from safety to unnecessary gear for activities…I’ve started going cycling with 2 different groups and the majority of others in the groups wear pretty much full cycling gear. I turned up in my normal everyday clothes and no helmet and I felt soooo amateur. These groups are run by charities with the intention that anyone can come along and they will lend you a bike if you live within a certain area. The lengths of rides varies to accommodate all abilities.

    Anything that requires any amount of gear generally puts me off. But even on TV shows promoting diet and exercise will say you should get a decent pair of running trainers or xyz equipment. You don’t NEED running trainers, you can just go out in your Joggers and whatever trainers you already have – just get out there and make a start! Then if it’s something you really get into and need to step up your gear then do so but not if it means you’ll stop that activity.

    I could list so many examples of this from my own experience.

    One big one that grinds my gears (but not sports related sorry) is when people say they can’t afford to get married. Obviously what they really mean is that they can’t afford a big wedding but couples who want to marry are going for years without doing it. Why?! A marriage isn’t expensive so if you really want to be married then do it.

    IMO 🙂

  59. SKL July 25, 2016 at 8:28 pm #

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. And I’ve never required my kids to wear helmets while bike riding. When I was a little kid over 40 years ago, I had a second-hand bike whose front wheel would periodically disengage from the handlebars while I was whizzing down the sidewalk. Once I fell and hit my head on the corner of a cement step. That was the worst that happened to me (and I was a pretty daring kid, e.g. riding down the street standing on the seat & crossbar of the bike [no hands of course]). If I survived my childhood, my kids, who are less adventurous, don’t need bubble wrap.

    I have nothing against safety, but bike helmets are annoying, uncomfortable, distracting, and they interfere with sensory awareness. Are they really necessary when kids are just riding from point A to point B in the neighborhood, or in a park, or trying to learn how to ride?

    Speaking of helmets, I wonder about horse riding helmets. My kids ride English and you always see English riders wearing a helmet. How come Western riders don’t have to? My kids told me someone is designing a Western hat-helmet though, so maybe that will be a moot question soon.

  60. James Pollock July 25, 2016 at 8:49 pm #

    ” I wonder about horse riding helmets. My kids ride English and you always see English riders wearing a helmet. How come Western riders don’t have to?”

    My sister is the equestrian of our family. My daughter got thrown by the quietest, gentlest horse my sister could put her on, onto gravel, and that was about it for horse-riding for her. But to answer your question, a helmet isn’t actually required in an English riding uniform, I think whether you wear a helmet has to do with whether or not the horse is expected to jump. Sure, anyone can fall off a horse, but the odds go up if the horse is expected to jump.

  61. JDL July 25, 2016 at 9:46 pm #

    @Ann in L.A.
    And, prior to 2003, very few Tour de France riders wore helmets, even on those 40 mph descents.

  62. JDL July 25, 2016 at 9:51 pm #

    In California, where I live, persons under 18 are required to wear a helmet for practically every activity — bicycle riding, roller skating, skateboarding, hoverboarding. Teen bicycle use has definitely fallen precipitously since the helmet laws were enacted. At a nearby elementary school, bicycle use became so rare that the administration removed the bicycle parking enclosure and used the area to expand the student drop-off zone. Now, can one say that mandatory helmet laws caused the decline in bicycling? No, but I am quite sure that no teenager is saying, “Now that I am required by law to wear a helmet, I am definitely going to bicycle to school every day.”

  63. Arwen July 25, 2016 at 11:16 pm #

    I once went to a home party where many of the ladies were all friends with another woman who had just lost a young daughter in a bicycle accident. I recall that she was 7 or 8, and she ran into a tree and broke her neck. It was such a horrible tragedy – but I vividly remember all of the women repeatedly saying, “but she was wearing her helmet!” They were truly baffled by how this could have occurred, and were talking about encouraging the mother to sue the helmet manufacturer. I did at one point say gently, “well, a helmet doesn’t really protect the neck” and they just stared at me blankly and then went back to their planning. It was so sad because you could see that they just couldn’t take in that a helmet isn’t a panacea that means bikes are 100% safe at all times. She was wearing a helmet, so ergo this should not have happened, and someone must be at fault.

  64. zzmel July 26, 2016 at 2:00 am #

    Hmmm.

