Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ride helmetless and lose your bike?!

Here's a good reason mandatory helmet laws even for children should be opposed: Police in the Boston suburb of Holliston, MA said they will impound the bicycles of youths they see riding without their helmets.
Police here are looking for scofflaws and will snatch the pedals from your feet if you've been warned numerous times but still forgo headgear.

Holliston police, frustrated in trying to drive home the point that riding without a helmet is dangerous and illegal, are hoping the tactic will finally get the attention of young riders.
Read more.

Cycling without a helmet is not dangerous. This story quotes the BHSI factoid that helmets can prevent two thirds of cycling fatalities. Let's see, in Holliston, 2/3rds of zero is.... ummm - what's that number?

I won't pretend that helmets are useless, but the public safety benefit of mandatory helmet legislation is miniscule, and I believe draconian confiscation programs do far more harm than good. Mandatory helmet laws criminalize behavior that is otherwise reasonable and safe, and strict enforcement discriminates against children who already have enough disincentives to outdoor activities and traveling on their own power.

How many automobiles from scofflaw motorists have the Holliston police confiscated?


  1. My Boston pride is beaming after reading this. What happened to all of our progress to become a stronger cycling community? I guess ticketing and stealing bikes from kids is more worth the time and money than...painting bike lanes? paving pot holes? setting up DUI checkpoints?

  2. In 15 years of 3,000 to 15,000 mile years biking, my helmet has saved my life the three times I have fallen. If it wasn't for my helmet I would have only ridden 3 years, or 10 years or 12 years, with the helmet I plan to go another 15 to 20.

    I don't know if helmets save lives, but they have saved mine three times and that is enough for me. I don't, and my kids will not go 5 feet with out a helmet.

  3. san jose only tickets kids. i contacted the mayor and said, "don't".

    and i tried to convince Bike Emory that mandatory helmets just to get a bike were a bad idea. they weren't interested.

  4. Mehbe the law is stupid, but saying that helmets don't say lives is, at least, equally so. I've already been told by doctor's once that my helmet saved my life, so I glad I'm not listening to your advice

  5. the thing is Benjamin, if you weren't wearing a helmet, you probably would not have been hit in the first place. cars give more breathing room to unhelmeted riders, and that's my mode of operation, avoid getting hit in the first place. i've never been to a doctor to check on my after an accident, so i've never had the occasion to hear a doctor tell me that a 'helmet saved my life'. :)

  6. * There's no claim in my post that "helmets don't save lives," and in fact I write "I won't pretend that helmets are useless."

    * Let the punishment fit the crime. Encourage helmet use if you wish, but confiscating the bike is over the top.

    * The topic of discussion is not touring and road cyclists riding 3,000 to 15,000 miles per year who have a higher risk of serious and fatal injuries, but school children on local roads.

    * Doctors are smart people, but they are not necessarily experts at risk management.

    * A cyclist who's had three live threatening crashes in 15 years of cycling should wear a helmet. I put racing, high speed training, and mountain biking in the higher risk activities in which helmets are indicated. But again, we're talking about school kids on local roads.

  7. Well, I was grateful for my helmet when I rode smack into a low-hanging tree branch on a poorly lit section of off-street trail the other night... But if anyone told me that I had to wear a helmet or risk some steep penalty, I probably wouldn't ride my bike at all. Isn't that precisely the psychology behind such laws, anyway, to discourage certain behavior by making it as inconvenient as possible?

  8. Australia has had mandatory helmet laws for long enough that statistics are starting to be meaningful

    There's a bunch of discussion - the key outcomes are:
    * helmets help avoid head injuries
    * mandatory helmets cause massive drops in participation
    * increased participation is the single best way of improving safety

    See http://bta-bulletin.blogspot.com/ for links to research

  9. Snork... this is *Boston?* They're just a tad famous, after all, for inane paranoia.

    Mandating safety teaches people not to think. I *do* think people's cars should be impounded if they don't wear seat belts and get three tickets for anything. So. Boston's weird enough they might go for it.

    I luv my helmet ... but I luv my freedom to choose my risks as well.

  10. ...'mandatory'...hmmm, lemme see...

    ...i think it should be 'mandatory' that a much greater awareness of the bicycle/motor vehicle dynamic & the resultant safety issues should be taught in schools to young people...

    ...i think it should be 'mandatory' that that same dynamic & the resultant safety issues should be given much greater precedence before anyone gets or renews their license...

    ...i think it should be 'mandatory' that police officers spend a minimum of a year on bicycle patrol before they are ever allowed behind the wheel of a police car...

    ...i think it should be 'mandatory' that the courts, judges, prosecutors & lawyers be schooled in that same bicycle/motor vehicle dynamic & again, the resultant safety issues that are encompassed so that cyclists are not seen as trivial or second class in matters of the law, when those matters reach the court...

    ...of course, i think that cyclists should find it 'mandatory' within themselves to start using common sense, start obeying traffic laws & start occasionally being courteous in order to reap the same benefits...

    ...i know that that needn't be applied to all cyclists, because plenty of folks already try & i'm also aware that there are occasions where we're egregiously infringed upon by people 'wielding' motor vehicle & understandably we react, in the heat of it all...

    ...however, as far as 'mandatory', i think all of those precedents are of greater importance than forced helmet wearing when discussing bicycles & safety...

    ...just sayin'...

  11. I've had crashes without a car around in which my helmet came into play. I've also had crashes without a helmet in which I was lucky to avoid serious head injury, although one of them put me out of work for ten weeks. I collected stitches in my forehead in that one, as well as the separated right shoulder and broken left hand.

    Mandatory helmet laws and ridiculous penalties for non-compliance don't help cycling any more than anti-social acts by frustrated cyclists do. Politicians and rule-enforcers just want to be seen doing "something." If that something actually discourages cycling, so much the better from the motorist perspective.

  12. I second bikesgonewild recommendations, particularly the training of law enforcers. Require them to ride bikes on heavily traveled motorized roads for a year or two and their attitudes may finally align with our laws. After learning the required skills, then the judges should join them for a few months, at a minimum.

  13. I don't like this enforcement for completely different reasons.

    First of all, I almost always wear a helmet. Sometimes I don't when I riding a bike around a parking lot fiddling with a derailleur... 99% of the time I do. Helmets have probably saved my life at least once.

    I don't see people car's getting confiscated for lack of using safety devices. If a person doesn't wear a seat-belt they might face a $100 fine.

    Weather or not Billy's parents make him war a helmet will not affect you very much. It's much like the helmets on motorbikes discussion. I don't care. It's not affecting anyone else. I might think you're an idiot for not wearing a helmet. But in our country, I think an individual should be able to choose what is best for them, ESPECIALLY if it does not affect anyone else!

    * NOTE: I am only referring to adults in this comment!