Do Bike Helmets Make Riding More Dangerous?


Here’s an interesting counter-intuit from No Pun Intended: inspired by Matt Modine’s response in a New York magazine interview that he doesn’t wear a helmet while riding his bike because “I don’t assume that I’m going to get hurt,” the author points to a British study that suggests wearing a helmet in traffic encourages drivers to move closer to you. (The study author “was struck by both a bus and a truck in the course of the experiment.”) Unskilled cyclists may benefit from helmeting, says No Pun, because they’re likely to fall, but for skilled riders they serve as car magnets and may perhaps be eschewed.

This is not conventional wisdom and safety folks want everyone to wear helmets. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute has lots of scary statistics, e.g. “1 in 8 of the cyclists with reported injuries had a brain injury.” But they aren’t too definite about the role of helmets in preventing them, saying the “percentage of cyclists’ brain injuries [that] can be prevented by a helmet” is “estimated at anywhere from 45 to 88 percent.” An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study shows “Ninety-five percent of bicyclists killed in 2006 reportedly weren’t wearing helmets,” but doesn’t say whether the victims would have been spared if they were wearing them. In short, if you want to find a loophole for driving without a Skid Lid, you can.

But should you? The paradox is, it’s the least roadworthy among us who usually wind up with the least equipment, including helmets, despite all the prodding by experts and officials. The more roadworthy expert bikers are usually wearing every conceivable bike product known to man, naturally including a helmet. You don’t see them riding in their work clothes much, and do the hipsters with Schwinns.

The real question, in the timeless word of Dirty Harry, is do you feel lucky, bikepunk? And do you think you’ll be lucky every time?