    I comprehend what you are saying. True, there were no such laws about wearing a bike helmet whe I first learnrd to ride. Yes, I fell off my bike several times but all that happened was I got a few scrapes on my knee and arms. Never hit my head though. But there was one time way at the beginning to learn how to ride. I was going downhill and headed toward the back of a car. I didn’t see it coming, no time to break and crashed right into the bumper. The bumper slashed my scrotum, (dont laugh) blood all over the place and me in excrusiating pain. Had to be taken to the hospital and got several stitches and anti biotics, tetnus shot and some pain meds. It healed after a week or so. It is an experience that I never forgot. Maybe I should have worn a shield for protection . Now you can laugh. I look back and when you rode a bike, it was safer then that it is now. Car drivers always looked out for you. Unforfually there are drivers that like to play games such as how close to you they can get or throw something at you and give you a hard time. That happened to me. Yes, I could have been thrown from my bike and smash my head.and la ti da. But you never know. Because some of these rude people, riding a bike is not as fun anymore. Having a helmet can help to protect your head but does limit yourself in maneuvering your bike. It does add nore weight being uncomfortable, sweat more, and not having the freedom to ride as well. Now there are strict laws when riding. No helmet, get ticket and pay fine. The law is the law whether it is right or wrong, it is still the law.

  65. elizabeth July 26, 2016 at 2:38 am #

    update from my previous comments:

    I did suffer a head injury- falling off my skateboard. I ran into a tree going down hill on my bike as a kid, made a sharp corner going downhill as a teen, and the majority of the time, I hit my head getting things from the cabinet, bending down by the door to pick up something and forgetting that the doorknob is above me, etc… never ever really hit my head in a bike accident, not even the time I hit a tree, and not the time I pulled the bike over backwards doing a wheelie. a helmet would not have prevented me from scabbing up my face falling off my skateboard. it would’ve just caused a neck injury- lets face it, those stupid plastic visor things that jut out are dangerous in a forward-facing fall. and what exactly could a plastic-covered piece of Styrofoam do when faced with a half-ton metal death trap? even a smart car would squish that. seriously, helmets are a load of crap. they don’t protect anything. and studies have shown that kids who where helmets are more likely to do stupid things like jump homemade ramps, bunny hop at high speeds, extended-ride wheelies, etc… how is that keeping them safe? its time to ditch the helmet. only then can we begin to ditch stupidity.

  66. Cinnamon July 26, 2016 at 3:07 am #

    The people doing the fear mongering seem to be either money motivated or genuinely afraid.
    If Genuinely afraid then how do we deal with fearful people ?

    if money oriented, perhaps has anyone looked at the bike helmet lobby group and city/govt officials ? is that where this is all coming from ?

    a Quick look at sporting safety and risk shows this:
    http://www.medicine.ox.ac.uk/bandolier/booth/risk/sports.html
    A very down to earth summary of the risks.

    Cinnamon

  67. BL July 26, 2016 at 4:34 am #

    @Arwen
    ” It was so sad because you could see that they just couldn’t take in that a helmet isn’t a panacea that means bikes are 100% safe at all times.”

    The same thinking occurs regarding other “safety” devices, and is encouraged by officialdom.

    For example, some years ago here in Pennsylvania, there was a PSA on television encouraging seat belt use in cars. It ended with a state cop (or an actor portraying one) looking into the camera solemnly and saying “I’ve never unbuckled a dead person” while a scene of a roadside accident ran in the background.

    A retired state cop of my acquaintance, reacting to the PSA, said he had unbuckled dead people from car crashes quite regularly in a thirty-year career.

  68. K2 July 26, 2016 at 9:59 am #

    I think schools mean well, but ruin a lot of things that are intended to be fun outside of school. Reading with parents is a good example. If I have to write down the titles every night the kids don’t view it as fun any longer. Why can’t they leave anything at all up to the parents and let us either do it or not depending on time and other factors?

  69. pentamom July 26, 2016 at 10:14 am #

    ” It ended with a state cop (or an actor portraying one) looking into the camera solemnly and saying “I’ve never unbuckled a dead person” while a scene of a roadside accident ran in the background.”

    Lucky cop, I guess!

  70. lollipoplover July 26, 2016 at 10:37 am #

    @Cinnamon-

    Among the causes of death- HEART DISEASE- puts into perspective ways our children (and ourselves) will eventually die.

    What’s lost when we talk about helmets and bike safety is that biking is a method of transportation. Like driving and walking, it’s an option to get around…something so many parents seem to want to limit and control for their kids. Perhaps this is the reason so many kids are driven or have arranged transportation from place to place.
    I count car culture and driving as the REAL reason for the decline in biking. The extra safety gear (helmets) doesn’t really matter when kids don’t get a say in their transportation and the decisions are made by the parents.

    Our state requires helmets on children biking up to age 12. My older two kids are off and on with the helmets depending on the biking they are doing (mountain-yes, beach boardwalk-no) and we routinely pick vacation/day trip destinations based on the town’s bike-friendliness. Personally, I find the best way to see some areas and towns with my family is on a bike. There’s also towns that I would never, ever even think of biking. Ever.
    But we lean towards places that have dedicated biking paths (ever biked from Chincoteaque Island to Assateaque with kids to see wild horses? Amazing).

    “A solution may take many small steps like the one in Detroit, but the more people who stand up against these scare tactics, the more small steps will be taken until kids can finally ride free again.”

    For me, it’s not so much the scare tactics but getting an infrastructure built in my community that promotes and supports kids AND adults safely biking and walking throughout our neighborhoods. Ask for improvements. Get on boards and committees. Make schools, parks, shopping districts accessible to pedestrians/biking and not just car parking lots. That’s what can help many of us feel better about getting our kids back on their bikes and having freedom like we did as kids.
    I don’t fear my child having a tragic head injury with an unprotected head but I do fear them being struck by the teenager on their cellphone speeding down a residential street.

  71. Donna July 26, 2016 at 11:41 am #

    Think this is great amount of looking at correlation very little evidence as to causation.

    Kids ride bikes less because kids riding bikes is not a priority in many families. First, kids have far less freedom to go places on their own. Second, kids have far less time that is not occupied by some organized or family activity in which to ride bikes. Third, there is a lack of necessity. Parents are generally willing to take their kids where they want them to go and, in general, kids of today lack the gumption to want to get places on their own when an easy ride from mom or dad is possible (maybe that would have been true in prior generations as well, but it seems to me that kid were more desirous of independence in previous generations). Fourth, there is a lack of infrastructure to make biking a reasonable option. As much as everyone here likes to insist that the world is exactly the same as 1970, there are many ways in which it is not and traffic and growth patterns are one major one. Most of our neighborhoods were built in or have evolved to a life dominated by cars. My child can really only ride her bike to one friend’s house (that friend is seriously helicoptered so there can be no back-and-forth). The rest are either too far or require traveling roads that I would not feel safe biking so am not going to send my 10 year old out on.

  72. Kathy July 26, 2016 at 11:55 am #

    I have been wondering for many, many years whether bicycle helmets really save anybody. I have never worn one, and I have never made my children wear them except when cycling with scouts or with some other organization that insisted on helmets. I have taught them to ride on sidewalks and bike paths because I think that is so much safer than riding on the streets. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me, after hearing that one of my children scraped his knee or elbow, “Was he wearing a helmet?” It’s such a knee-jerk reaction, and the implication is that if he wasn’t wearing a helmet, he deserved to get hurt. Although all of my children enjoyed riding their bikes as children, not one of them enjoys it that much as an adult. I think it is largely because of busy-bodies who constantly demand to know why they don’t have a helmet on. I once took my children on a ride down the bike path to an ice cream shop which is right on the path. A woman stopped her bike right in our way and screamed at me as we passed, “For the love of God, get your children helmets!!!” It was extremely disconcerting and ridiculous.

  73. BL July 26, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

    @Donna
    ” As much as everyone here likes to insist that the world is exactly the same as 1970, there are many ways in which it is not and traffic and growth patterns are one major one. Most of our neighborhoods were built in or have evolved to a life dominated by cars.”

    But there *are* old neighborhoods that haven’t changed in their traffic patterns (I live in one, and live around many others) and the situation is only marginally better in these places.

  74. Anne July 26, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

    I’ve been thinking about all the times I rode my bike across my large college campus in ice and snow, through traffic, over curbs, as fast as I could so I wouldn’t be late to class. If a college student has been trained to fear riding without a helmet, do they bring their helmets to class and not care about how their hair looks? Or do they choose not to ride?

  75. SteveD July 26, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

    Boy wearing helmet dies in Biking accident – 2010

    http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/accidents/mother-of-boy-killed-by-disney-bus-lost-another-son-to-an-accident-8-years/1084656

    This report is why – even though I don’t wear a helmet – I am extremely cautious when I bike or walk anywhere near traffic.

  76. Anna July 26, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

    “I count car culture and driving as the REAL reason for the decline in biking. The extra safety gear (helmets) doesn’t really matter when kids don’t get a say in their transportation and the decisions are made by the parents.”

    True, but the two phenomena are closely related. I.e., the fact that cars are the normal and normative form of transportation today is the reason people would look at you funny if you suggested they wear a helmet while driving their car, and conversely, the reason helmets are considered mandatory while biking (with a similar or possibly lower likelihood of head injury per hour of travel) is that biking is considered very optional or even weird and objectionable.

  77. Papilio July 26, 2016 at 4:37 pm #

    YES, Lenore, YES! I feel like screaming YES YES YES at my laptop and reaching through the screen to hug you and also grab your shoulders and shake because WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG – but enough about my amazing self-control.

    Here’s a nice post about everything (else) that’s Not Dangerous about riding a bike: https://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/not-dangerous/

    I have seen some of those melon videos, and they are ridiculous. The only way your head would actually make an impact like they show is if you stand still with your bike and then faint, or something (which of course would NEVER happen without that bike between your knees) – completely missing the fact that 1) your head is attached to your body and, in my experience, 2) IF and when you fall, your reflexes kick in to keep your head away from the street – just like you stick out your hands when you triple. So you hurt your hip, elbow, maybe shoulder – and by the time your head would hit the ground you’ve stopped your fall. Of course a helmet basically makes your head bigger and thus increases the chance of your head hitting the ground.

    Focussing on helmets as THE bike safety solution gets you nowhere. It’s not helpful for the individuals who consciously or subconsciously start seeing biking as something dangerous and as a sport instead of as transportation (as if going to the corner store on foot automatically means training shoes and jogging/running), and it’s wrong for politicians because hey, just telling people they need to wear a helmet is faaaaar easier than actually doing something about the lack of safe infrastructure.
    But safe infrastructure is what really makes a difference. That is why we Dutch ride bikes as much as we do. That is what lures people out of their houses and cars and onto bikes, or rollerskates, or trikes, handbikes, mobility scooters and what not.

  78. Papilio July 26, 2016 at 5:00 pm #

    “For me, it’s not so much the scare tactics but getting an infrastructure built in my community that promotes and supports kids AND adults safely biking and walking throughout our neighborhoods. Ask for improvements. Get on boards and committees. Make schools, parks, shopping districts accessible to pedestrians/biking and not just car parking lots. That’s what can help many of us feel better about getting our kids back on their bikes and having freedom like we did as kids.”

    YES. I’m just a Dutch girl with a laptop so what do I know, but I genuinely think your bike mode share (USA overall, all trips, year round) could be in the double digits, with the suppressed demand you have. But I also see that discussions about building the necessary infrastructure have trouble moving beyond the stage where driver convenience is everything and bicycles are seen as unimportant because ‘only for 2% of people cycle’ and ‘you can exercise in the park/gym’. I think parents could help shift that perspective.
    The parking lot of a middle school should look a lot more like this:
    https://youtu.be/8NUgB_xkIvU?t=130 (Oh and bonus: Lenore is mentioned in the (Dutch) comments…)

  79. TeacherJR July 26, 2016 at 5:27 pm #

    I’m an avid cyclist. I’ve logged tens of thousands of miles on roads, bike paths, and off-road trails. I’ve worn a helmet for the past 20 years, and on several occasions it has taken damage that would otherwise have ended up on my head.

    Now, it’s obvious that bike helmets aren’t some magical safety cocoon that protects a rider from any and all injuries. They’re primarily designed to offer protection from low-speed falls, and are no substitute for bike-handling skills and general awareness of traffic laws, road conditions, etc.

    But even if bike helmets don’t prevent all head injuries, they can certainly mitigate them, and THAT is what I see as their primary value. At least in my experience, a bike helmet has likely made all the difference between a mild concussion and a more serious head injury; or between gouging the surface of my helmet vs. leaving a hairy chunk of scalp on the trail. A brain is a difficult thing to heal, and I’d rather have scars on my helmet than on my head.

    So while I don’t think they should be mandatory for anyone, including children, I will continue to wear mine and encourage others to do the same.

  80. SKL July 26, 2016 at 6:32 pm #

    Also the whole teaching a kid to ride a bike. I learned at 4yo when my older brother graduated to a bigger bike. I never had training wheels. The neighborhood kids taught me. It was scary at first, but I learned, and what a great feeling.

    My kids. I had to buy training wheel bikes, because that’s all they have. I had to buy a helmet too. They also sell knee and elbow pads, but I declined to boy those. When the kids were 3yo, I took off the training wheels, and we never did use the helmets. Because how fast is a preschooler going to go, how fall is she going to fall, even if she does hit her head?

    Of course a kid’s first thought during bike riding lessons is, “I might fall down.” The correct answer of today is “no honey, you won’t fall down, and even if you do, you won’t get hurt because you have all this strange gear on.” The unspoken message, of course, is that if you do fall down and land on an unprotected body part, you’re going to suffer excruciating pain. But I told my kids, “you WILL fall down, but you will be OK.” And they did fall down, and I said, “see, you fell down and you are OK. Now let’s try again.” And we worked on it until they got it.

    My kids still don’t use their bikes much, because we live in a very hilly area and frankly it’s too much work. That, plus the community does not allow them to take themselves to very many places, and I don’t have a lot of time for bike riding with them. (And my bike is out of service nowadays.)

    Bikes used to mean freedom. When you aren’t allowed to go anywhere anyway, they lose some of their appeal.

  81. Mark July 26, 2016 at 10:05 pm #

    They should use real imagery in those videos — say, a “before and after” of my hardshell helmet and my neighbor’s mailbox from when I was eight. Crumpling a steel mailbox and coming away with nothing worse than a feeling of being slightly scrambled makes for a very good argument for wearing a helmet.

  82. Sally July 27, 2016 at 1:10 pm #

    Sorry. I usually agree with a lot on this website but my kids will always wear a helmet when on a bike. My husband was in a terrible accident- yes, it was an accident and they don’t happen every day. yes,nothing could of prevented him from needing surgery to fix a broken leg. But the helmet saved his life. It broke in half and the doctors said that if he wasn’t wearing it, we probably wouldn’t have had to pay for the surgery for his leg. He wouldn’t have been walking anymore- probably not talking either.
    But that hasn’t stopped him from biking 6months later. (He needed to relearn to walk…). My kids will bike too- I am not going to be rediculous and ban it because of a once in a lifetime possibility (but if husband does it again, maybe HE shouldn’t because of medical reasons. Kids still can!)
    It’s a simple thing that can save a life.

  83. Vaughan Evans July 28, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

    I COMPLETELY agree-that cyclists must wear a helmet
    In the Canadian Province of British Columbia, all drivers(and passengers)of motorcyclists)Have been required to wear a helmet.
    It makes sense, A motorcyclist gets very little protection.
    The same is true of a cyclist.
    Both motorcyclists and bicyclists are in greater risk of an injury for various reasons:

    -Animals-Dogs sometimes rush towards a cyclist or motorcyclist
    t(My dog used to HATE motorcycles
    He would rush towards them(The motorcyclist would swish his leg-toward the dog.
    I used to do a lot of cycling-between the age of 20-and 25,
    Once a dog rushed at me-for no good reason-and nipped my pant leg.
    -(I think the colours a peon wears gives a dog misgivings.(Some dogs have a misgiving when they see a man with a white coat- It reminds them of the “vet.”
    -Cyclists and motorcyclists must also take special care on wet roads, and loose gravel.
    (Perhaps the first rain in weeks, gives challenges to people with two-wheeled vehicles-just as they do to cars.

    -Perhaps a defensive driving course should be instituted-to reflect the various challenges that they face.
    My mother-who still drove a car when she was 79-told me that cyclists and motorcyclists-are hard to see.
    This is why they often wear orange vests-on their backs(to make them conspicuous.)

    I used to belong to an Outdoor Club. One of our house rules is that all cyclists must wear an approved bicycle helmet.
    I took a refresh course-on how to skate(I was told to put on a helmet) This make sense-because the head is the most vulnerable part of the body.
    Similarly, many people who go roller blading(inline skating)outdoors-will wear (a)a helmet (b)elbow pads (c)knee pads (d)wrist pads. For the protection of the palms of my hands, I also wore my handball gloves.

    -People will have to learn to avoid extreme behavior There is a difference between being “paranoid” and being safety aware.

    I drove a motorcycle for 9 years. The effect of the wind is harder on a motorbike than for a car.

    On windy days, I would take a roundabout route-to get home from work-where I would avoid crossing a bridge.(Vancouver has three bridges-that cross an inlet called False Creek. (On a bridge there is nothing to act as a windbreak.

  84. tdr July 29, 2016 at 5:46 am #

    Helmets are freakin uncomfortable to wear when it’s a zillion degrees out.
    Better to bike without one than not to bike because it’s too hot in the summer to wear one.

  85. tdr July 29, 2016 at 5:48 am #

    Actually — when I was a kid, a friend was cycling home when a windy storm hit. He was knocked off his bike by a tree branch to the head, and probably his helmet saved his life.

    So I actually know one of the 0.6%!

  86. TeacherJR July 29, 2016 at 11:23 am #

    @tdr

    Newer helmets, like the Giro Pneumo, among others, are designed with cutaways that channel air over your head. They can actually keep your head cooler than going without a helmet! Surely your brain is worth $80…

  87. Blablabirdie July 29, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

    This line of argument is dumb and really pulls back the free range kid battle. In the past kids didn’t wear seat belts either, and strides in safety can and do offer more advantages than freedoms they take away. If the kids don’t want to ride bikes because of helmets, then there is something else going on. Kids all over my neighborhood are out riding all the time with helmets.

    I both bike and ride horses. Helmet safety in riding horses has made enormous strides over the last 20 years and has saved many lives. Let’s continue to fight for our children’s right to take up space in our society without being helicopter parented, but also we can continue to protect their health as much as possible without intervening. Wearing a bike helmet does not compromise my child’s freedom, but it does keep them from getting a severe brain injury.

  88. Sandy July 30, 2016 at 11:04 pm #

    I ‘ ve not seen the bike safety seminars mentioned, but my 6 year old probably will. All I can say is that a friend of mine- an adult- would have died had she not been wearing a helmet when she was going downhill and her front wheel loosened. And that the street I live on, while rife with walkers. Runners, and cyclists, has drivers who habitually blow through the cross road stop signs, so my kid wears a helmet and so do I. Of course no one can guarantee safety, but when you’ve seen a helmet split from impact, you count blessings, and consider it common sense.

  89. jkm July 31, 2016 at 7:40 pm #

    Not finding this convincing in the least. My kids and their friends all wear helmets and all bike to and fro throughout the neighborhoods, to parks, stores, etc. It’s just a matter of culture. Several kids and adults in my circle have been in accidents (typically due to poor sidewalk/street maintenance) that likely would have resulted in some type of head injury had they not been wearing helmets. Would it have made them vegetables? Unlikely, but our still growing understanding of TBI and it’s long term consequences leaves me unwilling to take unnecessary risks now that could lead to greater injury/illness later.

    Additionally the author relies on the tired trope of “how did we survive”?! Well the folks that didn’t (or are drooling in a full care facility someplace) aren’t writing blog posts, so whatever.

  90. Warren August 1, 2016 at 10:25 am #

    To all those supporting helmets. Go for it but they are classed as personal protective equipment and as such should be the personal choice of an individual not mandatory by law.

    We have a meeting tonight about rule changes for safety, for the softball league. Going over proposed changes for next year. Should be interesting.

  91. BL August 1, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    @Warren
    “We have a meeting tonight about rule changes for safety, for the softball league. Going over proposed changes for next year.”

    No bats or balls. Those are dangerous.

    And no running.

  92. Emily August 1, 2016 at 12:09 pm #

    >>@Warren
    “We have a meeting tonight about rule changes for safety, for the softball league. Going over proposed changes for next year.”

    No bats or balls. Those are dangerous.

    And no running.<<

    A softball game with no bats, balls, or running. That reminds me of the Monty Python sketch about how to defend oneself from an attacker who's wielding a piece of fresh fruit.